The Winter Paralympics opened in Beijing without the presence of Russian athletes, expelled from the competitions, with a Ukrainian delegation that had to flee a country at war to reach China and an impassioned call for peace.

Andrew Parsons, president of the International Paralympic Committee, expressed his horror at the war in Ukraine and called on world authorities to promote peace.

“Tonight, I want, I need to start with a message of peace,” Parsons said in brief remarks in front of athletes and spectators at the Beijing National Stadium. “As the leader of an organization that has inclusion at its core, where diversity is celebrated and differences are accepted, I am appalled at what is happening in the world right now.”

The Russian invasion of Ukraine, which began shortly after the end of the Winter Olympics, is shocking the whole world. And the world of sports is no exception.

Although the organizers of the Paralympic event initially announced that the Russian and Belarusian delegations could compete as neutrals in Beijing, on the eve of the opening ceremony they reversed their decision and expelled both delegations, citing tensions in the Paralympic Village.

The Russian Paralympic Committee stressed that the decision was “absolutely politicized”.

The live broadcast of the opening ceremony on Chinese state television did not translate Parsons’s condemnation of the war and he subsequently lowered the volume of his English comments momentarily. The Chinese government has not spoken out against the Russian invasion and opposes the sanctions imposed by the United States and Europe on Russia.

“It’s a miracle that we made it to the Paralympics,” said the head of the Ukrainian delegation, Valerii Sushkevich.

Sushkevich explained that the Ukrainian athletes took four days to reach Beijing and that he had to sleep on the floor of a bus due to a back ailment during the last two days of his tour of Europe.

“We overcame many barriers along the way,” he added. “Many members of our team had to escape during the shelling.”

Around 564 athletes, including 138 women, will compete in the Paralympic Games. China has the largest representation, with 96 participants, followed by the United States, with 65. There are six sports at the Paralympics: alpine skiing, cross-country skiing, biathlon, hockey, snowboarding and curling.

“There is a lot of work to be done to achieve gender parity, but having significantly increased female participation at the Winter Games over the last 20 years shows that we are headed in the right direction,” said International Paralympic Committee President Andrew Parsons.

The Paralympic Winter Games will last 10 days and end on March 13.

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