The International Paralympic Committee will allow Russian and Belarussian athletes to compete at the 2024 Paralympic Summer Games in Paris, a reversal from the IPC’s stance less than two years ago in Beijing and the latest sign in the growing international sports movement to allow athletes from the two countries to compete even after its government’s invasion of Ukraine.
The International Paralympic Committee voted 74-65 at an assembly in Bahrain on Friday against suspending Russia’s membership — which would have meant a ban from the Games — but then voted 90-65 in favor of “partially” suspending the country through 2025 because of “breaches of its constitutional membership obligations.”
Russians “will be eligible to participate in an individual and neutral capacity” at the Paralympics and other IPC-governed sports events, the IPC said. It didn’t spell out the exact criteria, but said the athletes would compete as individuals, with no team entries allowed.
Sports bodies which have readmitted Russian athletes have generally required they compete without the country’s flag or other national symbols, and vetted athletes’ public statements and social media posts for pro-war messages.
Athletes from Russia and Belarus arrived at the Winter Paralympics in Beijing in March 2022 and were excluded a day before the opening ceremony after other countries said they would boycott. At the time, IPC president Andrew Parsons cited an “untenable” security situation in the athletes village.
The IPC previously excluded Russia entirely from the 2016 Paralympics because of widespread doping and cover-ups in multiple sports. It allowed Russian athletes to compete without national symbols at the 2018 Winter Paralympics and the most recent Summer Paralympics in Tokyo in 2021.
Any Russian delegation in Paris may be reduced in part because the country’s athletes have already missed a large part of the qualification period.
The IPC’s stance is similar to what the IOC has been promoting as a solution with less than a year before the Olympic Summer Games in Paris. The IOC says it hasn’t decided but favors letting Russians and Belarusians compete as neutral athletes without national symbols as long as they aren’t in the military and haven’t publicly supported the war.
International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach over the past several months has continued to defend the organization’s position, insisting “we have a mission to unite all the athletes of the world in a peaceful competition, we have the responsibility not to punish athletes for the acts of their government.”
Bach has said “we are going to take our time” on a final decision and “we need to be as confident as possible that the right choice is being made.”
The 2023 IOC Session is scheduled to start October 12 in India.
The IOC urged international sports bodies last year to block and isolate athletes, officials and host cities from Russia and Belarus within days of the Russian invasion starting. But as the Olympics in Paris draw near, the IOC has pushed those same sports bodies to try to let some Russians and Belarusians evaluated as neutral individuals to compete in qualifying events.
Athletes from Russia and Belarus have competing as neutrals at the ongoing Hangzhou Asian Games to help them earn points to qualify for the Olympics but some bodies, including World Athletics most prominently, have not allowed Russian and Belarusian athletes to return. Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has been consistent in his position about Russia’s place in world sport since the invasion began.