Russia ‘still appreciates us,’ says banned Belarusian Paralympic queen
Triple Paralympic gold medalist Sviatlana Sakhanenka says she felt “defenseless” after Belarusian and Russian athletes were banned from the 2022 Beijing Winter Games, but has thanked Russian officials for organizing an alternative event.
The International Paralympic Committee (IPC) announced earlier this month that it was banning Russian and Belarusian participants in Beijing just one day before the Games were due to begin.
The decision came less than 24 hours after the IPC had initially said it would allow them to compete but only as neutrals.
Issuing its reversal, the IPC condemned the Russian military operation in Ukraine but also noted “influence” from governments behind the scenes and the threat of boycotts.
Russia has since announced that it will host its own event for the banned Paralympics in the Siberian sporting resort of Khanty-Mansiysk, where competitions across six winter sports are due to run from March 18 to 21.
Belarusian cross-country skier and biathlete Sakhanenka, who won triple gold in visually impaired events in Pyeongchang four years ago, spoke of her shock at the Beijing ban, but was grateful for a chance to compete at an alternative event.
“We found out about the ban from the Games in Beijing during training,” said the skier, who topped the podium in the 15km, 7.5km and 1.5km events in South Korea.
“It was an unreal shock, incomprehension, and at the same time defenselessness. We all looked at each other in confusion, it couldn’t sink in.
“We put so much work and health into preparation, and everything was rubbed out in a single moment.
“It was painful and upsetting. I consider the removal of us from the Games in Beijing fundamentally unfair and wrong,” Sakhanenka added, according to RIA Sport.
Sakhanenka will at least have a chance to compete in Paralympic events in Khanty-Mansiysk – titled ‘We Are Together. Sport’ – where officials have said the prize funds on offer would be comparable to those if athletes had won medals in Beijing.
The Russian Sports Ministry announced on Monday that Paralympians from Armenia and Tajikistan would also take part in some of the events.
“We’re glad that an alternative appeared in the form of competitions in Khanty-Mansiysk, as first of all this will give a sense of completeness,” said Sakhanenka, 32.
“We’re proud that someone needs us, someone respects and appreciates us. This is very important for us.
“I have great respect for the leaders of Russian sport, who quickly supported us. Fortunately, all our work over the past four years will not be in vain.”
Athletes from Russia and Belarus have been hit with sweeping international sanctions after Moscow launched its military offensive in Ukraine, with troops partly entering the country from Belarus.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has lashed out at the two nations, recommending that their athletes be banned from all international competitions wherever possible.
Russian officials and athletes have described the lengthy list of suspensions as discriminatory and allowing politics to infringe on sporting principles.
The sanctions have served to unify the two nations in sporting terms, with Belarusian athletes being permitted to join the ongoing Russian Biathlon Union Cup in Ufa – a step which could be followed elsewhere.
The Russian Artistic Gymnastics Federation said on Monday that the national championships planned for Kazan in April could also involve Belarusian contenders and other foreign athletes.