Belarusian Paralympic team carries Russian flag in support of banned athletes (PHOTO)

Belarusian athletes carried the Russian flag during the opening ceremony of the Paralympic Games to express solidarity with the Russian team, which was banned from the event. The protest went ahead despite a threat of sanctions from officials.

The action took place during the parade of athletes on Wednesday. The flag appeared in response to the IPC’s decision to ban all Russian athletes from the Games, after the body cited the country's failure to comply with anti-doping rules.

The International Paralympic Committee (IPC), which confiscated the flag right after the protest, cancelled the accreditation of the man who carried it on Thursday. The IPC also told RT he had been identified “as a guest of the Belarus Secretary General who should not have been part of the marching party in the first place.”

The IPC also said it would remind the Belarusian National Paralympic Committee that “political protests are forbidden at the Paralympic Games,” adding that it considers the matter closed.

The Belarusian man who carried the Russian flag was identified as Andrey Fomochkin, a former USSR winter triathlon champion who also served as Belarus' Deputy Sport and Tourism Minister.

The defiant gesture was supported by Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko, his spokesperson Natalia Eismont said, adding that Minsk was appalled by the ban on the Russian Paralympic team without any evidence of wrongdoing on the part of the athletes.

Moscow said it was grateful for the support from the Belarus delegation.

“It was a bold act. What the Belarus Paralympians did is worthy of admiration. And we certainly treasure this gesture of solidarity with our Paralympians, who were unjustly stripped of a chance to take part in the Paralympics,” said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.

Russia’s ban from the Paralympic Games came after a report from the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) which cited the widespread use of performance enhancing substances by Russian competitors.

Russia’s National Paralympic Committee appealed the decision to ban the country’s athletes through the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), but that appeal was rejected. Russia then appealed the CAS ruling in the Swiss Federal Supreme Court, but that effort also failed.

In response to the failed appeals, major Russian broadcasters chose not to air the Games. 

Instead, Russia organized an alternative competition in Moscow, giving banned Paralympians a chance to compete. Some 263 athletes are taking part in the event, competing in seven disciplines. The event is scheduled to run until September 10. 

A total of 162 nations are competing in the 2016 Paralympic Games at Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro. The event will continue until September 18.

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