Sports Gazette

by sports journalism students at St Mary's University, London

Winter Paralympics 2022: Strong performances by Ukrainian Para athletes in the absence of Russia and Belarus

Posted on 15 March 2022 by Kristina Thiedeitz

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“Together for a shared future” was the motto of the Winter Paralympics. They took place during a war with almost ten thousand killed. Nevertheless, 39 athletes from Ukraine competed together and were able to break their medal record, winning 29 medals, with the absence of Russia and Belarus.

Until shortly before the Games began, it was not clear whether the Russians and Belarusians would take part in the Games or not. On the first of March, they decided that they would participate under a neutral flag. Many disagreed with this decision and threatened to boycott.

“In the last 12 hours, an overwhelming number of members have been in touch with us and been very open, for which I am grateful. They have told us that if we do not reconsider our decision, it is now likely to have grave consequences for the Beijing 2022 Paralympic Winter Games. Multiple NPCs [national participating committees], some of which have been contacted by their governments, teams, and athletes, are threatening not to compete,” explained IPC chief Andrew Parsons.

The pressure became too much, and Parsons ruled out Russia and Belarus: “With this in mind, and to preserve the integrity of these Games and the safety of all participants, we have decided to refuse the athlete entries from RPC and NPC Belarus.”

In his statement, he also apologised to the athletes he excluded: “To the Para athletes from the impacted countries, we are very sorry that you are affected by the decisions your governments took last week in breaching the Olympic truce. You are victims of your governments’ actions.”

The Brazilian added: “I hope and pray that we can get back to a situation when the talk and focus are fully on the power of sport to transform the lives of persons with disabilities, and the best of humanity.”

During the games, the focus was on the solid performance of the Ukrainians. Nobody knew beforehand how the athletes would manage to concentrate on their sport.

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But despite little sleep and worries, they focused on their competitions. They won 11 gold medals in biathlon and cross-country skiing. In the process, the athletes felt they could do something for their country. Even if they weren’t there, which gave them a motivational boost. Grygorii Vovchynskyi and Oksana Shyshkova were the top two Ukrainian athletes with five medals each.

Shyshkova spoke out after her victory and had an important message. She send to the world: “Let us live in peace. I want peace all over the world, not only in Ukraine.”

“Please to all who can hear me, please call on NATO to close the airspace over Ukraine,” she added.

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These statements made it into the world, but other actions for peace were prevented or stopped at the Paralympics. This did not necessarily come from the International Paralympic Committee (IPC), but from the Organising Committee (OCOG). “The OCOG exerted more influence on the Ukrainians than the IPC would have liked,” says Friedhelm Julius Beucher, President of the German Disabled Sports Association, cautiously.

The Chinese wanted to keep the Games as apolitical as possible, not antagonizing either side. The Chinese president is a confidant of Putin. That’s why they avoid calling Russia’s attack in the Ukraine war and thus blaming their partner.

They also used censorship to try to avoid having to report on it. For example, they had translated the terms differently during the opening speech of Parsons. He clearly called for the observance of peace. This caused a lot of trouble.

The Paralympic Winter Games are over, but unfortunately, the war in Ukraine is not yet. The Ukrainians showed at the Games that they could give their all despite difficult circumstances. Together they are strong, and with our help, they continue to fight for a shared future.