The International Paralympic Committee (IPC) voted Friday to allow Russian and Belarusian athletes to compete as individual neutrals while their national committees serve two-year suspensions for the ongoing war in Ukraine.
Individuals will have to fulfill certain “conditions of participation” in order to be approved as neutral athletes by the IPC, with no team entries permitted. Those conditions “will be published in due course,” the IPC said in its press release.
Before IPC members voted 90-56 in favor of the partial sanctions against Russia and and 79-57 against Belarus, they nearly imposed a full suspension. Sixty-five IPC members voted to suspend Russia entirely from international competition for the next two years, but the motion was rejected by 74 members, with 13 abstaining.
According to the IPC, member organizations with voting rights include National Paralympic Committees (NPCs), International Federations, and International Organizations of Sport for the Disabled in good standing. The IPC acts as the official international federation for six Para sports: World Para Athletics, World Para Dance Sport, World Para Ice Hockey, World Para Powerlifting, World Shooting Para Sport, and World Para Swimming. The vote was part of the IPC’s General Assembly taking place in Manama, Bahrain.
“In reaching its decision, the IPC General Assembly was presented with evidence from the IPC, NPC Russia, and NPC Belarus, before a lengthy discussion took place,” IPC president Andrew Parsons said. “This provided an opportunity for IPC members to share their views on this subject.
“As this was a decision taken by the IPC General Assembly, I expect all IPC members to fully respect it. 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.”
Russia and Belarus can challenge the decision via an independent appeals tribunal, which overturned an earlier suspension in May without reinstating their right to compete internationally. In that case, the tribunal said that IPC members should have taken more evidence into account before voting to bar Russia and Belarus from the organization last November. Athletes from Russia and Belarus were already restricted from most global sporting events, but suspending their administrators marked an additional step beyond what the International Olympic Committee (IOC) was doing.
The IOC has yet to make a formal decision on Russian and Belarusian participation at Paris 2024, but all signs point to them allowing individual neutral athletes from those countries to compete.
The latest numbers suggest that the war in Ukraine has resulted in the deaths of nearly 10,000 civilians, about 70,000 Ukrainian troops, and 120,000 Russian forces.
Ukraine, due in large part to a huge federal investment into Paralympic training centers around the country, is one of the success stories of the Paralympic movement. Ukraine is coming off a huge showing at the 2023 World Para Swimming Championships that saw them capture the second-most gold medals (20) and the most overall medals of any color (55) in Manchester, Great Britain.
At the Tokyo Paralympics in 2021, Ukraine ranked 6th in the overall medals table with 24 gold and 98 total medals. That’s not far behind Russia (36 gold, 118 total), which was 4th under a neutral flag.
Belarus won five gold among seven total medals in Tokyo. All but one bronze medal came in swimming. In combination, Russia and Belarus combined for 55 medals in swimming at the Tokyo 2021 Paralympic Games. That represents 12.5% of the medals that were offered.