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

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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.

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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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Snowboarders sue coach, USOPC in assault, harassment case

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Olympic bronze medalist Rosey Fletcher has filed a lawsuit accusing former snowboard coach Peter Foley of sexually assaulting, harassing and intimidating members of his team for years, while the organizations overseeing the team did nothing to stop it.

Fletcher is a plaintiff in one of two lawsuits filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles on Thursday. One names Foley, the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee, the U.S. Ski & Snowboard team and its former CEO, Tiger Shaw, as defendants. Another, filed by a former employee of USSS, names Foley, Shaw and the ski federation as defendants.

One of the lawsuits, which also accuse the defendants of sex trafficking, harassment, and covering up repeated acts of sexual assault and misconduct, allege Foley snuck into bed and sexually assaulted Fletcher, then shortly after she won her bronze medal at the 2006 Olympics, approached her “and said he still remembered ‘how she was breathing,’ referring to the first time he assaulted her.”

The lawsuits describe Foley as fostering a depraved travel squad of snowboarders, in which male coaches shared beds with female athletes, crude jokes about sexual conquests were frequently shared and coaches frequently commented to the female athletes about their weight and body types.

“Male coaches, including Foley, would slap female athletes’ butts when they finished their races, even though the coaches would not similarly slap the butts of male athletes,” the lawsuit said. “Physical assault did not stop with slapping butts. Notably, a female athlete once spilled barbeque sauce on her chest while eating and a male coach approached her and licked it off her chest without warning or her consent.”

The USOPC and USSS knew of Foley’s behavior but did nothing to stop it, the lawsuit said. It depicted Foley as an all-powerful coach who could make and break athletes’ careers on the basis of how they got along off the mountain.

Foley’s attorney, Howard Jacobs, did not immediately return requests for comment from The Associated Press. Jacobs has previously said allegations of sexual misconduct against Foley are false.

In a statement, the USOPC said it had not seen the complaint and couldn’t comment on specific details but that “we take every allegation of abuse very seriously.”

“The USOPC is committed to ensuring the safety and wellbeing of Team USA athletes, and we are taking every step to identify, report, and eliminate abuse in our community,” the statement said.

It wasn’t until the Olympics in Beijing last year that allegations about Foley’s behavior and the culture on the snowboarding team started to emerge.

Allegations posted on Instagram by former team member Callan Chythlook-Sifsof — who, along with former team member Erin O’Malley, is a plaintiff along with Fletcher — led to Foley’s removal from the team, which he was still coaching when the games began.

That posting triggered more allegations in reporting by ESPN and spawned an AP report about how the case was handled between USSS and the U.S. Center for SafeSport, which is ultimately responsible for investigating cases involving sex abuse in Olympic sports. The center has had Foley on temporary suspension since March 18, 2022.

The AP typically does not identify alleged victims of sexual assault unless they have granted permission or spoken publicly, as Fletcher, Chythlook-Sifsof and O’Malley have done through a lawyer.

USSS said it was made aware of the allegations against Foley on Feb 6, 2022, and reported them to the SafeSport center.

“We are aware of the lawsuits that were filed,” USSS said in a statement. “U.S. Ski & Snowboard has not yet been served with the complaint nor has had an opportunity to fully review it. U.S. Ski & Snowboard is and will remain an organization that prioritizes the safety, health and well-being of its athletes and staff.”

The lawsuits seek unspecified damages to be determined in a jury trial.

Oleksandr Abramenko, Ukraine’s top Winter Olympian, tears knee, career in question

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Aerials skier Oleksandr Abramenko, who won both of Ukraine’s medals over the last two Winter Olympics, is out for the season after a knee ligament tear and said he might not return to competition at all, according to Ukrainian media.

Abramenko, 34, won gold at the 2018 Olympics — Ukraine’s second-ever individual Winter Olympic title after figure skater Oksana Baiul in 1994 — and silver last year.

He competed once this season, placing 10th at a World Cup in Finland on Dec. 4, and then flew with the Ukrainian national team to stay in Utah ahead of World Cups in Canada in January and at the 2002 Olympic venue in Park City this weekend. The area also hosted many Ukraine winter sports athletes this past summer.

Abramenko missed the competition in Canada two weeks ago due to injury and then wasn’t on the start list for today’s aerials event in Park City. He is set to miss the world championships later this month in Georgia (the country, not the state).

Abramenko said he needs surgery, followed by a nine-month rehabilitation process, similar to an operation on his other knee six years ago, according to Ukraine’s public broadcaster. He said he will see how the recovery goes and determine whether to return to the sport at age 35, according to the report.

Abramenko is already the oldest Olympic men’s aerials medalist and come the 2026 Milan-Cortina Winter Games will be older than all but one male aerialist in Olympic history, according to Olympedia.org.

At last year’s Olympics, Abramenko, Ukraine’s flag bearer at the Opening Ceremony, was hugged after the aerials final by Russian Ilya Burov, who finished one spot behind Abramenko for a bronze medal. A week later, Russia invaded Ukraine.

A week after that, Abramenko posed for a photo sitting on a mattress in a Kyiv parking garage with his wife and 2-year-old son published by The New York Times.

“We spend the night in the underground parking in the car, because the air attack siren is constantly on,” Abramenko texted, according to the newspaper. “It’s scary to sleep in the apartment, I myself saw from the window how the air defense systems worked on enemy missiles, and strong explosions were heard.”

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