— Published 2 October 2023

On the Russian question, the IPC has taken the lead

The news came as a surprise to many. The International Paralympic Committee (IPC), which held an extraordinary General Assembly in Manama, Bahrain, at the end of last week, voted in favour of Russian athletes taking part in the Paris 2024 Games under a neutral banner.

With just over 300 days to go until the next Paralympic Games, the IPC’s decision was taken in two stages. The first motion invited the delegates to vote on a total suspension of the Russian Paralympic Committee. This was rejected by 74 votes to 65, with 13 abstentions.

The second motion concerned the partial suspension of the Russian Paralympic body. It was adopted by a large majority of 90 votes to 56 (with 6 abstentions). The Russian Paralympic Committee is therefore excluded from the movement for a period of two years, but its suspension is “subject to review at the next Ordinary General Assembly.” This will take place next year.

But the IPC explained in a statement: “As a result of the partial suspension, the Russian Paralympic Committee loses all its rights as a member of the IPC. However, its athletes are eligible to participate individually and neutrally in the Paris 2024 Paralympic Games.

Later that day, on Friday 29 September, the IPC organised another vote, this time dedicated to Belarus. With 79 votes in favour, 57 against and 9 abstentions, it was decided to suspend its National Paralympic Committee. However, as in the case of Russia, Belarusian athletes will be allowed to participate in the Paris 2024 Games on an individual basis and subject to conditions.

I expect all IPC members to respect the decision taken today at the General Assembly,” said IPC President Andrew Parsons. I now hope that as we approach the Paris 2024 Paralympic Games, the focus will be on the sport and the performance of para-athletes.

So the door is open. It may not close again, although we will have to wait to find out exactly what conditions of neutrality the IPC Executive Committee will impose for participation in the next Paralympic events.

The results of the two ballots suggest that the Russian question was not settled as a mere formality last Friday in Manama by the international Paralympic movement. It was widely debated. It caused divisions within the IPC. And its outcome has left its share of unhappy people.

France is one of them. Just a few hours after the decision was announced, the French Paralympic Committee issued a blunt statement. “The French Paralympic and Sports Committee (CPSF), along with almost all the European Paralympic Committees, considers that the risk of manipulation, even under a neutral banner, remains uncontrollable, while the Paralympic Games must remain a place of peace and neutrality, explains the document. This position failed to garner the necessary support, despite the backing of the IPC’s Paralympic Athletes’ Commission. The CPSF now supports the IPC Executive Committee, which is responsible for determining the conditions under which Russian and Belarusian athletes can take part, on a case-by-case basis, under a neutral banner. It remains very vigilant regarding the attitude of the authorities and athletes concerned in order to preserve the Paralympic competitions. The CPSF condemns the pressure being put on certain national Paralympic Committees around the world.

With this decision, the IPC is once again distancing itself from the IOC on the Russian question. Unlike the Olympic body, where the Executive Board settles the issue in a small committee, the matter was put to a vote by the member countries. Above all, it is now settled, with just under a year to go. The IOC, on the other hand, is postponing the decision until the “most appropriate time“, a formula that is vague enough to allow it all options.

As a reminder, the IOC and the IPC have often adopted opposing positions on the Russian question. At the Rio 2016 Games, the Olympic body accepted a team from the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC), while its Paralympic counterpart banned any Russian participation.

Six years later, at the Beijing 2022 Winter Games, the IOC once again accepted the presence of a neutral team presented by the ROC. But the outbreak of the military offensive in Ukraine, less than two weeks before the start of the Paralympic Games, placed the IPC in an unprecedented situation. The body had initially accepted a Russian team under a neutral banner, before changing its mind under pressure from some of its member countries, and closing the door to the Games on the eve of the opening.