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IPC chief Andrew Parsons makes plea for peace as Paralympics open in Beijing

International Paralympic Committee president Andrew Parsons used his speech at the opening of the Beijing Winter Paralympics to make an impassioned plea for peace in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

On Thursday, the IPC had performed a U-turn in opting to exclude Russian and Belarusian athletes from the Games rather than allow them to compete as neutrals.

Russia’s Paralympic team are returning home from China after deciding not to appeal against the decision, which came amid the threat of other countries staging a mass boycott.

The Beijing Winter Paralympics were officially opened on Friday at the Bird’s Nest Stadium against the backdrop of protests.

Despite the war in their homeland, Ukraine managed to send a full delegation of 20 athletes and nine guides to Beijing to take their place for Friday’s parade of nations.

Ukrainian athletes are set to compete in para-biathlon and para-cross-country skiing, aiming to better the 22 medals – including seven golds – from PyeongChang four years ago.

The Ukraine Paralympic team are led out onto the stage alongside Shuey Rhon Rhon, mascot of the Beijing 2022 Paralympic Winter Games
Ukraine managed to send a full delegation of 20 athletes and nine guides to Beijing (Joe Toth for OIS/PA)

Dignitaries including Chinese president Xi Jinping attended Friday’s opening ceremony, which had a theme of ‘Improve, Go Beyond, Together’.

Parsons took to the podium during the formalities and launched an impassioned plea for world leaders to find a diplomatic solution to the conflict – although he did not directly reference either Ukraine or Russia.

“Tonight I want and must begin with a message of peace,” the Brazilian said.

“As a leader of an organisation with inclusion at its core, where diversity is celebrated and differences embraced, I am horrified at what is taking place in the world right now.

Andrew Parsons, president of the International Paralympic Committee, speaking at the opening ceremony of the Beijing 2022 Winter Paralympic Games
IPC president Andrew Parsons gave an impassioned speech at the opening ceremony of the Beijing 2022 Winter Paralympic Games (Bob Martin for OIS/PA)

“The 21st century is a time for dialogue and diplomacy, not war and hate.

“The Olympic truce for peace during the Olympic and Paralympic Games is a UN resolution. It must be respected and observed, not violated.

“At the IPC, we aspire to a better and more inclusive world, free from discrimination, free from hate, free from ignorance and free from conflict.”

Parsons added: “True sport can showcase the best of humanity and highlight the values of a peaceful and inclusive world.

“Paralympians know that an opponent does not have to be an enemy and that united we can achieve much more.

“Tonight, the Paralympic Movement calls on world authorities to come together, as athletes do, and promote peace, understanding and inclusion. The world must be a place for sharing, not dividing.

“Change starts with sport – not only can it bring harmony, but it can also be a catalyst to transforming the lives of people, cities and countries.”

Parsons finished his rousing speech by shouting “peace”, before handing over to Chinese president Xi to officially mark the Games open.

Wheelchair curlers Meggan Dawson-Farrell and Gregor Ewan carry the flag for the Great Britain Paralympic team during the athlete parade in Beijing
Wheelchair curlers Meggan Dawson-Farrell and Gregor Ewan carried the flag for the Great Britain Paralympic team during the athlete parade in Beijing (Joe Toth for OIS/PA)

Earlier, official mascots of Shuey Rhon Rhon – a Chinese lantern child with a glowing heart to symbolize warmth, friendship, courage and perseverance of Paralympic athletes – had welcomed the nations into the Bird’s Nest Stadium.

Wheelchair curlers Gregor Ewan and Meggan Dawson-Farrell, making her Paralympic debut, were flagbearers for the Great Britain team.

With a contingent of 25, the 2022 ParalympicsGB squad is the largest since 1994 in Lillehammer and will aim to better the seven medals won four years ago, which included one gold.

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