Message of peace: Beijing 2022 Paralympics commence in shadow of war in Ukraine
IPC president Andrew Parsons calls for 'dialogue and diplomacy, not war and hate'
The 13th edition of the Winter Paralympics officially opened Friday in Beijing with an impassioned call for peace as ardent as the flame that represents the Games.
In absence of Russian and Belarusian athletes barred from competition due to the roles of each nation in the ongoing war in Ukraine, International Paralympic Committee (IPC) president Andrew Parsons used his opening ceremony platform to promote peace.
"As the leader of an organization with inclusion at its core, where diversity is celebrated and differences embraced, I am horrified at what is taking place in the world right now. The 21st century is a time for dialogue and diplomacy, not war and hate," he said.
"Tonight, the Paralympic Movement calls on world authorities to come together, as athletes do, and promote peace, understanding and inclusion. The world must be a place for sharing, not for dividing."
Parsons proceeded to punctuated the conclusion of his speech with one, simple exclamation: "Peace."
WATCH | IPC president Andrew Parsons delivers powerful message of peace:
The IPC, in a stunning reversal, announced Thursday that athletes from the two aggressor nations would be expelled from Beijing 2022.
"The war has now come to these Games and behind the scenes many governments are having an influence on our cherished event," Parsons said Thursday after announcing the ban. "We were trying to protect the Games from war."
Much of Parsons' speech wasn't heard on the live broadcast in China. Chinese state TV didn't translate his condemnation of war, and then cut the volume from his mic.
The Chinese government has refrained from criticizing the invasion and opposed the U.S., European and other sanctions imposed on Russia.
The live broadcast of the opening on Chinese state TV did not translate Parsons' condemnation of war and and then lowered the volume of his remarks in English for a while. The Chinese government has been restricting anti-Russia views in state media and online. Unlike the U.S. and Europe, it has not criticized the invasion and opposed sanctions on Russia.
Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau issued a statement Friday in support of the IPC's decision to banish athletes from the two committees.
"As millions of Canadians come together to rally behind our Paralympic athletes, the world has also come together to stand with the Ukrainian people," Trudeau said.
"Canada supports the International Paralympic Committee's decision to ban athletes from Russia and Belarus, and joins the international sport community in condemning Russia's unjustifiable and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine."
WATCH | While You Were Sleeping — opening ceremony:
Opening ceremony festivities began as China's president Xi Jinping and Parsons observed the raising of the Chinese flag during the playing of the country's national anthem.
The parade of nations at Beijing National Stadium — also known as the Bird's Nest — kicked off in front of an estimated 30,000 attendees.
Ahead of the opening, about 16 members of the Ukrainian team, wearing their yellow and blue winter outfits and knit hats, chanted "peace for Ukraine" as they held up large banners including "Stop War" in a holding area for the participants. Competitors from other countries applauded and cheered and a few came up and hugged the Ukrainians.
Rousing support was heard during Ukraine's walkout, as the nation's full delegation of 29 athletes, including nine guides, all competing in biathlon and cross-country ski events, were led by flag-bearer Maksym Yarovyi — a silver medallist in men's 7.5-kilometre sitting biathlon at the 2014 Paralympics in Sochi.
WATCH | Ukraine enters opening ceremony to applause from attendees:
"It's a miracle that we have made it to the Paralympics," Ukrainian committee head Valerii Sushkevych said Thursday.
Sushkevych said it took four days for team members in Ukraine to reach Beijing. He said he slept on the floor of a bus because of a back condition during the last two days of the journey through Europe.
"We overcame a lot of barriers on the way," he said. "Many members of our team had to escape while there was bombardment and shells exploding."
Forrest, Westlake lead Canadian contingent
Canada's full contingent of 49 athletes, including four guides, was enthusiastically led by curler Ina Forrest and hockey player Greg Westlake, who served as flag-bearers.
Forrest, a wheelchair curler from Spallumcheen, B.C., will add a fourth Paralympic Games to her resume. The 59-year-old struck gold at Vancouver 2010 and Sochi 2014 before adding a bronze medal in Pyeongchang.
Heading to his fifth Paralympics, the 35-year-old Westlake, of Oakville, Ont., has helped the Canadian Para men's hockey team earn all three medal colours with gold at Torino 2006, silver in Pyeongchang and bronze in Sochi.
WATCH | Forrest, Westlake lead Canadian contringent into Games:
Josh Dueck, Canada's chef de mission, said the team hasn't set medal targets. With so few international competitions amid COVID-19, it's simply too tough to gauge how Canada stacks up.
"I think it's pretty fair to say that the herculean task is simply arriving safely," Dueck said.
Host country China capped the athlete parade as the home audience delivered a standing ovation while women's nordic skier Yujie Guo and men's hockey player Zhidong Wang led a nation-record and Games-most 96 athletes into the national stadium.
The United States features the second-highest consortium of athletes with 65.
Jinping then took the stage to officially announce the opening of the Winter Paralympic Games, which close on March 13.
Li Duan, a blind former long jumper for China who won gold in Athens in 2004 and in Beijing in 2008, felt around for the holder and encountered difficulty inserting the flame. The crowd cheered him on until he mounted it properly in the centre of a large white snowflake that then ascended to the top of the open-air stadium.
Duan then triumphantly raised his fist before a stunning firework display commenced, concluding a uniquely enthralling ceremony to start the Games.
The flame has been lit 🔥<br><br>An incredible fireworks display around the Bird's Nest follows as the Paralympic Games begin 🎆 <a href="https://t.co/O0eQEKWDAq">pic.twitter.com/O0eQEKWDAq</a>—@cbcsports
564 Para athletes will compete in Beijing, equalling the previous record set at the 2018 Winter Paralympics in Pyeongchang.
These Games, however, will boast a record 138 women's Para athletes — five more than in Pyeongchang.
"Much work still needs to be done to achieve gender parity but having increased female participation significantly at the Winter Games in the last 20 years shows we are heading in the right direction," Parsons said previously.
46 National Paralympic Committees will compete in 78 medal events across six sports, broken down as 39 for men, 35 for women and four mixed events.
Watch | Replay(s) of the Beijing 2022 Paralympics opening ceremony:
With files from The Associated Press, The Canadian Press and CBC Sports