The expulsion of Russian and Belarusian athletes from the 2022 Paralympic Winter Games set to start Friday in Beijing amid growing tensions over the invasion of Ukraine was endorsed Thursday by U.S. Olympic officials as well as backers of Utah’s bid for another Winter Games.

The decision by the International Paralympic Committee came less than 24 hours after an announcement that Paralympians from Russia and Belarus would be allowed to compete as long as they didn’t display any symbols of their countries, The Associated Press reported.

But the organizers of the Games for athletes with disabilities that follow the Olympics weren’t prepared for the escalating backlash from other teams, which included refusing to play against the aggressors in the unprovoked war against Ukraine and even boycotting the event entirely.

How the International Olympic Committee is punishing Russia for invasion of Ukraine

“The war has now come to these Games and behind the scenes many governments are having an influence on our cherished event,” IPC President Andrew Parsons said Thursday after announcing the ban, the wire service reported. “We were trying to protect the Games from war.”

Parsons said while there were no “reports of any specific incidents of aggression or anything like that” in the Athletes Village where competitors are housed, “it was a very, very volatile environment,” according to the wire service, which described his depiction of the situation as a tinderbox.

Legal action from the Russian and Belarusian Paralympic committees is expected, Parsons said.

“But the facts that we express here led us to understand that this was the right decision to be taking,” Parsons said. The IPC’s action comes after the International Olympic Committee’s call for Russian and Belarusian athletes to be banned from competitions.

The United State Olympic and Paralympic Committee agreed.

“As an organization, we strongly support the IPC decision to not allow Russian and Belarusian athletes to compete in the Paralympic Winter Games Beijing 2022. We remain steadfastly supportive of the Paralympic movement and all who embrace its values, and we celebrate the athletes of the world as they prepare to compete,” the USOPC said in a statement Thursday.

A day earlier, USOPC CEO Sarah Hirshland expressed disappointment in the initial decision that would have allowed the Russians and Belarusians to compete, saying “it excuses Russia’s disregard for not only the Olympic truce, but also for the victims of a senseless war.”

Hirshland’s letter to the “USOPC Community” also reiterated support for Team USA athletes there to compete “despite the news and the potential for distraction” and said they have a “proud nation” behind them. Mental health resources, security information and a caution against speaking out in China were also in the letter.

Why a team of Russian biathletes in Utah is banned from competing

In Utah, a team of young Russian biathletes were also banned from competing after first being able to compete as “neutral” athletes at the International Biathlon Union’s 2022 Youth and Junior World Championships that ended Wednesday at Soldier Hollow in Midway.

Fraser Bullock, CEO and president of the Salt Lake City-Utah Committee for the Games that’s bidding for the 2030 or 2034 Winter Games, also backed the expulsions from the Paralympics. Bullock was the chief operating officer of the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City.

“The war in Ukraine has presented many challenges for sport, impacting athletes on all sides of the conflict,” he said. “We respect the decisions of sport federations, including the International Paralympic Committee’s decision to ban athletes from Russia and Belarus from the Paralympic Winter Games.”

Chris Waddell, a member of the Utah bid committee who medaled as a monoskier in four Winter Paralympics, including in 2002 in Salt Lake City, and is part of the NBC team covering the Beijing Paralympics, said he feels empathy for the athletes that aren’t getting a chance to compete.

But given the actions taken by Russia and Belarus against Ukraine, Waddell said he understands why the ban is needed.

“I feel sorry for the athletes. They’re not the ones that are doing it. They’re paying the price. But at the same time, their government has essentially put their opportunity in jeopardy,” Waddell said. And, he said, the strong emotions that surfaced over their presence in Beijing could continue to impact the Paralympic performances.

Still, Waddell said, athletes are resilient.

“Given where we are right now, what we have to believe in is really the magic of sport. I don’t say magic in terms that it is going to eliminate the war that is going on. But it renews faith in human beings and speaks to that potential of what it means to be a human being,” he said, able to accomplish seemingly impossible athletic feats.

“We, as the audience, get to share in that victory,” Waddell said. “And we need that right now.”

Brandon Ashby, of Park City, a guide to a visually impaired American alpine skier, Kevin Burton, in the 2018 Winter Paralympics in Pyeong Chang, South Korea, remembers having “a really amazing experience. To be around so many different countries and athletes, and points of view, it’s really special.”

What’s happening as the Paralympics in Beijing get underway is “really sad to hear,” he said.

“From an athlete perspective, if I was from one of those countries and was there to compete and then was pulled from competition, I would be really heartbroken,” Ashby said. “But from the other athletes’ side, from all these other countries, it also seems sort of unfair that they are still competing.”

While athletes from Russia and Belarus are not to blame for the war in Ukraine, he said “they are there for their countries. And their countries are making decisions that make it really difficult for other athletes and the rest of the world.”