Belarus have risked sanctions from the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) by staging a pro-Russian protest during the opening ceremony of the Paralympic Games.
While Russia received only a partial ban ahead of the Olympics, they have been totally excluded from the Paralympics. Sir Philip Craven, president of the IPC, has strongly criticised Russia in light of revelations about systematic, state-sponsored doping.
Despite the compelling evidence against their regional neighbours, the head of the Belarusian Paralympic Committee, Oleg Shepel, was quoted as saying that he wanted to show solidarity with Russia's banned athletes last month. In the end, Belarus' Paralympic team carried a Russian flag through the Maracana on Wednesday evening, sparking a confrontation with the IPC.
The Guardian reports that the flag was confiscated at the end of the ceremony, and that the IPC are now considering how to respond. The Olympic charter states that "No kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas." Belarus' protest could certainly be considered political, and they may well face an official punishment for the display.
Belarus has strong cultural and economic ties to Russia, while their president, Alexander Lukashenko, has a close relationship with Vladimir Putin. In that sense, their show of support for Russia is predictable, and will doubtlessly be touted as a propaganda coup.