The International Paralympic Committee (IPC) has stripped Malaysia of the right to host the 2019 World Para Swimming Championships over the country’s stance towards Israeli athletes, while the governing body has elected to retain the same sports programme for the 2024 summer Paralympic Games as that employed for next year’s edition in Tokyo.
The 2019 World Para Swimming Championships were due to be held in Kuching between July 29 and August 4. The IPC awarded the rights in September 2017, with the city on the island of Borneo set to become the first Asian host of the event.
However, at a meeting in London yesterday (Sunday), the IPC Governing Board elected to remove the event from Malaysia after the country’s Home Ministry failed to provide the necessary guarantees that Israeli Para swimmers could participate, free from discrimination, and safely in the Championships. This included full compliance with the IPC protocols related to anthems and flags and, where required, the provision of relevant visas.
Malaysia does not have diplomatic relations with Israel and the Malaysian government stated this month that no Israeli delegates would be allowed to enter Malaysia for sporting or other events in solidarity with the Palestinians.
Andrew Parsons, IPC president, said: “When a host country excludes athletes from a particular nation, for political reasons, then we have absolutely no alternative but to look for a new Championships host.
“The Paralympic Movement has, and always will be, motivated by a desire to drive inclusion, not exclusion. Regardless of the countries involved in this matter, the IPC would take the same decision again if it was to face a similar situation involving different countries.
“In September 2017 when the IPC signed the contract with the Paralympic Council of Malaysia (NPC Malaysia) to host the World Para Swimming Championships, we had assurances that all eligible athletes and countries would be allowed to participate in the event with their safety assured.
“Since then, there has been a change of political leadership and the new Malaysian government has different ideas. Politics and sport are never a good mix and we are disappointed that Israeli athletes would not have been allowed to compete in Malaysia.”
The IPC is now seeking a new host for the Championships, which act as a qualifier for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games. The IPC has called for expressions of interest in the rights by February 11, adding that it may need to change the dates for the event.
Meanwhile, the IPC has elected to retain the same sports programme for the Paris 2024 Paralympic Games as that employed for Tokyo 2020 after failing to find room for Cerebral Palsy Football. The 22 sports that will be included are: athletics, archery, badminton, blind football, boccia, canoe, cycling, equestrian, goalball, judo, powerlifting, rowing, shooting, sitting volleyball, swimming, table tennis, taekwondo, triathlon, wheelchair basketball, wheelchair fencing, wheelchair rugby and wheelchair tennis.
CP Football made the final stage for consideration, but was ultimately not included. The process to decide the Paris 2024 programme started in November 2017. Originally eight new sports and three sport disciplines applied for inclusion in the Games. In January 2018, six of these applicants – CP Football, golf, karate, Para dance sport, powerchair football and sailing – progressed to Phase Two of the exercise, with only CP Football surviving a further cut made in September.
Parsons said: “In deciding the final sports for inclusion, the Board assessed all applications and committed to the Paralympic Movement’s desire to pursue gender parity, safeguard the involvement of athletes with high support needs and ensure that a diverse range of nations could take part. In line with Olympic Agenda 2020, the Board needed to maintain athlete numbers around 4,350 and ensure that any potential changes to the Tokyo 2020 sport programme were cost neutral.
“With these guiding principles, expanding the Games to 23 sports was not a viable option without growing athlete numbers beyond 4,350 or increasing costs.
“We explored every possible option to see how CP Football could fit into the sport programme. Clearly, the sport’s inclusion would have impacted the gender balance of the Games. The only way to compensate this would have been to remove male athlete slots from other sports – a move that would then have resulted in 23 sports and additional costs – or not include another predominantly male sport. This move would have reduced the number of high support needs athletes, a move that would have gone against our guiding principles.”
In other news, Beijing 2022 could be the first Paralympic winter Games to have gender parity in the number of medal events for men and women. The IPC has approved the 2022 Games medal event programme and athlete quotas, while also confirming that Beijing 2022 could be the biggest winter Games to date.
Beijing 2022 will feature a maximum of 748 Para athletes and up to 82 medal events – two more than last year’s Games in Pyeongchang. In addition to having 39 medal events for men, up to 39 events for women, pending a decision on the snowboard programme, and four mixed events, there will be a maximum of 234 slots available for women. If all slots are taken it will represent a 76 per cent growth on the 133 women who competed in Pyeongchang.