Opening Ceremony: Paralympic Winter Games kick off in Beijing with strong Ukraine presence


All of Ukraine’s Paralympians have traveled to the Chinese capital — a feat described as a “miracle” by Valeriy Sushkevych, president of the Ukrainian Paralympic Committee — and their participation in these Games was greeted with a show of support from Andrew Parsons, president of the International Paralympic Committee (IPC).

Parsons delivered a stern speech that called for world peace and expressed dismay at ongoing conflicts, but refrained from mentioning Ukraine or Russia by name.

“Tonight I want – I must – start with a message of peace,” Parsons said. “As the leader of an organization focused on inclusion, where diversity is celebrated and differences embraced, I am horrified by what is happening in the world right now. The 21st century is a time of dialogue and diplomacy, not war and hatred. .

“The Olympic Truce for Peace during the Olympic and Paralympic Games is a UN resolution. It must be respected and observed, not violated.”

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has had a significant impact on the sports world, with many governing bodies imposing sanctions on Russia and its athletes.

The IPC soon followed suit and, the day before the Paralympic Games began, took the decision to ban all Russian and Belarusian athletes from competing in Beijing. Belarus remains a key Russian military ally and is used as a launching point for troops in Ukraine.

“At the IPC, we aspire to a better and more inclusive world, free from discrimination, hatred, ignorance and conflict,” Parsons added. “Here in Beijing, Paralympic athletes from 46 different nations will compete with against each other, not against each other.

“Through sport, they will show the best of humanity and shine a light on the values ​​that should underpin a peaceful and inclusive world. Tonight, the Paralympic movement calls on world authorities to unite as athletes do, to promote peace, understanding and inclusion.

“The world should be a place of sharing, not division.”

He ended his speech with a loud shout of “Peace!”

Two young footballers and a 19-year-old former biathlete killed in Ukraine, according to sports organizations

A record number of Paralympians – around 700 – were due to compete in Beijing, but the day before the opening ceremony attention focused on the 83 who will not.

This is after the IPC announced the decision to make a U-turn to prevent Russian and Belarusian athletes from competing at the Games following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The IPC said backlash from teams and athletes preparing to compete in Beijing “jeopardized the viability” of the Games and made athlete safety “unsustainable”, even after Russian and Belarus participants had to compete as than neutral.

The first events of the Paralympic Winter Games are scheduled for Saturday. The competition runs until March 13 and features 78 events in six Paralympic sports: alpine skiing, biathlon, cross-country skiing, para ice hockey, snowboarding and wheelchair curling.

As with last month’s Winter Olympics, events will take place in the three distinct areas of central Beijing, Yanqing and Zhangjiakou.

READ: These are the sports Russia has been suspended from

Russia and Belarus ban – how did it come about?

After the first deployment of Russian troops to Ukraine last week, the IPC has condemned Russian President Vladimir Putin’s violation of the Olympic truce – a resolution that orders conflicts around the world to be suspended for seven days before the Games Winter Olympics seven days after the Paralympic Winter Games.

Then on Monday, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) ‘recommended’ that Russian and Belarusian athletes either be banned from international sporting events or allowed to compete as neutrals where the ‘short notice’ of the decision would make a ban impractical. .

Earlier this week, Parsons said allowing Russian and Belarusian participation in Beijing, albeit as neutrals, was the “severest possible punishment” available to the governing body, but pressure from the international para sport community has forced the IPC to resort to tougher measures.

A statement released by Ukrainian athletes said Russia and Belarus would use the Games as “state propaganda […] with or without a neutral label,” while Sarah Hirshland, CEO of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee, said the decision not to ban participation altogether “excuses Russia’s contempt not only for the Olympic truce, but also for the victims of a senseless truce of war.”

The IPC found itself in a “unique and impossible position”, according to Parsons, who said several countries had threatened not to compete in Beijing.

After previously saying Russian and Belarusian athletes could compete as neutrals, the IPC on Thursday banned 71 Russian and 12 Belarusian athletes from competing in the Games. “You are victims of the actions of your governments” was Parsons’ message to those affected by the ruling.

READ: Tennis star Svitolina says all prize money she wins at Monterrey Open will go to Ukrainian military

When do the events start?

The action begins in Beijing, the first city to host both Summer and Winter Games, with medal events in men’s and women’s para-alpine skiing and men’s and women’s para-biathlon on Saturday.

Host China will have a team of 96 athletes competing in the six sports during the Games. After winning its first medal — a wheelchair curling gold medal — in Pyeongchang four years ago, this year’s Chinese team is widely expected to achieve more success.

Team USA topped the medal table at the last Paralympic Winter Games and fielded a 67-person squad – 28 of whom are making their Paralympic debut – this year.

Among the athletes returning to the team is Oksana Masters, a 10-time Paralympic medalist at the Summer and Winter Games who competed in rowing, cycling, cross-country skiing and biathlon.
Born in Ukraine before being adopted by her American mother, Masters is one of the most decorated Paralympic athletes of the past decade. Before the Games, she noted his “heart breaks” for the country of his birth.

Other stars of the American team include hockey player Declan Farmer — whose two goals helped the United States beat Canada and win gold at the last Games –– and Dan Cnossen, a former Navy SEAL who won six medals in biathlon and four in cross-country skiing. years ago.

As part of the Canadian team, cross-country skier Brian McKeever will compete in his sixth and last Paralympic Games at the age of 42. McKeever, the most decorated male cross-country skier at the Paralympic Games, has amassed 17 medals since his debut in 2002, including 13 gold.

McKeever is training in Zhangjiakou ahead of the Paralympic Winter Games.

Ukrainian athletes escape ‘shelling and shell explosions’

Ukraine sent a full contingent of 20 athletes and nine guides to Beijing to compete in biathlon and cross-country skiing.

The team’s arrival in Beijing was hailed as a “miracle” by Sushkevych.

“We came here from Ukraine and we traveled through Ukraine. It took us several days. We had to overcome many war-related obstacles,” Sushkevych told reporters on Thursday.

“Many of our team barely managed to escape the shelling and shell explosions, but we got here anyway.”

Sushkevych said he slept on the floor of the team bus for the last two days of their trip through Europe before catching a flight to Beijing, adding: “We could have given up and not come to Beijing, that was the situation, bombs were going off, missiles were going off.

“There is a full-scale war in Ukraine. When simple things couldn’t be organized, the easiest solution would have been to stay in Ukraine.”

What are the Covid-19 protocols?

The Covid-19 countermeasures that were in place for the Winter Olympics in February are also being implemented for the Paralympics.

This includes a “closed loop” system encompassing venues, conference centers and hotels and linked by a dedicated Games transport service. Being fully vaccinated allows participants to enter the “closed loop” without quarantine, while those who are not vaccinated must self-isolate for 21 days upon arrival.

Once inside the “closed loop”, Games participants are tested daily for Covid-19 and, if positive, are confined to a room in an isolation facility until that they return two consecutive negative tests at least 24 hours apart.

By the close of the Winter Olympics on February 20, a total of 437 Covid-19 cases had been recorded among Olympics-related personnel after more than 1.8 million tests; 185 of those positive tests were for athletes and team officials.

Between the end of the Olympic Games and Wednesday, which marked the day before the opening ceremony of the Paralympic Games, 17 other cases of Covid-19 were recorded.

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