Why Russians, Belarusians are allowed to compete at the Paralympics | CBC Sports

The International Paralympic Committee confirmed today that it will not exclude athletes from Russia and Belarus from the upcoming Games in Beijing, choosing not to follow the lead of other international sports organizations that have enacted such bans in response to the invasion of Ukraine.

The IPC said that Russians and Belarusians will compete as “neutral” athletes under the Paralympic flag and anthem. They can win medals and stand on the podium, but their countries will not be included in the medal standings and their flags will not be displayed. Though several countries, including Canada, said they wanted Russian and Belarusian athletes to be expelled from the Games, IPC president Andrew Parsons called today’s move “the harshest possible punishment we can hand down within our constitution and the current IPC rules.” Parsons also said it was “fundamental that we worked within the framework of our new constitution to remain politically neutral and within… the rules and regulations that govern the Paralympic Movement.”

Translation: the IPC did not want to risk legal challenges from Russians and Belarusians, many of whom are already in Beijing and have participated in official training sessions ahead of Friday’s opening ceremony. The International Olympic Committee acknowledged this reality on Monday when it called for sports organizations to ban Russians and Belarusians from their events but essentially gave the IPC a pass for the Beijing Games. The Canadian Paralympic Committee also conceded the difficulty of a ban, saying today: “We would have liked the two countries expelled immediately, but due to legal constraints this is not possible.”

statement released on behalf of Ukrainian athletes called the IPC’s decision “another blow to every Ukrainian athlete and citizen” and claimed it will allow Russia and Belarus to continue to use the Games as “state propaganda.”

Before today’s ruling, Russian athletes were set to compete at the Paralympics as RPC — short for Russian Paralympic Committee, echoing the Russian Olympic Committee banner used at last month’s Winter Olympics in Beijing. This was punishment (if you can call it that) for the massive, state-run doping program the country was found to be running around the 2014 Sochi Olympics. 

Since it’s too late to make new uniforms, Russian Paralympic athletes have been ordered to cover the RPC symbol at all events and ceremonies. Athletes from Belarus, which is being sanctioned for its role in helping Russia with the invasion of Ukraine, must cover the flag on their uniforms.

Of the 650 or so athletes from 50 delegations expected to compete in the Games, 71 are from Russia and 12 from Belarus, plus guides for visually impaired athletes. Ukraine is sending a team of 20, plus nine guides. All three countries are strong in Para cross-country skiing and biathlon. Ukraine led all teams with a combined 22 medals in these sports at the 2018 Paralympics in South Korea, the Russian team was second with 20, while Belarus had 12. Read more about the decision to allow Russians and Belarusians to compete here.

IPC president Andrew Parsons said his organization handed Russia and Belarus “the harshest possible punishment.” (Philip Fong/Getty Images)

Canada named its flag-bearers for the Games

Wheelchair curler Ina Forrest and Para hockey player Greg Westlake will carry the Canadian flag into Beijing’s National Indoor Stadium for Friday’s opening ceremony, the Canadian Paralympic Committee announced today.

Westlake, 35, is set to compete in his fifth Paralympic Games. The Oakville, Ont., native helped the Canadian Para hockey (formerly known as sledge hockey) team win gold in 2006 and bronze in 2014 before it had to accept a heartbreaking silver in 2018. With Canada just 38 seconds from victory in the gold-medal game, the United States scored the tying goal and then went on to win in overtime to capture its third consecutive Paralympic title.

Westlake, whose legs were amputated below the knee when he was 18 months old, also helped Canada win the world championship three times before it lost the last two gold-medal games (in 2019 and ’21) to the U.S. He was the captain of the Canadian team from 2010-19. Tyler McGregor, who led Canada in scoring at the 2018 Paralympics with 13 points (including eight goals) in five games, will wear the “C” in Beijing.

Forrest, 59, is about to compete in her fourth consecutive Paralympic Games. The Spallumcheen, B.C., native won gold at the first two alongside former Canada skip Jim Armstrong before taking bronze in 2018 with current skip Mark Ideson, for whom Forrest throws third rocks. Forrest also captured three wheelchair world titles with Armstrong before taking silver at the 2020 world championship with Ideson. At last year’s worlds in Beijing, their team was eliminated in the first playoff round. 

Forrest was paralyzed at age 21 when she was hit by a drunk driver. She didn’t take up wheelchair curling until two decades later, but has gone on to compete in 12 consecutive world championships and was inducted into the Canadian Curling Hall of Fame in 2016. Read more about the two flag-bearers here.

Westlake and Forrest will lead Canada’s Paralympic team, which is made up of 49 athletes, into the opening ceremony on Friday. Live coverage starts at 6:30 a.m. ET on the CBC TV network, CBC Gem, CBCSports.ca and the CBC Sports app. Those platforms will carry live competitions starting Friday night until the closing ceremony on March 13. See the full streaming schedule here and the TV schedule here. Read more about CBC Sports’ coverage plans here.

As the team captain in 2018, Greg Westlake led Canada to a silver medal at the Paralympics. (Martin Rose/Getty Images)

Quickly…

An NHL player agent says his Russian and Belarusian clients are facing “disturbing levels” of harassment. Ukraine-born Dan Milstein, who represents three quarters of the NHL players from Russia and Belarus and whose star clients include Russians Nikita Kucherov and Andrei Vasilevskiy, told ESPN: “The discrimination and racism these Russian and Belarusian players are facing right now is remarkable. My own childhood home is being bombed as I speak to my friends back home… but people are picking on the wrong crowd. I can speak on behalf of my clients: They want world peace like everybody else. They’re not being treated like that.” Milstein, who immigrated to the U.S. in 1991, also said he’s troubled by the possibility that NHL team executives are having reservations about picking Russian players in this year’s draft because they fear the potential backlash. “I try to understand the teams, and of course public opinion matters, but this is pure discrimination,” Milstein said. “And these are young men’s lives we’re talking about. Innocent young men who are now being punished.” Read more about Milstein’s comments here

The Ottawa Senators will play the Ukrainian national anthem before their home games. Owner Eugene Melnyk, whose parents were born in Ukraine and moved to Canada before he was born, said this is part of the team’s efforts to “honour and support the valiant efforts of the Ukrainian people.” Melnyk also pledged to use upcoming 50/50 draws at Senators games to direct money to organizations “providing humanitarian and medical assistance to Ukraine,” and to look into making the team’s arena a drop-off point for donations of medical supplies, clothing and other items “for those in need in Ukraine and the thousands who have escaped to safety.” Read more about Melnyk’s announcement here.

This year’s speed skating world championships are set to open without Russians and Belarusians. The sport’s world governing body banned those athletes yesterday “until further notice,” ruling them out of both the sprint world championships and allround world championships being held together in Norway from Thursday through Sunday. Because it’s an Olympic year, there are no single distances world championships in 2022. In both the sprint and allround worlds, skaters compete in four races to determine a winner. The sprint worlds are made up of a 500m and a 1,000m race on both Thursday and Friday. The allround worlds, on Saturday and Sunday, are even more gruelling. Women skate a 500m, 3,000m, 1,500m and 5,000m, while the men go 500, 5,000, 1,500 and 10,000. Eight Canadians are competing in Norway. They include Ivanie Blondin, who won Olympic gold last month in the women’s team pursuit and a solo silver in the mass start, and Laurent Dubreuil, who took silver in the men’s 1,000 and is currently ranked No. 1 in the World Cup 500m standings. Isabelle Weidemann, who won Olympic gold alongside Blondin in the team pursuit and also took individual silver and bronze in the women’s long-distance races in Beijing, is not competing. You can watch every race in the meet live on CBCSports.ca, the CBC Sports app and CBC Gem starting Thursday at 11:20 a.m. ET.

And finally…

Baseball has lost its way. After the self-imposed deadline for a new labour deal passed yesterday at 5 p.m. ET, Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred announced the cancellation of the first two series of the regular season, which was supposed to open on March 31. It’s the first time in 27 years that MLB has lost regular-season games to a labour dispute, and the ongoing lockout means each team’s schedule will be reduced from 162 games to likely 156 or less. How much less will depend on the amount of time it takes for owners and players to agree on how to slice up the obscene amounts of money the sport rakes in these days. The other (and possibly even more troubling) question is, what will that deal do to the sport? It seems like the owners are going to get the 14-team post-season they want — a blatant TV-cash grab that, while fun in the moment, will render sports’ longest regular season even more meaningless than it’s become over the past few decades as more divisions and more wild cards keep getting added. As a fan, how many times can you be told the regular season doesn’t matter before you just tune it out?

You’re up to speed. Talk to you tomorrow.


WATCH | Dissecting Russian ban across sports world:

Breaking down Russia’s international sports ban

CBC Sports’ senior contributor Shireen Ahmed talks about the implications of banning Russia from international sporting events. 4:42

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