Curtain closes on Beijing Paralympics as China and Ukraine star
BEIJING: Beijing’s Winter Paralympics closed Sunday (Mar 13) following a ban on Russian and Belarusian competitors as well as stellar performances from the host nation and athletes from war-torn Ukraine.
At the “Bird’s Nest” stadium in the capital, China handed the Paralympics flag to Italy’s Milano-Cortina which is gearing up to stage the Games in four years.
Beijing is the first city to host both the Summer and Winter Olympics and Paralympics and there are hopes this year’s event will leave a legacy of better accessibility and rights for 85 million Chinese with disabilities.
In his closing ceremony speech, International Paralympic Committee (IPC) president Andrew Parsons hailed the athletes as “beacons of hope, and champions for peace”.
“In the Paralympic villages there were different nations, different views, different abilities. Differences here did not divide us. They united us,” he said.
“Through this unity we have hope. Hopes for inclusion, hopes for harmony, and importantly hopes for peace.”
On ice and snow athletes had “produced moments of magic” while organisers had achieved a “stunning, secure and spectacular” Games, Parsons said.
Chinese President Xi Jinping was among dignitaries in attendance as the Paralympic flame was extinguished following nine days of sporting action in para-ice hockey, wheelchair curling, para-snowboarding, para-alpine skiing, para-biathlon and para-cross country skiing.
At the opening ceremony
– watched by 190 million people in China – state broadcaster CCTV appeared to censor an anti-war speech by Parsons but has since not provided an explanation.
And in the closing ceremony, not all of his speech was translated into Chinese for the domestic audience, with phrases including “champions for peace” and “hopes for peace” omitted.
Beijing has been treading a cautious diplomatic line on the Ukraine invasion, refusing to condemn the actions of Moscow, with which it only last month touted a “no-limits” friendship.
Controversy concerning whether athletes from Russia and ally Belarus should be allowed to compete overshadowed the lead-up to the Games.
The International Olympic Committee had urged sporting federations across the world to exclude athletes from those nations.
The IPC initially said it would allow them to compete as neutrals, but after threats of boycotts from other competitors and tensions rising in the athletes’ village, organisers banned them.
After an arduous journey to the Chinese capital, Ukraine’s athletes came a remarkable second in the medals table after their best performance in a Winter Paralympics.
One athlete learned her soldier father had been taken prisoner by Russian troops during the Games while another won a gold medal after discovering her home in Kharkiv had been bombed.
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