Russia’s participation at Paralympics under cloud

Beijing's Winter Paralympics open Friday under the shadow of Moscow's invasion of Ukraine, with questions remaining over whether athletes from Russia and its ally Belarus will be barred from participating in the Games.

As the first city to host both Summer and Winter Games, the National Stadium — known as the Bird's Nest — will once again light up for an opening ceremony to welcome hundreds of athletes from all over the world.

Friday's celebrations could be muted, with the lead-up to the Games dogged by controversy as the world reacts with alarm to Russia invading Ukraine.

That includes the International Olympic Committee (IOC), which on Monday urged sporting federations across the world to exclude athletes from Russia and Belarus, which had hosted troops before the invasion.

But it remains up in the air if athletes from Russia — who will compete for the Russian Paralympic Committee (RPC) following the country's ban for state-sponsored doping — and Belarus will be barred from taking part in the Games.

The International Paralympic Committee will have a meeting Wednesday and a decision is expected by the evening.

Much of the sports world has reacted with solidarity to Ukraine.

FIFA kicked Russia out of the 2022 World Cup, while rugby's world governing body banned Russia and Belarus from all international rugby events "until further notice".

Russian President Vladimir Putin, an accomplished judoka, was also suspended as honorary head of the International Judo Federation.

With its civilian airspace closed, half a million refugees fleeing to neighbouring countries, and Russian troops closing in on Kyiv, getting Ukraine's Paralympians to Beijing was going to be a logistical issue.

Committee president Andrew Parsons had said last week it would be a "mammoth challenge", declining to comment further for security reasons.

By late Tuesday, the country's National Sports Committee for the Disabled confirmed its full team of 20 athletes and nine guides were making their way to the Games.

"I hope that tomorrow, March 2, we will be in Beijing," said Natalia Garach, communications manager for Ukraine's team.

The small Eastern European country has punched above its weight in previous Paralympic Winter events, with frequent podium finishes in the biathlon and ski events.

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