With barely a day until the start of the 2022 Paralympic Games,
it's just not fair to ban the athletes from Russia and Belarus.
An International Olympic Committee resolution on Monday called on all
sporting organisations to remove Russian and Belarusian athletes and
officials from international competition. But the resolution came with an
exception to allow them to compete as neutral athletes. This measure is
already in place (because of sanction imposed around doping violation)
and you would have seen athletes from ROC (Russian Olympic Committee) at
Since the resolution was made, numerous organisations, including
Paralympics GB and Canada, have called for Russia and Belarus to be
banned from the Games entirely. I am not convinced that is the right
direction to take.
Just like everyone else who will take to the slopes, the tracks and the
rinks over the next couple of weeks, the athletes from Russia and Belarus
have worked so hard for so long to win their place on the biggest
sporting stage for athletes with a disability. This is their chance to
compete at the top level of their sport and I just don't think it is fair
to rob them of that opportunity.
Any suggestion that the Paralympic or Olympic Games is separate from
politics is farcical nowadays but we should at least try to protect each
individual athlete's right to compete in an event that comes around only
once every four years.
I was so stoked to see the photos of the Ukrainian winter team as they
departed for China. Just getting them safely out of the country must have
been a mammoth task and I take my hat off to the administrators - no
doubt all over the world - who made that happen. I am sure they moved
mountains to get the team to Beijing and quite rightly so.
But, while we support the human rights of Ukrainian athletes to play and
participate in sport, we must also afford the Russian and Belarussian
athletes the same rights and privileges. How can we respect the rights of
one group while simultaneously removing the rights of the other?
If I know anything at all about elite sport (and I know a bit) those
Russian and Belarusian athletes have just finished a five month on-snow
training block. They're likely to have given up study or work and paid
for much of it out of their own pockets. For some, their income for the
next four years rests with them not just competing but performing well in
I can promise that they, just like all the other athletes, will have been
so focussed on training, competing and qualifying for the Paralympic
Games that they barely looked at the news until a few days ago.. but I
bet they're paying attention now!
Most of them are already on the ground in Beijing, making final
preparations, training on the hills, getting ready for the Opening
Ceremony and hoping they will get the chance to compete. If a Russian
athlete performs well enough to win a medal, they won't wear their
country's name on their jacket during the ceremony or hear their national
I think that is penalty enough for the innocent bystanders in a cruel war
waged by a crazy meglamaniac who just happens to be the leader of their
country. It might be possible for a rich tennis player to sit out a few
tournaments or a soccer player with a lucrative contract with an English
football club to publicly denounce the regime but the same cannot be said
for most Paralympic athletes.
Although I am all for harsh sanctions on Russia, I want those sanctions
to be effective, meaningful and to target the right people. Instead of
banning and excluding the winter athletes from Belarus and Russia, let's
welcome them, talk to them and listen to them. Let's do what Putin
cannot... meet our fellow human beings as equals and leave the
war-mongering for the sport arena.