Ukraine’s 20 Paralympic athletes have yet to arrive in China

Feb 27, 2022, 8:21 AM | Updated: 10:23 pm
FILE - A Russian honor guard soldier salutes as Ukraine's Oleksandra Kononova covers her gold medal...

FILE - A Russian honor guard soldier salutes as Ukraine's Oleksandra Kononova covers her gold medal with her hand after winning the women's biathlon 12.5 km. standing event during a medal ceremony at the 2014 Winter Paralympic, Saturday, March 15, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. None of the 20 athletes from the Ukrainian Paralympic team have reached Beijing with the 2022 Paralympic Games opening at the end of the week, the International Paralympics Committee said Monday. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky, File)

(AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky, File)

None of the 20 athletes from the Ukrainian Paralympic team has reached Beijing with the Games opening at the end of the week, the International Paralympic Committee said Monday.

IPC spokesman Craig Spence, in an interview with The Associated Press, said he was hopeful the athletes would arrive in China for Friday’s opening ceremony despite difficult logistics.

He declined to disclose the team’s whereabouts, citing safety concerns and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“We’re in regular dialogue with Ukraine about their participation at the Games, and we’re working hard behind the scenes to get them here,” Spence said.

He said there were no flights out of the Ukrainian capital Kyiv. In addition, flights entering China for the Paralympics — as well as for the just-closed Olympics — can originate only from a few designated hub airports.

This is part of China’s severe “closed-loop system” for the Olympics and Paralympics, which limits athletes, staff and journalists to designated hotels, venues, and a media center with no contact with Beijing and its 20 million residents.

“For several reason we are not confirming their location or providing specific updates,” Spence said. “The health and welfare of the delegation is our No. 1 priority. The less said about where they are, the better.”

Spence said a few non-athletes from the Ukrainian delegation were on hand.

He said some of Russia’s 71 athletes had arrived, but he did not exactly know how many.

About 650 athletes from 49 delegations, including Ukraine, are expected for the Paralympics, which open Friday and close on March 13.

The Beijing Winter Olympics drew 2,900 athletes from 91 delegations. It closed on Feb. 20.

Athletes from Ukraine and elsewhere have sent an open letter to Olympic and Paralympic leaders, asking them to suspend the Russian and Belarusian Olympic and Paralympic Committees.

Spence said the IPC board — it has no Russian or Ukrainian members — would meet Wednesday to tackle that and other questions. As of now, Russian athletes are expected to compete.

They will not represent Russia, but represent the Russian Paralympic Committee.

Russian athletes in the Winter Olympics competed representing the Russian Olympic Committee, a fallout from a state-sponsored doping scandal — and coverup — dating from the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

It’s theoretically possible that some Paralympic athletes may refuse to compete against counterparts from the Russian team. Spence said issues like this might come up in Wednesday’s board meeting.

“We’re aware of the talk that’s out there and the views of everyone,” he said. “Clearly we’d love the focus right now to be on sport, but at the moment that’s not the focus.”

The IPC and IOC have condemned Russia’s breach of the Olympic Truce ahead of the Beijing Paralympics. But since the outbreak of the war last week, neither the IOC nor the IPC has taken direct action against Russia.

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Follow the AP’s coverage of the Ukraine crisis at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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Ukraine’s 20 Paralympic athletes have yet to arrive in China