The president of the International Paralympic Committee expressed "hopes for peace" as the Winter Paralympics closed Sunday but avoided mentioning Russia's war on Ukraine.
The closing ceremony marked the end of an almost six-week run for international sports in the Chinese capital that began with the opening of the Winter Olympics on Feb. 4. IPC President Andrew Parsons sounded a note of unity at the ceremony in the Olympic stadium after athletes from Russia and Belarus were expelled earlier. "Differences here did not divide us," Parsons said, speaking before an audience that included Chinese President Xi Jinping.
"Through this unity we have hope. Hopes for inclusion, hopes for harmony and importantly hopes for peace," Parsons said. "Humankind hopes to live in a world where dialogue prevails." The ceremony ended a run for Asia of hosting four of the last eight Olympics and Paralympics, starting with the 2008 Beijing Olympics. It's unclear when sports' largest stage will return to Asia. The next Summer Olympics and Paralympics are in 2024 in Paris, followed by Winter Games in Milan-Cortina, Italy in 2026, and Los Angeles in 2028 with the Summer Games.
The earliest return to Asia looks like the 2030 Winter Olympics with Sapporo, Japan, a top contender. It was the Winter Games host in 1972. The Paralympics opened just eight days after Russia, aided by Belarus, invaded Ukraine. The International Paralympic Committee, after declining to bar Russian and Belarusian athletes, reversed course and removed their 83 athletes — 71 from Russia and 12 from Belarus. Ukraine, with only 20 athletes competing, finished second to China in the medal standings.
Many overcame difficult journeys to make it and showed determination despite the war at home. Parsons expressed horror at Russia's attack on Ukraine in an impassioned speech at the Paralympics' opening ceremony, with Xi attending. Parts of Parsons' speech were not translated by Chinese state TV and some of the audio was dropped. The IPC lodged a protest over what it said was likely censorship but was told the silence was caused by an unexplained glitch.
China has declined to condemn Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Russian President Vladimir Putin attended the opening of the Olympics on Feb. 4, one of the few major world leaders to attend with Xi also present. The Winter Paralympics attracted just under 600 athletes, far fewer than the 2,900 who attended the Winter Olympics. Both events were held under China's severe COVID-19 restrictions, which required daily testing by athletes and others attending, with access limited to only hotels, venues and media centers.