Para-athletes from Russia and Belarus will be allowed to compete at next year’s Paralympics after officials voted against a full ban.
The International Paralympic Committee (IPC) voted to partially suspend both the National Paralympic Committees of Russia and Belarus.
It means competitors from both nations can take part in Paris as neutrals.
Russia and Belarus have been suspended from Paralympic competition since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022.
The Paris Games in 2024 start on 28 August.
Para-athletes from Russia and Belarus will also now be able to enter world and regional championships, plus permitted competitions in the six sports for which the IPC acts as international federation, in a neutral capacity.
Paralympics GB said in a statement on Friday they are “disappointed” with the decision, adding it “does not align with the values of the Paralympic movement”.
Global Athlete, a body which helps to represent the voices of athletes, also expressed disappointment with the decision and said in a statement it “lacks reason and principle”.
Mihaylo Podolyak, adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, said in a statement that the decision “prolongs war” while the IPC president Andrew Parsons said he expects all IPC members to “fully respect” the outcome.
In a statement, the IPC said: “IPC members voted 90-56 in favour of a motion to partially suspend NPC Russia (with six members abstaining).
“This decision was taken after members initially voted against a motion to fully suspend NPC Russia by 74-65 (with 13 abstentions). For a motion to be passed, a 50%+ 1 result of all votes cast was required.”
It later said: “IPC members voted 74-56 (15 abstentions) against a motion to fully suspend NPC Belarus for breaches of its constitutional membership obligations.
“The IPC General Assembly voted 79-57 (nine abstentions) to partially suspend NPC Belarus for breaches of its constitutional membership obligations.”
The IPC’s decision at its general assembly in Bahrain on Friday comes two weeks before the International Olympic Committee (IOC) meets to discuss the participation of Russia and Belarus at the 2024 Paris Olympics.
Competitors from both countries were not allowed to take part as neutrals at the Winter Paralympics in Beijing in March 2022 after the IPC were criticised for originally saying they could.
Andrew Parsons, president of the IPC, said the organisation was “very firm believers that sport and politics should not mix”.
In May 2023, an appeal by Russia and Belarus against their suspension by the IPC was upheld – but they remain banned from world championship events.
Before the invasion of Ukraine, Russia’s ban on competing at international events dates back to 2016, when the McLaren report detailed a Russian state-sponsored doping programme.
The IPC blocked para-athletes from taking part in the Paralympic Games in Rio, and said it had also found evidence that samples were swapped during the Sochi Games in 2014.
Russia appealed against the 2016 suspension, but the decision was upheld by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (Cas).
Three years later, the IPC lifted its ban on Russian para-athletes – but under strict conditions. However, at the end of 2019, World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada) handed Russia a four-year ban from all major sporting events.
In 2021, Russian para-athletes were allowed to enter the Covid-delayed 2020 Paralympics in Tokyo under a neutral flag using the initials of the Russian Paralympic Committee (RPC).
IPC on the ‘wrong side of history’ – reaction
David Clarke, CEO of ParalympicsGB, said in a statement that the governing body had voted for a continued suspension of the Russian NPC.
He said: “We believe this decision does not align with the values of the Paralympic movement.
“However, given athletes and staff will only be able to attend if they meet the criteria set out by the IPC Governing Board we would urge them to ensure that individual athletes that have broken the IPC’s Code of Conduct, by stating their support for the war, are banned from competing at Paris 2024.
“We wish to continue to express our solidarity with the people of Ukraine and our friends at NPC Ukraine.”
Along with the Paralympics decision, Podolyak was also critical of Uefa’s decision to allow Russia’s U17 teams to be readmitted to European competition, announced earlier this week.
“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,” said Podolyak.
Global Athlete added that the IPC have shown their “true colours” by “kowtowing to Russia’s influence” over international sport.
“Today’s decision lacks reason and principle,” the statement said. “The fact that the IPC removed a ban when Russia’s aggression on Ukraine has only increased, is contradictory and aligns them to the wrong side of history in this war.
“Sadly, the IPC has ignored athletes’ calls for a ban and has instead lent their support to Putin’s war on Ukraine. The IPC has given Russia and Belarus a global stage at the Paris Paralympic Games for their war propaganda.”
Parsons, president of the IPC said: “I expect all IPC members to fully respect the decision. With it now behind us, I hope the focus as we lead-up to the Paris 2024 Paralympic Games can now be very much on sport and the performances of Para athletes.”