BEIJING (AP) – The Winter Paralympics opened in Beijing on Friday, when Russian athletes were sent home, a Ukrainian team fled the war zone to get to China, and an ardent call for peace.

Andrew Parsons, president of the International Paralympic Committee, said he was horrified by the fighting in Ukraine and called on world authorities to promote peace.

“Tonight I want to start with a message of peace,” Parsons said in a short speech to the athletes and spectators at the Bird’s Nest Stadium. “As a leader of an organization with inclusiveness at its core, where diversity is celebrated and differences are accepted, I am appalled by what is happening in the world now.”

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine shortly after the Winter Olympics in Beijing worries the world. And the world of sports is no exception.

The organizers of the Paralympic Games initially announced that Russians and Belarusians would be allowed to participate in Beijing, but the day before the opening they reversed the course and expelled athletes from both countries. They referred to the tensions in the village of athletes. Russia’s Paralympic Committee called the decision “absolutely politicized.”

The live broadcast of the revelation on Chinese state television did not translate the condemnation of Parsons’ war and then reduced the volume of his speeches in English for a while. The Chinese government restricts anti-Russian views in the state media and on the Internet. Unlike the United States and Europe, she did not criticize the invasion and did not oppose sanctions against Russia.

On the eve of the opening, about 16 members of the Ukrainian team, dressed in yellow and blue winter clothes and knitted hats, chanted “Peace to Ukraine”, holding large banners reading “Stop the War” in the area of ​​the participants. Competitors from other countries applauded and greeted, and several approached and hugged Ukrainians.

At the head of the delegation Maxim Yarov carried the well-known blue and yellow flag of the country to the stadium. All athletes and spectators wore masks to protect against the coronavirus, including Chinese President Xi Jinping and other dignitaries.

“It’s a miracle that we got to the Paralympics,” – said earlier the head of the Ukrainian delegation Valery Sushkevich.

He said it took team members in Ukraine four days to get to Beijing, and that he slept on the floor of the bus due to the condition of his back during the last two days of his trip to Europe.

“We have overcome many barriers along the way,” Sushkevich said. “Many members of our team had to flee during the bombing and shelling.”

Li Duan, a former blind long jumper from China who won gold in Athens in 2004 and in Beijing in 2008, groped for the holder and then with some difficulty inserted the fire. The crowd cheered him on until he properly set it in the center of a large white snowflake, which then climbed to the top of the open-air stadium.

A total of 564 athletes, 138 of them women, are taking part in the Paralympics. The largest team in China – 96 participants, followed by the United States – 65. The Paralympics includes six sports – alpine skiing, cross-country skiing, biathlon, hockey, snowboarding and curling.

“Much remains to be done to achieve gender parity, but the significant increase in women’s participation in the Winter Games over the past 20 years shows that we are moving in the right direction,” Parsons said.

The 10-day Paralympics will end on March 13.


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