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Plea for peace as Beijing Paralympics end

International Paralympic Committee president Andrew Parsons has reiterated his calls for peace as he closed a Beijing Winter Paralympics set against the backdrop of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The 2022 Games has been intrinsically linked to the war in Ukraine since before it began, with athletes from the invaded country arriving just two days before competition began after arduous journeys from Europe.

As Ukrainian athletes made their way to Beijing, not knowing how things would play out at home, the IPC originally allowed Russian and Belarusian athletes to stay and compete on March 2.

Paralympics chiefs then did a U-turn a day later, barring them altogether amid boycott threats and concerns over escalating tensions in the athletes’ villages.

Incredibly, Ukraine went on to top the medal tally on the opening day and by the Games’ end, their tally of 29 medals and 11 gold was second only to hosts China, despite having competed amid the stress of following the invasion from afar.

On Sunday night, Parsons wasn’t as strident as in the opening ceremony, when he said he was “horrified at what is taking place in the world at the moment”, clearly referencing the Ukraine conflict.

But the overriding sentiment, that the Paralympic movement stood for peace, remained as he addressed the athletes in his speech, hailing them for “shining brightly” in “the most difficult of times”.

“As beacons of hope, and champions for peace, your actions spoke way louder than words,” he said.

“In the Paralympic Villages, there were different nations, different views, different abilities.

“Differences here did not divide us. They united us. Together for a shared future.

“Through this unity we have hope. Hopes for inclusion, hopes for harmony, and importantly hopes for peace. The feeling of hope is part of human experience.

“Humankind hopes to live in a world where dialogue prevails. Our movement hopes world leaders be inspired by the actions of proud Paralympians.”

The Ukrainian delegation’s flagbearer was para biathlon star Vitalii Lukianenko.

The 43-year-old claimed gold in the men’s sprint and middle distance vision impaired categories and silver in the men’s individual.

Para snowboard cross bronze medallist Ben Tudhope was Australia’s flagbearer, receiving the honour for a second time after doing so as a 14-year-old in 2014.

The entire Australian team was expected to attend the closing ceremony.

A spectacular fireworks display followed the conclusion of speeches.

The ceremony was otherwise a visually pleasing event full of musical items.

It also threw forward to 2026 hosts Italy, with the Games in four years’ time split between Milan and Cortina d’Ampezzo.

It ends what has been described by the IPC as a “tour” of Asia across summer and winter Games: PyeongChang 2018, Tokyo 2020 and Beijing.

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