RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — The Paralympic Games already has its first political protest, right at the beginning with the opening ceremony.
A Belarusian sports ministry employee who marched in with a Russian flag on Wednesday has been booted out of the games.
The International Paralympic Committee banned Russia from the games because of the country’s part in a state-sponsored doping system, and identified the flag-carrier as Andrei Fomachkin. The IPC said he was waving the Russian flag and marching as a guest of the Belarusian Paralympic committee.
“The fact he was a guest of the president rather than an athlete or coach makes it easier for us to take this action,” IPC spokesman Craig Spence said.
Spence added the Belarusian delegation was being warned about staging political protests.
As with the Olympics, Paralympic officials do not allow political protests in the games.
“If they continue to break the rules, we will look at some other form of action,” Spence said.
Natalya Eismont, a spokeswoman for Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, said it was not a spontaneous gesture, and hinted there might be more to come.
`’It was the Belarusian delegation’s idea to take the Russian flag to the opening ceremony,” Eismont said. “I would like to stress that this is the stance of our government, of the president and the president of our Paralympic committee. We stand with Russian Paralympians.”
The Belarusian foreign ministry said it was aware that there could be consequences for the stunt.
“If we have to bear responsibility for this, we will,” Belarusian foreign ministry spokesman Dmitry Mironchik said.
Spence said the Belarus team was searched before entering the stadium.
“We check all teams before they go out into the stadium, at every single games,” he said. “That flag was pretty well hidden on the person last night because all of the Belarus team was searched before they went out, and the flag was somewhere on the person we didn’t notice.”