Chinese President Xi Jinping opened the Beijing Paralympic Winter Games on Friday, after a powerful message for peace from International Paralympic Committee (IPC) president Andrew Parsons.

The opening ceremony at the Bird’s Nest took place against the backdrop of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the subsequent ban of the Russian and Belarusian teams from the Games.

Ukraine is competing with 20 athletes and recieved applause from the spectators at the parade of the 46 participating teams during the two-hour ceremony.

“The 21st century is a time for dialogue and diplomacy, not for war and hatred,” Parsons said in his speech.

He said he was “horrified” by the events in Ukraine and that the Olympic Truce was broken by Russia’s invasion.

“Athletes from 46 nations will compete with each other, not against each other. They will showcase the best of humanity. An opponent does not have to be an enemy,” the IPC President said.

“Tonight, the Paralympic Movement calls on world authorities to come together, as athletes do, and promote peace, understanding and inclusion.”

The Brazilian finished roaring “Peace” before Xi, whose country has not condemned Russia’s invasion, formally declared the Paralympics open.

The IPC had initially allowed Russia and Belarus to compete as neutrals but imposed a ban on Thursday after other teams threatened not to compete.

The Russian Paralympic Committee (RPC) had pondered an appeal at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).

But it said in a statement on Friday that such a move was not possible, even though it hinted it may contest the exclusion at an appropriate court in the future.

RPC named the exclusion “politicised” and said that “double standard has unfortunately become the norm in modern sports.”

Also, Ukraine Paralympic Committee president Valeriy Sushkevych has named it “a miracle” that his team is present.

“We travelled for four days and four nights and had to overcome many obstacles. Many of our team members had to flee bombs and grenades,” he said.

But Sushkevych insisted their presence in Beijing is “a symbol to show that Ukraine is alive.”

The Paralympics which come one month after the Winter Olympics in the Chinese capital run until March 13.

The IPC said that 138 women are to compete at the Games which run until March 13, five more than 2018 in Pyeongchang.

But this is less than a quarter of the overall 564 athletes, equalling the 2018 record.

The number of events are closer to gender equality with 35 for women and 39 for men in six sports, plus four mixed events for a total 78.

“Much work still needs to be done to achieve gender parity.

”But, having increased female participation significantly at the Winter Games in the last 20 years, shows we are heading in the right direction,” Parsons said in a statement.(dpa/NAN)