ABOVE: Canadian Olympians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir share their feelings on whether Canada should boycott the Paralympic Games 

Canada has condemned Russian President Vladimir Putin’s actions in Ukraine, recalled its ambassador and threatened to expel Russia’s – but it’s still sending Canadian athletes to participate in Putin’s Paralympic Games in Sochi.


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“Our business is sport,” the Canadian Paralympic Committee said in response to a question from Global News. “We are here to win medals.”

IN DEPTH: Ukraine crisis

Foreign Minister John Baird and Prime Minister Stephen Harper have accused Russia of violating international law, condemned Russia’s military incursions into Crimea and pulled out of June’s G8 summit in Sochi.

They’ve also withdrawn all government officials from the Paralympics. But the athletes are still going.

“The Paralympics is an opportunity to celebrate the inspiring courage and athleticism of Canadian Paralympians,” the office of the Minister of Sport, Bal Gosal, said in a statement. “We don’t want our Paralympic athletes to pay the price for this.”

While they have said that the safety of the athletes is an obvious concern, the Canadian Paralympic Committee said their main objective is to have success at the Games, not to get involved in the situation in Ukraine.

“Our athletes continue to arrive and we have not changed in our intention to compete in Sochi for a position in the top three nations in the gold medal count,” they said in a statement to Global News, adding that they will continue to monitor the situation in Ukraine and work closely with the Canadian government to ensure the safety of their athletes.

While the situation in Crimea is extremely serious and potentially violent, Peter Donnelly, Director of the University of Toronto’s Centre for Sport Policy Studies, believes pulling athletes out of Sochi would be an unnecessary move by Canadian officials.

“I suspect that if there were serious safety concerns, countries would have pulled their athletes out,” Donnelly said. “I don’t think there is anything to worry about in Sochi. Ukraine is in much more danger, clearly.”

But does sending Canadian athletes to Russia after the Canadian government has condemned Putin’s actions send a mixed message? Donnelly doesn’t believe so, agreeing that the conflict in Ukraine and the athletic festivities in Sochi are two completely separate world events.

“We’ve pretty much sent our athletes in any dictatorial society,” he said, bringing up prior Olympics that shared similar situations.

“We didn’t go in Moscow in 1980 but we went to Beijing in 2008 despite having trade issues with China,” Donnelly explained. “We also went to the Nazi Games in 1936,” he continued, referring to the 1936 Summer Olympics held under Adolf Hitler’s Nazi regime, three years before World War II.

Donnelly also mentioned that even this year, with the disagreements over LGBT regulations in Russia, there was really no question of whether or not Canada would send their Olympians. Donnelly believes it should be the same for Paralympians and attributes most of the debate about boycotting the Games to media hysteria.

Because the conflict’s centre is almost 500 km away from Sochi, Donnelly said, the safety risk to the athletes is low. Paralympians have devoted the last four years training for these events, he reasoned, and robbing them of the chance to showcase their skills would be unfair and unnecessary.

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