On 25 April 2023 the hearing of the Appeals Tribunal of the International Paralympic Committee was held on the appeal of the Russian Paralympic Committee against the decision of the IPC General Assembly to suspend the RPC membership rights in the IPC.
The decision to suspend the RPC membership in the IPC was taken on 16 November 2022 in Berlin at the Extraordinary General Assembly of the International Paralympic Committee. As a result, all RPC’s membership rights in the IPC were suspended, including the entry of Russian Paralympic athletes to IPC competitions, including the Paralympic Games.
On 23 December 2022, the RPC exercised its right to appeal, as set out in the IPC Constitution, to the IPC Appeals Tribunal against the decision of the General Assembly. The appeal was heard by a tribunal of three arbitrators at a meeting in Dubai, UAE, two weeks ago.
The delegation of the Russian Paralympic Committee was headed by Pavel Rozhkov, President of the RPC.
The IPC Appeals Tribunal allowed the appeal of the RPC and confirmed that the decision of the IPC General Assembly to suspend the membership of the RPC in the IPC is set aside.
The Tribunal referred to procedural breaches as reasons for setting aside the decision and noted the following:
· The Appeal must be allowed on the basis that there has been a procedural failure in respect of the Suspension Decision, in that there was a lack of cogent evidence before the EGA to support findings of a breach of membership obligations as expressly claimed by the IPC Governing Board.
· The Rationale itself of the IPC Governing Board to suspend RPC did not clearly evidence the breaches of membership obligations the RPC was alleged to have committed. The Appeals Tribunal was also not provided with evidence to comfortably satisfy itself that probative evidence of the RPC's alleged breaches was appropriately put before the EGA so that the IPC Membership was fully informed prior to voting on the Motion of the IPC Governing Board.
· Membership of the RPC cannot be suspended because of a breach of the Olympic Truce. The Rationale of the IPC Governing Board referred to breaches of the Olympic Truce, which the Appeals Tribunal considered irrelevant to the question of whether the RPC was in (or was not) in breach of its membership obligations since the Olympic Truce is not legally binding on its signatories and, in any event, the RPC is not itself a signatory.
· RPC cannot be suspended because of the risk that IPC activities may be used by the RPC for political propaganda, as a breach of membership obligations must be identified, not a risk of breach. The Rationale of the IPC Governing Board is based on: "a very significant risk that NPC Russia or NPC Belarus might be influenced by their respective governments to support the military invasion and that IPC events and activities may be used by NPC Russia or NPC Belarus (or its athletes or officials) as a political platform to express support for the military invasion of Ukraine.". The Appeals Tribunal concluded that an assertion of the existence of a risk that membership obligations might be breached could not properly support the contention that a breach had occurred. Further, the Appeals Tribunal did not find a relevant rule of law which would support the imposition of significant sanctions in response to a perceived risk of a breach of membership obligations.
· The Appeals Tribunal considered that there were compelling reasons to direct that this reasoned decision should be published, not least since the IPC Membership (beyond the parties in the Appeal) voted on the Suspension Decision and should therefore be fully informed as to why the Appeal has been allowed. Further, the Appeals Tribunal considered that there was a wider public interest in the Appeal (beyond the Paralympic Movement):
The decision of the IPC Appeals Tribunal also states that it has no jurisdiction to set aside the decision of the IPC Governing Board of 30 March 2022 not to allow Russian athletes to participate in world and regional championships and competitions in sports governed by the IPC (Para athletics, Para swimming, Shooting para sport, Para powerlifting, Para ice hockey, Para dance sport). The Appeals Tribunal did not make any conclusions of a violation of the athletes' rights, including their entry into international competitions, including the Paralympic Games.
The RPC and the All-Russian Sport Federations developing Paralympic sports are in ongoing discussions with the International Federations that have allowed Russian athletes to compete in the qualifying events about the conditions for athletes to compete in sports not governed by the IPC.
The Russian Paralympic Committee is considering possible options for further legal protection of athletes' rights in relation to their not being permitted to compete in international competitions in sports governed by the IPC.