Paralympics: Ukraine consider Sochi boycott

The president of Ukraine's Paralympic Committee fought back tears as he cast doubt on his country's participation in the Winter Paralympics in Sochi.


Valeriy Suskevich revealed a decision would be announced on Friday on whether Ukraine would take part in the Games or not, insisting military invention was incompatible with the ideals of the Paralympic movement.

The build-up to the Paralympics, which gets under way with an opening ceremony on Friday evening, has been overshadowed by the escalating tensions between Russia and Ukraine.

The Ukraine team, which includes 23 athletes, had their official welcome ceremony in the plaza at the Alpine Village in the mountains of Rosa Khutor above Sochi on Thursday evening, but it appeared to end early.

After the national anthem, team members marched the one hundred or so yards back to the athletes' accommodation, chanting as one: "Peace for Ukraine".

Suskevich said: "Almost all of my sportsmen are very nervous, very afraid about their country, about their future life in my country.

"Today for more than two hours I talked together with not only my sportsmen, but also doctors, trainers and managers.

"Many are talking about competing and not competing, about life in Ukraine, about the world, Europe and about Sochi, about the Russian people and the Ukrainian people. And many are talking about peace in our country.

"Tomorrow I will say more about the situation around the Ukraine team in this Paralympic Games.

"This Paralympic Games is a unique situation. Never before in the history of the Paralympic movement was there a situation like this.

"My sportsmen dream about participating, but not without the Ukrainian people. The national team represents the Ukrainian people, it's not separate.

"For us it's very important be together with our people.

"The Paralympic movement is the achievement of mankind, the greatest achievement. It's not possible that this achievement can be combined with military (action), with war."

Suskevich remained calm and dignified throughout numerous interviews, including an impromptu press conference in front of the gates to the athletes' residence. Flanked by the Ukraine team, he was so overcome at one point that he had to stop mid-answer, his head shaking with emotion.

He thanked the organisers for a "great ceremony", but said highlighting the need for peace was the priority.

He said finding a peaceful resolution to the developing crisis was key to whether his team would compete, adding that he "dreamed of good news", but did not "await" it.

"Peace for my country is the foundation for the decision concerning the participation of Ukraine in the Paralympic Games," Suskevich said.

Asked if he was afraid there would not be peace, he replied: "Yes, I'm afraid."

Suskevich said he would meet with his team, as well as members of the Russian Paralympic Committee and the International Paralympic Committee to decide on what course of action to take.

The Ukrainian Committee have given the IPC the name of a flag bearer for the opening ceremony and completed all the administration necessary to take part in the event.

A decision to boycott would certainly not be taken lightly, with Ukraine boasting a proud Paralympic record. They won 19 medals in Vancouver four years ago, including five golds.

The welcome ceremony for the Great Britain team took place a couple of hours before Ukraine's.

Prime Minister David Cameron has already announced British ministers are boycotting the Paralympics over Russia's decision to take military action in Ukraine, while the United States too are not sending a presidential delegation.

Tensions are highest in the Crimea region, which lies 294 miles north-west of Sochi.

Tim Hollingsworth, the chief executive of the British Paralympic Association, said the team were "very comfortable" with the environment they were in.

"When and if our contacts with the embassy or the Foreign Office suggest that the situation is changing and we need to react to that then that's when we react to it, but until then it's a Games environment," he said.

"We've kept a close dialogue coming into these Games and we'll maintain that through."

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