Paralympics chief slams Russia at opening ceremony

BEIJING – The head of the International Paralympic Committee broke protocol on Friday when he denounced it Russia’s invasion of Ukraine In his speech at the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics.

With Chinese President Xi Jinping in attendance, the commission’s chair, Andrew Parsons, said he was “terrified” by the invasion. “Tonight, I want to start with a message of peace,” Parsons said.

It was an unusually blunt reprimand by the leader of an international sports organization and another indication of the way the war in Ukraine was reflected in the event.

Although the Paralympic Games are run by a not-for-profit organization separate from the International Olympic Committee, the organization holds the event in parallel with the Olympic Games and in the same spirit of conduct, while using many of the same facilities.

The International Olympic Committee in recent years has And they reiterated its ban on protests and political messages In the Olympics, the rules are aimed at athletes in general. But in this case, it was the Paralympics president who introduced the political tone, as the war continued to dominate the organizers’ agenda in the days leading up to the quadrennial winter parade.

The Ukrainian delegation, made up of about 20 athletes, entered the Beijing National Stadium to modest applause, some of them raising their fists as they walked around the stadium floor during the colorful and elaborate ceremony.

During that time, the televised sign language translation of the speech also paused.

Parsons praised the Chinese for their hospitality, described the venues as “fantastic,” and noted that “hundreds of thousands of facilities are now barrier-free” for people with disabilities. But it also angered social media users, who pointed out that Parsons, who is from Brazil, referred in his opening line to the “Republic of China,” which is Taiwan’s official name. Perhaps he meant to say “People’s Republic of China,” and did so precisely later in the speech.

For days, while the invasion forced the Paralympic Committee to debate how it should treat athletes from Russia and Belarus, Parsons stressed that the IGC should avoid politics and practice neutrality according to its rules. But he eventually acknowledged that action was inevitable, noting that the war overlapped with the games.

On Thursday, Parsons announced that the committee had reversed an earlier decision and had it blocked Russian and Belarusian athletes From the competition, an unusual step was taken in response to Russia’s attack on Ukraine, which was carried out with the support of Belarus.

Athletes and delegations from other countries have threatened a boycott, Parsons said, adding that tensions are rising in the Olympic Village where the athletes reside. He said the feasibility of the Games would be in doubt if Russians and Belarusians were allowed to compete.

Russia and Belarus refused to appeal the decision and the athletes were making arrangements to leave Beijing.

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In his Friday speech, Parsons referred to the Olympic Truce approved by the United Nations General Assembly, and said, “It must be respected and adhered to, and not violated.”

The Paralympic Games will be held through March 13 and will feature more than 650 athletes, a record representing 49 federations competing in 78 events. Three confederations are making their debut: Israel, Azerbaijan and Puerto Rico.

Germany won the most medals at the Paralympics, with 365, when it included those won by West Germany. It is followed by Austria (332), Norway (327), and the United States (315).

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