Why Russians probably won't be banned from the Paralympics
Canada and other countries want them out, but it might be too late
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Canada wants Russian and Belarusian athletes banned from the Paralympics — but will it actually happen?
Three days from the opening ceremony, the Canadian Paralympic Committee addressed the biggest issue surrounding the upcoming Winter Games. In a statement released the morning, the CPC said it believes "Russian and Belarusian athletes should not be allowed to compete at international sporting events, including the Paralympic Winter Games in Beijing" following the invasion of Ukraine.
This came a day after several large sports bodies, including the International Olympic Committee and the Canadian Olympic Committee, joined the chorus of voices either calling for Russian and/or Belarusian athletes to be banned from international sporting events or actually announcing such bans. The Paralympic committees of the United States, Great Britain and Germany were among those who had already voiced (with varying degrees of forcefulness) their view that Russians and Belarusians should not compete in Beijing.
The International Paralympic Committee is expected to announce a decision on the status of those athletes on Wednesday in China, following a board meeting to discuss the matter. But, judging by the signals over the past couple of days, don't expect that decision to go in favour of Canada and the other countries aligned with its position.
When the IOC yesterday called for international sports federations and event organizers to exclude Russians and Belarusians from their competitions, it conceded that this may be very difficult (if not impossible) on such short notice for certain events. The IOC specifically mentioned the upcoming Paralympics as an example, and said the IPC had its "full support" — presumably against the backlash that can be expected from allowing athletes from Russia and its close ally Belarus to compete as the invasion continues and more Ukrainians are killed.
The Canadian Paralympic Committee seemed to accept that the decision has already been made, saying in its statement that "we understand that due to legal constraints, the IPC is unable to expel Russia and Belarus from the Beijing Paralympic Games, and so we urge the IPC to impose the strongest sanctions that are available."
Beyond the potential legal and logistical challenges involved in banning athletes just a few days before the Games open (and with many of those athletes already on site), it's fair to wonder how much influence the host country is exerting here. China does not like to use the term "ally" when describing its relationship with Russia, but that relationship is certainly cozy. While China has not publicly supported the invasion of Ukraine, it also appears to have done nothing to prevent it, and in fact will not even call it an invasion. For the members of the IPC board, kicking China's friends out of China's backyard — while physically located in China themselves — would take courage.
It's still possible that the IPC chooses to accept all these risks and join the international sports community in kicking out Russia and Belarus. It already half-booted the former when it followed the Olympics' lead by forcing Russians to compete under the Russian Paralympic Committee flag in Beijing. That was part of the punishment for Russia's massive, state-sponsored doping scheme uncovered a few years ago.
But, more likely, we're headed for the strange scenario of seeing Ukrainian athletes competing side-by-side against Russians and Belarusians in Beijing. Ukraine's Paralympic organization said today it is sending its full team of 29 athletes (including nine guides for the visually impaired) to China for the Games. They'll be competing in cross-country skiing and biathlon. At the 2018 Paralympics in South Korea, Ukraine led all teams with a combined 22 medals in these sports. The Russians were second with 20, while Belarus had 12.
WATCH | Dissecting Russian ban across sports world:
The world governing bodies for skating and track and field are the latest to ban Russian and Belarusian athletes. The International Skating Union, which oversees figure skating and speed skating, announced today that no one representing those countries will be allowed to compete "until further notice." If the policy stays in place, it would apply to the figure skating world championships in France in three weeks. This could help the ISU avoid having to deal with the controversy around Russian doping, which was sure to be a hot topic at the worlds after Kamila Valieva's positive test overshadowed the figure skating events at the Beijing Olympics. Meanwhile, today's decision by World Athletics (track and field's governing body) to ban Russian and Belarusian athletes "for the foreseeable future" seems likely to impact the world indoor championships starting March 18 in Serbia, and possibly the regular world championships in the U.S. in July.
Question of the day: is the NHL going to ban Russian players? A few readers wrote in to ask this in response to yesterday's newsletter, which was mostly about various sports organizations banning Russian and Belarusian athletes and also included a part about the NHL announcing it would cut business ties with Russia. I should have added that, as part of that statement, the NHL mentioned that its Russian players "play in the NHL on behalf of their NHL clubs, and not on behalf of Russia." Which is to say, the NHL is not going to ban them.
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