Paralympics President Rebukes Russia at Opening Ceremony

Ad Blocker Detected

Our website is made possible by displaying online advertisements to our visitors. Please consider supporting us by disabling your ad blocker.

BEIJING — The president of the International Paralympic Committee broke protocol on Friday when he denounced Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in his speech at the opening ceremony of the Beijing Games.

With President Xi Jinping of China in attendance, the committee president, Andrew Parsons, said he was “horrified” by the invasion. “Tonight, I want to begin with a message of peace,” Parsons said.

It was an unusually frank rebuke for the leader of an international sports organization and came as another sign of the way the war in Ukraine has reverberated at the event.

Although the Paralympics are run by a separate nonprofit from the International Olympic Committee, the organization holds the event in parallel with the Olympics and with the same spirit of conduct, while using many of the same facilities.

The International Olympic Committee in recent years has reaffirmed its ban on protests and political messages at the Olympics, rules that are generally aimed at athletes. But in this case it was the head of the Paralympics who injected a political tone, as the invasion of Ukraine continues to dominate the organizers’ agenda in the days leading up to its quadrennial winter showcase.

The delegation from Ukraine, about 20 athletes, entered the stadium to modest applause, some with their fists raised as they walked around the floor of the stadium during the colorful and elaborate ceremony.

Shortly after Parsons spoke, social media users in China noted that a portion of his speech was not translated on Chinese television for about one minute, beginning when he said, “At the I.P.C., we aspire to a better and more inclusive world, free from discrimination, free from hate, free from ignorance and free from conflict.”

During that time, the televised sign language interpretation of the speech also temporarily stopped.

Parsons praised the Chinese for their hospitality, calling the venues “magnificent,” and noting that “hundreds of thousands of facilities were made barrier free,” for people with disabilities. But he also incurred the wrath of social media users, who noted that in his opening line, Parsons, who is from Brazil, referred to the “Republic of China,” which is the official name of Taiwan. He may have meant to say “The People’s Republic of China,” and did so accurately later in the speech.

For days, as the invasion forced the Paralympics committee to deliberate how it would treat athletes from Russia and Belarus, Parsons continually stressed that it was incumbent upon the organization to avoid politics and to practice neutrality according to the I.P.C.’s rules. But he eventually conceded that taking action was unavoidable, noting that the war had interfered with the Games.

Russia-Ukraine War: Key Things to Know

Card 1 of 3

Russian gains in the south. After taking control of Kherson and cutting off the city of Mariupol, Russian forces advanced deeper into southern Ukraine, descending on the port of Mykolaiv, just 60 miles from Odessa, a vital shipping center and the largest city in the south.

On Thursday, Parsons announced that the committee had reversed an earlier decision and was barring Russian and Belarusian athletes from competing, an unusual step taken in response to Russia’s attack on Ukraine, which was staged with the support of Belarus.

But in the hours after that first announcement, Parsons said, the athletes and delegations from many other countries threatened to boycott and he added that tensions were rising in the Olympic Village, where the athletes stay. He said the viability of the Games would be in doubt if the Russians and Belarussians were allowed to compete.

Russia and Belarus declined to appeal the decision and were making arrangements to leave Beijing.

Referring in his speech Friday to the Olympic Truce adopted by the United Nations General Assembly, Parsons said, “It must be respected and observed, not violated.”

The Paralympics will take place through March 13 and will include more than 650 athletes, a record, representing 49 federations competing in 78 events. Three federations are making their debut, Israel, Azerbaijan and Puerto Rico.

Austria has won the most medals at the Paralympics, with 332, followed by Norway (327) and the United States (315).