Belarusians and Russians to compete as ‘neutral athletes’ at Winter Paralympics

Russians and Belarusian athletes are allowed to compete at the Winter Paralympics in Beijing under “neutral” flags.

The International Paralympic Committee (IPC) confirmed on Wednesday that the two countries would face sanctions over the invasion of Ukraine.

But the body stopped short of expelling athletes from the games, which begin on Friday.

Russia had already been set to compete as the “Russian Paralympic Committee” as punishment for the state-sponsored doping scandal at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

Both they and Belarus will now be excluded from the Paralympics medal table, and the IPC said it would not hold events in either country “while the present situation continues.”

“What we have decided upon is the harshest possible punishment we can hand down within our constitution and the current rules,” IPC President Andrew Parsons said in a statement.

Athletes from Russia and Belarus will now compete under the Paralympic flag and the Paralympic anthem while covering all symbols in events and ceremonies.

The IPC said it would also withdraw the “Paralympic Honour” given to Russian President Vladimir Putin, as well as “Paralympic Orders” to several Russian officials.

But Nadine Dorries — the UK Secretary for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport — has condemned the decision to allow Russian and Belarusian athletes to compete.

“I am extremely disappointed in the IPC — this is the wrong decision and I call on them to urgently reconsider,” she said in a statement on Twitter.

“They must join the rest of the world in condemning this barbaric invasion by banning Russian and Belarusian athletes from competing,” Dorries added.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) had urged sports authorities to exclude Russian athletes from international events but left the final decision to individual governing bodies.

Russia has already been barred from competing in a wide range of sports, including football, hockey, rugby, ice skating, skiing, and some tennis events.

Parsons acknowledged the possibility that some Paralympic athletes might refuse to compete against their counterparts from Russia and Belarus. He also said the options for the IPC were “limited” because of possible legal challenges.

Officials say 71 Russian athletes are expected to compete in the Paralympics.