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IPC president condemns Ukraine war at Winter Paralympics opening ceremony | Winter Paralympics 2022

International Paralympic Committee president Andrew Parsons gave one of the most political speeches at an Olympics and Paralympics opening ceremony for decades, as he opened the Beijing 2022 Winter Paralympics saying: “I want – I must – begin with a message of peace as the leader of our organisation. I am horrified at what is taking place in the world right now. The 21st century is a time for dialogue and diplomacy, not war and hate.”

Throwing away decades of tradition of only making guarded comments at such events, Parsons continued: “The Olympic Truce for peace during the Olympic and Paralympic Games is a UN resolution. It must be respected and observed, not violated. At the IPC we aspire to a better and more inclusive growth, free from discrimination, free from hate, free from ignorance, and free from conflict.” He finished his speech by almost bellowing the word “Peace”.

Andrew Parsons delivering his passionate speech during the ceremony.
Andrew Parsons delivering his passionate speech during the ceremony. Photograph: Peter Cziborra/Reuters

In 2014 in Sochi, the Ukrainian Winter Paralympics team had staged a symbolic protest, sending only one athlete to the opening ceremony to represent them as Russian troops invaded the Crimean peninsula. Eight years later, with their country again under attack from Russia, the scene was very different. Maksym Yarovyi carried in his nation’s flag ahead of a full delegation, whose arrival in China had been fraught, while the Russian delegation announced that they would be leaving China rather than filing an immediate legal appeal over their expulsion.

Head of the Ukrainian delegation, Valerii Sushkevych, told a news conference on the eve of the Games: “It’s a miracle that we have made it to the Paralympics. We overcame a lot of barriers on the way.” He himself slept on the floor of a bus during the last two days of their journey through Europe.

With the ban on athletes from Russia and Belarus, 46 nations paraded in Beijing’s “Bird’s Nest” stadium, as the city became the first to host both the summer and winter editions of the Paralympics.

“Let’s work together for a shared and brighter future,” said Cai Qi, the president of the Beijing organising committee. Athletes from Azerbaijan, Israel and Puerto Rico represented countries making their Winter Paralympics debut in a Games held not just under the shadow of war in Ukraine, but widely criticised for the decision to hold them in China at all, given the human rights record of the host nation.

The flag of China is raised during the opening ceremony, after much criticism of the IOC decision to hold both the Winter Olympics and Paralympics there.
The flag of China is raised during the opening ceremony, after much criticism of the IOC decision to hold both the Winter Olympics and Paralympics there. Photograph: Aly Song/Reuters

The Games run until Sunday 13 March, when the closing ceremony will take place in the same venue. Covid restrictions meant the crowd was limited, but there was no need to use the cardboard cut-outs of people employed at the Winter Olympics opening ceremony to boost the apparent numbers there. Chinese president Xi Jinping attended and formally declared the Games open.

Performers are seen during the opening ceremony.
Performers are seen during the opening ceremony. Photograph: Aly Song/Reuters

Sochi bronze-medal winner Gregor Ewan and Paralympic debutant Meggan Dawson-Farrell were flag-bearers for the British Winter Paralympics team, which is sending its largest delegation of athletes – 25 in total – since Lillehammer in 1994. Ewan and Dawson-Farrell are part of the wheelchair curling team who will face Norway and then the United States in their opening matches on Saturday.

The British team enters the Bird’s Nest stadium during the 2022 Winter Paralympics opening ceremony in Beijing.
The British team enters the Bird’s Nest stadium during the 2022 Winter Paralympics opening ceremony in Beijing. Photograph: Gonzalo Fuentes/Reuters

British athletes will compete in five of the six sports at these Games: Alpine skiing, biathlon, cross-country skiing, snowboarding as well as the wheelchair curling. Only the para ice hockey contest will not feature British representation. Medal hopes Millie Knight and Menna Fitzpatrick were absent from the parade, preparing for their Alpine Skiing races which start from 10am in Beijing (2am UK time) on Saturday morning.

Meanwhile, the Russian Paralympic Committee (RPC) confirmed its delegation would be leaving China. In a statement the RPC said they reserved “the right to apply to the appropriate international and national court” later, but that it was not “worthwhile at the current time to remain in Beijing.”

They also singled out International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach for criticism, saying his call for Russian and Belarussian teams to be expelled from international events lead “to the degradation and collapse of the world sport.” Bach was absent from the opening ceremony, having tested positive for Covid-19 in the build-up. The RPC delegation are expected to depart China on Sunday.

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