Russia and Belarus' athletes are set to compete as individual neutrals at the Paris 2024 Paralympics after yesterday's IPC vote ©Getty Images

The International Paralympic Committee (IPC) has been warned it has opened a "pandora's box" by allowing Russian and Belarusian athletes to compete as neutrals at Paris 2024, but Russia has claimed the partial suspension represents "discrimination".

The IPC General Assembly in Bahrain's capital Manama voted in favour of partial suspension for the National Paralympic Committees (NPC) of Russia and Belarus, allowing their athletes to compete as individual neutrals at next year's Paralympic Games subject to conditions to be set out by the IPC Governing Board.

Motions to fully suspend both NPCs and effectively ban them from next year's Paralympics were rejected.

Russian Paralympic Committee (RPC) President Pavel Rozhkov has claimed the partial suspension was because of its work to rehabilitate people injured in the war in Ukraine, and attempted to draw a contrast with the Invictus Games for wounded military personnel.

"Such rehabilitation activities are a common practice in many other countries, in particular, the USA and Canada have directly stated that they use Paralympic sports to provide support to military personnel who have become disabled," he claimed to Russia's state-run news agency TASS.

"Members of the British royal family, in particular Prince Harry, regularly support and assist in holding the Invictus Games.

"In particular, on September 9 to 16, the next Invictus Games were held in Düsseldorf with the participation of Ukrainian military personnel who received disabilities during the current conflict.

"The RPC considers it its responsibility to carry out rehabilitation events for war veterans aimed at achieving the goals proclaimed by the IPC constitution, in particular to promote Para sports without any discrimination."

Among the initiatives implemented by the RPC, TASS has reported Russian Paralympic athletes have staged masterclasses for soldiers undergoing hospital treatment after fighting in the war in Ukraine, which Rozhkov said would ensure "they will quickly return to an active lifestyle".

Russian Paralympic Committee President Pavel Rozhkov, right, said
Russian Paralympic Committee President Pavel Rozhkov, right, said "the RPC considers it its responsibility to carry out rehabilitation events for war veterans" ©Getty Images

The IPC cited an "inability to comply with their membership obligations" in the 2011 and 2022 Constitutions for the measures taken against both NPCs, including not doing anything "that risks bringing the IPC, the Paralympic Movement, or Para sport into disrepute" and being "neutral and impartial in matters of politics".

IPC President Andrew Parsons urged "all IPC members to fully respect" the decision.

Russia and Belarus can both appeal the partial suspension, and Rozhkov told TASS the RPC is "considering possible remedies and will continue to seek full restoration of its legal rights".

He claimed the decision was "unfair", and restrictions "illegal and contrary to the Constitution and the ethical rules of the IPC, since they primarily reflect the political position of the IPC".

Rozhkov described the neutral status requirement for Russia's athletes as "discrimination".

Russian Sports Minister Oleg Matytsin claimed to TASS "the global sports movement is tired of the politicisation of sports, biased decisions to suit the interests of individual countries".

Ukraine and several of its allies have moved to express disappointment with the decision.

Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to the head of the Office of the President of Ukraine, claimed the decision would provide encouragement to Russia in the war.

"Permitting participation of Russians in the Paralympic Games and youth football competitions, not expelling Russia from international institutions and organisations, not issuing arrest warrants in any jurisdiction for high-ranking officials for involvement in mass crimes, permitting international companies to trade with Russia - all of this, firstly, prolongs the war, and secondly, provokes Russia to increase the levels of mass violence in Ukraine in order to exert pressure on global elites and force them to agree to the right of Russia to disregard international laws," he wrote on X, formerly Twitter.

The Nordic NPCs - Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark - along with Britain, Canada, Ireland, Estonia and Lithuania are among those who have publicly declared they voted for a full suspension of Russia and Belarus.

Canadian Paralympic Committee President Marc-André Fabien commented "we are disappointed in the results" of the vote and expressing "solidarity with the athletes, coaches, and support staff in Ukraine".

"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," Fabien added.

"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."

Norwegian Olympic and Paralympic Committee and Confederation of Sports vice-chair Arne Bård Dalhaug delivered a speech on behalf of the Nordic nations at the General Assembly in Bahrain.

He warned allowing Russia and Belarus to participate would set a dangerous precedent.

"Yes, there are other wars going on in the world, but they are not about conquering another country and stealing the territories it owns," he said.

"Imagine what the consequences could be if we let it happen, that internationally accepted borders between countries can just be wiped off the map with military force.

"Accepting Russia's behaviour would open a pandora's box of wars."

Dalhaug expressed disappointment afterwards, but vowed to respect the IPC's decision.

"Democracy has voted, and the majority wanted this outcome," he said.

"Then we have to respect that.

"But we are disappointed that it was not a full ban."

Russian and Belarusian athletes were initially set to compete as neutrals at Beijing 2022, before a backlash led to an IPC U-turn  ©Getty Images
Russian and Belarusian athletes were initially set to compete as neutrals at Beijing 2022, before a backlash led to an IPC U-turn ©Getty Images

Parasport Denmark director Ivan Løvstrup concurred "even though it hurts, we have to accept that the majority has chosen to go down a path we don't like".

"In Russia, sport is used as a means of propaganda, and as far as possible we would like to deprive them of the opportunity to do that," Løvstrup said.

"When an exclusion has not been possible, the next best thing after all is that they participate under a neutral flag."

He apologised to Danish athletes, but promised they would not be used in a "political battle".

Finnish Paralympic Committee secretary general Riikka Juntunen offered a critical reflection on the General Assembly's decision.

"Organised sports for the disabled actually started after the Second World War based on the rehabilitation of people injured in the war," she said.

"In international disability sports, people who were on opposite sides of the war and were disabled there showed the rest of the world that peaceful interaction and competition is possible.

"The whole of disability sports is based on the idea that there will never be another war.

"Today's decision shows in a sad way how short humanity's memory is.

"At this stage, no final decisions will be made for Finland, but I emphasise that in the Finnish Paralympic Committee, decisions are always made with the interests of Finnish Para athletes first and after listening to their opinion."

Lithuanian Paralympic Committee President Mindaugas Bilius claimed the IPC General Assembly lacked
Lithuanian Paralympic Committee President Mindaugas Bilius claimed the IPC General Assembly lacked "perhaps the courage, the heart for a different decision" ©Getty Images

Estonian Paralympic Committee (EPK) President Monika Haukanõmme described the decision as "truly painful and shocking", and claimed "it is very sad to see that a large part of the world does not understand the wider meaning of what is happening in Ukraine".

Haukanõmme promised the EPK would form a position on the issue after consulting the Estonian Olympic Committee following next month's International Olympic Committee Session in Mumbai.

Lithuanian Paralympic Committee President Mindaugas Bilius suggested the General Assembly "lacked the votes, and perhaps the courage, the heart for a different decision", and "not all countries are equally aware of the horrors and threats of the war in Ukraine, especially the countries that are geographically further away".

He said the next steps would be discussed with the Lithuanian Ministry of Education, Science and Sports.

Criticism of the IPC's stance has also come from Britain, including from its Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer.

"There is a clear consensus - from a coalition of like-minded nations, including the UK - that there should be no Russian and Belarusian state representation in sporting competitions, whilst the war in Ukraine continues," she said.

"While we fully respect the autonomy of sport, today’s vote by the International Paralympic Committee is deeply concerning.

"The situation remains unchanged in Ukraine, with innocent people still losing their lives at the hands of Russian aggression, including over 300 Ukrainian athletes and coaches who could have been at the Paris Games.

"We will continue to work constructively with the IPC, alongside sporting federations, governing bodies and event organisers, to ensure only completely neutral Russian and Belarusian athletes are able to participate."

British Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer said the IPC vote was
British Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer said the IPC vote was "deeply concerning" ©Getty Images

British Paralympic Association chief executive David Clarke added "we believe this decision does not align with the values of the Paralympic movement", and urged the IPC to ban Russian and Belarusian athletes who have expressed support for the war, as reported by public service broadcaster the BBC.

Russia has not competed at the Paralympic Games under its own flag since the drugs-tainted 2014 Winter Paralympics in Sochi.

Its and Belarus' athletes were initially due to compete as neutrals at the Beijing 2022 Winter Paralympics which started eight days after the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, but the IPC reversed its stance on the eve of the Opening Ceremony and suspended them after multiple nations had threatened a boycott.

Russia and Belarus' NPCs were suspended last year, but this was lifted on appeal earlier this year on a "technicality".