Russia’s team was banned from the upcoming Paralympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, on Monday because of its doping past.
The International Paralympic Committee said about 30-35 Russians will be allowed to compete in five sports as neutral athletes at the Games, which run from March 8-18.
That mirrors the situation for next month’s Olympics. The Russian team has been barred, but 169 Russians have been invited to compete.
“We are not rewarding Russia but we are allowing athletes that we believe are clean to compete under a neutral flag,” IPC president Andrew Parsons said.
It will be the second Paralympics without a Russian team. The country was also excluded from the Rio de Janeiro Paralympics in 2016. Since then, there has been enough improvement to justify allowing Russians to compete as neutral athletes after extra drug testing, Parsons said.
“Although the [Russian Paralympic Committee] remains suspended they have made significant progress and we have to recognize this,” Parsons said. “We now have greater confidence that the anti-doping system in Russia is no longer compromised and corrupted. We have also witnessed behavioural and cultural changes.”
No one implicated “knowingly or unknowingly by the numerous anti-doping investigations in Russia” can take part, Parsons said.
The Russians who will be allowed to compete must have undergone extra testing and a course of anti-drug education.
‘No place’ for cheating
The Canadian Paralympic Committee released a statement on Monday in support of the IPC’s decision.
“As a community, we feel the best playing field is a fair playing field. Cheating has no place in Paralympic sport. Our athletes, our coaches, our community live by this,” the statement read.
“We are confident in our athletes and our coaches that they will bring their best performances forward in Pyeongchang and make our country proud.”
The team of “Neutral Paralympic Athletes” will be about half the size of the Russian team that competed in Sochi in 2014.
The neutral Paralympic athletes will be allowed to compete in Alpine skiing, biathlon, cross-country skiing, snowboard and curling. They will wear uniforms without any national insignia, and fans will also be barred from waving Russian flags.
Russians had been allowed to compete as neutral athletes in some qualifying events ahead of the games before a final decision, but that came too late for Russia to qualify in hockey.
Suspended prior to Rio Games
The IPC suspended Russia’s membership in August 2016 over what then-IPC president Philip Craven called a “medals over morals” culture with endemic cheating.
To be reinstated, Russian officials must either accept or disprove World Anti-Doping Agency investigations which found it ran a doping program. The IPC also requires the Russian anti-doping agency to be fully reinstated by WADA, which is also demanding Russia accepts the investigations’ findings.
The Russian government denies ever supporting any doping programs.
The Russian Paralympic Committee was praised for fulfilling other criteria which also required it to tighten up enforcement of drug-testing rules and distance itself from what the IPC called government “propaganda.”