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Canada disagrees with inclusion of Russians, Belarusians in 2024 Paralympics

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OTTAWA — The Canadian Paralympic Committee disagreed with the International Paralympic Committee's decision to allow Russian and Belarusian athletes to compete as neutrals in next summer's Paralympic Games in Paris.

While the IPC voted Friday to partially suspend the membership of Russia and Belarus for two years, athletes from the two countries are eligible to compete as individuals and neutrals in upcoming Paralympic, world and regional championships.

Russia invaded Ukraine eight days before the 2022 Paralympic Winter Games in Beijing with the support of Belarus.

"The Canadian Paralympic Committee stood behind the decision to fully suspend NPC Russia and NPC Belarus, including from participation in the Paralympic Games," CPC president Marc-Andre Fabien said Friday in a statement.

"We continue to believe this is the right course of action to protect and defend the Paralympic values. As such, we are disappointed in the results of today’s vote and that there is not a total ban on membership and participation for NPC Russia and NPC Belarus and their athletes.

"Our position is that of solidarity with the athletes, coaches, and support staff in Ukraine who have been affected by this longtime act of aggression, which first began only days prior to the start of the 2022 Paralympic Winter Games.

"We believe in the power of sport to unite and make a significant impact in creating a more inclusive and accessible society, and at the centre of this is safety, security, and well-being."

The IPC completely banned Russian and Belarusian athletes from the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio because of host Russia's doping scandal stemming from the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi.

The IPC then fell in line with the International Olympic Committee in allowing athletes from those countries to compete as neutrals without flag, anthem or country colours.

But the invasion of Ukraine prompted another ban on Russians and Belarusians the day before Beijing's opening ceremonies, with IPC president Andrew Parsons citing an "untenable" security situation in the athletes' village and a possible boycott by other countries.

IPC members voted 74-65 (with 13 abstentions) against a full ban on Russia, and 75-56 (with 15 abstentions) against a full ban on Belarus on Friday.

Members voted 90-56 (with six abstentions) in favour of a partial suspension of Russia and 79-57 (with nine abstentions) to partially suspend Belarus "for breaches of their constitutional membership obligations."

Russia and Belarus will not be allowed to enter athletes in team sports in Paris.

As part of their suspension, they're also not allowed to host any event or competition involving other IPC members.

"As this was a decision taken by the IPC General Assembly, I expect all IPC members to fully respect it," Parsons said Friday in a statement.

"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.”

The 2024 Paralympic Games open Aug. 28 and close Sept. 8 in Paris.

"Our focus going forward will remain on supporting Canadian athletes to be best prepared for the upcoming Paris 2024 Paralympic Games and Santiago 2023 Parapan Am Games," Fabien said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 29, 2023.