The International Paralympics Committee has banned Russian and Belarusian athletes from participating in the games on the eve of opening night in response to the growing tensions in the Athletes Village.
The IPC's decision, which came on Thursday, was a hard pivot from their previous announcement less than 24 hours earlier.
The original decision would have allowed Russians and Belarusians to compete as neutral athletes–with identifying colors, flags and other national symbols removed due to Russia's invasion of Ukraine last week.
Following the announcement of the expelled athletes, IPC President Andrew Parsons said:
“The war has now come to these Games and behind the scenes many governments are having an influence on our cherished event."
"We were trying to protect the Games from war.”
Parsons had hoped the participants competing as neutral athletes would somehow ease the hostility in the Athletes Village.
But after opposing delegations threatened to boycott and withdraw from the games, the new decision was made.
The resentment aimed towards Russian and Belarusian participants was not exclusively coming from Ukrainian athletes but across the board.
“We don’t have reports of any specific incidents of aggression or anything like that," Parsons said, adding, “But it was a very, very volatile environment in the (Athletes) Village."
"It was a very rapid escalation which we did not think was going to happen."
"We did not think that entire delegations, or even teams within delegations, will withdraw, will boycott, will not participate."
People who were against the IPC's decision were countered by those who had more sympathy towards Ukrainian civilians.
The first incident involved curlers from Latvia refusing to compete against the Russians in a scheduled group game.
IPC spokesman Craig Spence observed a sudden change in attitudes from athletes, administrators, and politicians, saying the general consensus was, “now we’re thinking of going home. We’re not playing.”
“That threatens the viability of this event. So that’s a huge change. The atmosphere in the Village is not pleasant."
As a consequence of the new directive, Parsons now fears legal action from the Russian Paralympic Committee and the Belarussian Paralympic Committee.
“But the facts that we express here led us to understand that this was the right decision to be taking," he said.
The Russian Paralympic Committee (RPC) has already criticized the IPC's decision, calling it “baseless” and “illegal.”
″(Russian athletes) have not done anything which could be interpreted as being involved in the current political complications," said the RPC.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov called the decision a "disgrace," and said, "The situation is monstrous.”
“Yesterday one decision was taken and today they took another.”
But Parsons remained steadfast in the controversial decree and said, “No one is happy with the decision but certainly this is the best decision for the Paralympic Games to go ahead."
The Paralympics in Beijing–which follows the Winter Olympics–will close on March 13.
As to when the 71 Russians and 12 Belarusians will be sent home, it remains unclear–especially given China's very strict COVID-19 travel protocols.
On Monday, the International Olympic Committee advocated for sports organizations to ban Russian and Belarusian athletes from participating in international events. Ultimately, they left the final decision to individual governing bodies.
Several media outlets noted how slow the IOC has been in inflicting retribution for Russia by allowing its athletes to compete in the last four Olympics after the state-sponsored doping scandal and coverup at the Sochi Olympic Games in 2014.
Parsons addressed the banned athletes with a regretful message.
“To 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," he said.
"You are victims of your governments’ actions.”