Russia, Belarus athletes barred from Paralympics after boycott threats, safety concerns

Beijing 2022 Winter Paralympics - Previews
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Russian and Belarusian athletes were barred from the Paralympics after the International Paralympic Committee said athletes from many other nations vowed to not compete if they remained in the Games.

The IPC also said ensuring safety at the athletes’ village was becoming untenable after an earlier decision to allow Russians and Belarusians to compete as neutral athletes. The Games open Friday.

“We are also firm believers that sport and politics should not mix,” IPC President Andrew Parsons said. “However, it is clear that maybe now, due to the current situation, that is no longer possible. The war has now come to these Games, and behind the scenes, many governments are having an influence on our cherished event.

“A rapidly escalating situation has now put us in a unique and impossible situation so close to the start of the Games.”

The IPC reversed a decision from 20 hours earlier that allowed Russians and Belarusians to compete as neutrals without their national flags, symbols and anthems. Russians were previously set to compete as members of the Russian Paralympic Committee, without their flag and anthem due to the nation’s previous sanctions for doping.

PARALYMPICS: Broadcast Schedule | Viewer Guide | FAQs

In explaining their initial decision, the IPC anticipated that if the athletes were barred, a legal appeal to get them back in would be successful based on the IPC’s rulebook.

After the initial decision, Parsons said that “a really high number” of National Paralympic Committees (NPCs) said at least some of their athletes would not compete in the Games if Russians and Belarusians were allowed to compete, even as neutrals.

“What we’ve seen in the 14 hours since is a move from letters [from NPCs] of ‘We think you should ban,’ to now, ‘We’re thinking of going home. We’re not playing,'” IPC spokesperson Craig Spence said. “That’s a huge change. If we don’t act on that, then we’re crazy.

“If we didn’t pivot on today’s decision, we’d probably be talking to you in two days’ time about the fact that there’s not enough athletes here to do the Games.”

Parsons said he spoke with National Paralympic Committees’ chefs de mission on Thursday morning. Wheelchair curling teams and sled hockey teams were refusing to play. The first games in those sports are Saturday, the day after the Opening Ceremony.

Parsons also said that the athletes’ village “was becoming a very volatile environment” after the initial decision to allow Russians and Belarusians to compete as neutrals, though there were no reports of aggression.

“There was a level of animosity that, of course, was absolutely counter-productive to what, first of all, we want to have here, which is a fair competition between athletes from different nations,” Parsons said. “The athletes’ reactions showed us that if we did not take action, the situation could get worse.”

The IPC is working to get the Russian and Belarusian athletes travel arrangements to return home.

“To the Para athletes from the impacted countries, we are very sorry that you are affected by the decision that your government took last week in breaching the Olympic Truce,” Parsons said, noting the tradition of nations agreeing to peace through the Olympics and Paralympics. “You are victims of your government’s actions.”

Russian sports minister Oleg Matytsin said Russia is drafting an appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport before the Opening Ceremony, according to Russian news agency TASS.

The Russian Paralympic Committee (RPC) called the ban “completely unfounded.”

“It clearly contradicts one of the basic principles of the Paralympic family — the apolitical nature of sport for the disabled,” it said in a statement. “In accordance with this decision the RPC and Russian Para athletes appear as the perpetrators of the current political conflicts. … They have not done anything that in any way can be interpreted as participation in the current political complications.”

In a statement, the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee said it strongly supported the IPC’s decision to bar Russian and Belarusian athletes.

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2023 French Open men’s singles draw, scores

French Open Men's Draw
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The French Open men’s singles draw is missing injured 14-time champion Rafael Nadal for the first time since 2004, leaving the Coupe des Mousquetaires ripe for the taking.

The tournament airs live on NBC Sports, Peacock and Tennis Channel through championship points in Paris.

Novak Djokovic is not only bidding for a third crown at Roland Garros, but also to lift a 23rd Grand Slam singles trophy to break his tie with Nadal for the most in men’s history.

FRENCH OPEN: Broadcast Schedule | Women’s Draw

But the No. 1 seed is Spaniard Carlos Alcaraz, who won last year’s U.S. Open to become, at 19, the youngest man to win a major since Nadal’s first French Open title in 2005.

Now Alcaraz looks to become the second-youngest man to win at Roland Garros since 1989, after Nadal of course.

Alcaraz missed the Australian Open in January due to a right leg injury, but since went 30-3 with four titles. Notably, he has not faced Djokovic this year. They could meet in the semifinals.

Russian Daniil Medvedev, the No. 2 seed, was upset in the first round by 172nd-ranked Brazilian qualifier Thiago Seyboth Wild. It marked the first time a men’s top-two seed lost in the first round of any major since 2003 Wimbledon (Ivo Karlovic d. Lleyton Hewitt).

No. 9 Taylor Fritz, No. 12 Frances Tiafoe and No. 16 Tommy Paul are the highest-seeded Americans, all looking to become the first U.S. man to make the French Open quarterfinals since Andre Agassi in 2003. Since then, five different American men combined to make the fourth round on eight occasions.

MORE: All you need to know for 2023 French Open

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2023 French Open Men’s Singles Draw

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At the French Open, a Ukrainian mom makes her comeback


Ukraine’s Elina Svitolina, once the world’s third-ranked tennis player, is into the French Open third round in her first major tournament since childbirth.

Svitolina, 28, swept 2022 French Open semifinalist Martina Trevisan of Italy, then beat Australian qualifier Storm Hunter 2-6, 6-3, 6-1 to reach the last 32 at Roland Garros. She next plays 56th-ranked Russian Anna Blinkova, who took out the top French player, fifth seed Caroline Garcia, 4-6, 6-3, 7-5 on her ninth match point.

Svitolina’s husband, French player Gael Monfils, finished his first-round five-set win after midnight on Tuesday night/Wednesday morning. She watched that match on a computer before going to sleep ahead of her 11 a.m. start Wednesday.

“This morning, he told me, ‘I’m coming to your match, so make it worth it,'” she joked on Tennis Channel. “I was like, OK, no pressure.

“I don’t know what he’s doing here now. He should be resting.”

Also Wednesday, 108th-ranked Australian Thanasi Kokkinakis ousted three-time major champion Stan Wawrinka of Switzerland 3-6, 7-5, 6-3, 6-7 (4), 6-3 in four and a half hours. Wawrinka’s exit leaves Novak Djokovic as the lone man in the draw who has won the French Open and Djokovic and Carlos Alcaraz as the lone men left who have won any major.

The top seed Alcaraz beat 112th-ranked Taro Daniel of Japan 6-1, 3-6, 6-1, 6-2. The Spaniard gets 26th seed Denis Shapovalov of Canada in the third round. Djokovic, the No. 3 seed, swept 83rd-ranked Hungarian Marton Fucsovics 7-6 (2), 6-0, 6-3 to reach a third-round date with 29th seed Alejandro Davidovich Fokina of Spain.

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Women | Men | Broadcast Schedule

Svitolina made at least one major quarterfinal every year from 2017 through 2021, including the semifinals at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open in 2019. She married Monfils one week before the Tokyo Olympics, then won a singles bronze medal.

Svitolina played her last match before maternity leave on March 24, 2022, one month after Russia invaded her country. She gave birth to daughter Skai on Oct. 15.

Svitolina returned to competition in April. Last week, she won the tournament preceding the French Open, sweeping Blinkova to improve to 17-3 in her career in finals. She’s playing on a protected ranking of 27th after her year absence and, now, on a seven-match win streak.

“It was always in my head the plan to come back, but I didn’t put any pressure on myself, because obviously with the war going on, with the pregnancy, you never know how complicated it will go,” she said. “I’m as strong as I was before, maybe even stronger, because I feel that I can handle the work that I do off the court, and match by match I’m getting better. Also mentally, because mental can influence your physicality, as well.”

Svitolina said she’s motivated by goals to attain before she retires from the sport and to help Ukraine, such as donating her prize money from last week’s title in Strasbourg.

“These moments bring joy to people of Ukraine, to the kids as well, the kids who loved to play tennis before the war, and now maybe they don’t have the opportunity,” she said. “But these moments that can motivate them to look on the bright side and see these good moments and enjoy themselves as much as they can in this horrible situation.”

Svitolina was born in Odesa and has lived in Kharkiv, two cities that have been attacked by Russia.

“I talk a lot with my friends, with my family back in Ukraine, and it’s a horrible thing, but they are used to it now,” she said. “They are used to the alarms that are on. As soon as they hear something, they go to the bomb shelters. Sleepless nights. You know, it’s a terrible thing, but they tell me that now it’s a part of their life, which is very, very sad.”

Svitolina noted that she plays with a flag next to her name — unlike the Russians and Belarusians, who are allowed to play as neutral athletes.

“When I step on the court, I just try to think about the fighting spirit that all of us Ukrainians have and how Ukrainians are fighting for their values, for their freedom in Ukraine,” she said, “and me, I’m fighting here on my own front line.”

Svitolina said that she’s noticed “a lot of rubbish” concerning how tennis is reacting to the war.

“We have to focus on what the main point of what is going on,” she said. “Ukrainian people need help and need support. We are focusing on so many things like empty words, empty things that are not helping the situation, not helping anything.

“I want to invite everyone to focus on helping Ukrainians. That’s the main point of this, to help kids, to help women who lost their husbands because they are at the war, and they are fighting for Ukraine.

“You can donate. Couple of dollars might help and save lives. Or donate your time to something to help people.”

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