Despite all the joy about the strong performance of the German team, the Paralympics in Beijing were a tour de force. The Ukraine war, a controversial host and the pandemic weighed on the mood. In the end, IPC chief Parsons was censored again in China’s state media.

Overshadowed by the Ukraine war and the Corona pandemic, the Paralympic Winter Games came to an end on Sunday in Beijing with a symbolic closing ceremony. In his speech, the President of the International Paralympic Committee, Andrew Parsons, praised the “brilliant” achievements of the athletes in the most difficult of times. He thanked the Chinese organisers for “breathtaking, safe and spectacular Games”. Host China had “set the standard for all future Winter Games” and was now “a Paralympic winter sports powerhouse”, Parsons said.

German athletes very successful again

German athletes celebrated their unexpectedly strong showing after winning 19 medals, the same number as four years ago in Pyeongchang in South Korea, albeit less gold. Germany came seventh in the medal table. However, because of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the restricted life in the hermetically sealed Corona bubble, the mood during the Games was depressed at times. After fierce controversy, the teams from Russia and Belarus had been excluded beforehand.

The Paralympics chief, who had vented his indignation about the Ukraine war at the opening of the Games, was rather reserved at the end. In his speech in China’s national stadium, called the “Bird’s Nest”, the IPC President did not explicitly mention the Ukraine war. He described the athletes as “champions of peace whose actions speak louder than words”. The Games had raised hope for “inclusion, for harmony and, above all, for peace”. Humanity wants to “live in a world of dialogue”.

Speech by Paralympics chief censored again by China

Despite the few political allusions, his speech was again censored in the state television translation, as at the opening ceremony, by paraphrasing and avoiding the word “peace”. Instead of “in the most difficult times”, the translator said that the athletes themselves had “overcome difficulties”, which is more likely to refer to personal efforts. “Hopes for peace” was translated as “hopes to become one big family”. The phrase “champions of peace” was completely missing. This fits in with the fact that state media in China avoid words like “war” in Ukraine or “invasion” and, as in Russia, only speak of “special military operation”.

18-year-old biathlete carried German flag

The only 18-year-old gold medallist in the biathlon, Leonie Walter, carried the German flag into the stadium with her guide Pirmin Strecker. Among the first athletes to enter the stadium were also two team members of Ukraine, who waved the yellow-blue Ukrainian flag. The Chinese team was represented by three-time gold medallist in cross-country skiing, Yang Hongqiong (32). China leads the medal table by a large margin – although it had previously only won one medal in curling.

As at the Olympics in February and the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing, Chinese star director Zhang Yimou also arranged the closing ceremony after the opening. The ceremony took place on a screen-like stadium floor made of LED lights. A giant record player was projected onto a 55-metre surface.

The next Winter Games will be held in Italy

After the controversies in the run-up to the Games about human rights violations in China, the sabre-rattling towards free Taiwan or the suppression of the democracy movement in Hong Kong, athletes and officials are looking to more politically unencumbered hosts in the future: the next Winter Games will be held in Milan and Cortina d’Ampezzo in 2026. In 2024, the Summer Games will be held in Paris.