By Karolos Grohmann
(Reuters) -Russian and Belarusian athletes will compete as neutrals at next year’s Paris Paralympics after the International Paralympic Committee voted against maintaining a full ban of the two countries, imposed after the 2022 invasion of Ukraine.
The IPC members at their assembly in Bahrain first narrowly voted against a complete ban of the Russian Paralympic Committee (74-65) and then voted 90-56 in favour of a motion to partially suspend Russia for two years, subject to reassessment at a next general assembly.
“As a result of the General Assembly’s decision, (National Paralympic Committee) Russia’s membership rights are suspended for two years,” the IPC said in a statement.
“With the exception that its athletes (and related support personnel) will be eligible to participate in an individual and neutral capacity in the Paralympic Games and World and Regional Championships and sanctioned competitions in the six sports for which the IPC acts as international federation.”
Competing as neutral athletes means doing so without a national team or emblems, flags and anthems.
The IPC also voted for a partial suspension of Belarus with those athletes also allowed to compete as neutrals. Belarus has been a staging ground for Russian troops and weapons during the invasion.
“As this was a decision taken by the IPC General Assembly, I expect all IPC members to fully respect it,” IPC President Andrew Parsons said.
“With the decision now behind us, I hope the focus as we lead-up to the Paris 2024 Paralympic Games can now be very much on sport and the performances of Para athletes.”
The IPC decision would only embolden Russia, Mihaylo Podolyak, adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, said on social media platform X, formerly Twitter.
“Permitting participation of Russians in the Paralympic Games and youth football competitions, not expelling Russia from international institutions and organizations, not issuing arrest warrants in any jurisdiction for high-ranking officials for involvement in mass crimes, permitting international companies to trade with Russia,” Podolyak said.
“All of this, firstly, prolongs the war, and secondly, provokes Russia to increase the levels of mass violence in Ukraine in order to exert pressure on global elites and force them to agree to the right of Russia to disregard international laws.”
The international athletes-led Global Athlete movement had hoped the IPC ban on Russia would continue in Paris.
“Today’s decision lacks reason and principle. Today the IPC has given Russia a global stage at the Paris Paralympic Games for their war propaganda,” it said in a statement.
The decision comes two weeks before the International Olympic Committee session in Mumbai where it will also discuss Russia’s and Belarus’ participation at the Paris Olympics next year.
The IPC had last year suspended the paralympic committees of both countries and banned their athletes from competing following the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Although an appeal against the suspension of the committees was upheld this year, Russian and Belarusian para-athletes remained banned from competitions until Friday.
The IOC has not sanctioned the Russian or Belarus Olympic Committee or Russian members of the IOC. It did ban athletes following last year’s invasion of Ukraine, which Russia calls a special military operation.
In March, however, it issued a first set of recommendations for international sports federations to allow Russian and Belarusian athletes to return.
The IOC has said athletes should not be punished for actions of governments.
(Reporting by Karolos Grohmann; Additional reporting by Ronald Popeski and Lori Ewing.Editing by Andrew Cawthorne, Christian Radnedge and Toby Davis)