The Irish Government has asked countries affected by the pneumonia-like disease, Sars, not to send teams to the summer Special Olymics for disabled athletes in Dublin next month.
The games are the largest sporting event in the world this year
Health Minister Micheal Martin said competitors from China, Taiwan, Singapore, Hong Kong and the Philippines, which have all had substantial outbreaks of Sars, have been asked not to travel to Ireland for the event.
The World Health Organisation has criticised the decision, describing it as inconsistent with the latest guidelines for controlling attendances at large events.
Representatives of disabled groups said the decision was discriminatory.
Cities and towns throughout the country are hosting 7,000 athletes, 3,000 coaches and 28,000 delegates for the summer games.
They take place on 20-29 June and have been described as the largest sporting event of 2003.
We wonder why should the Special Olympics and the athletes coming from those affected countries be singled out over the above any business person, tourist or student
Irish Special Olympics Committee
Mr Martin said their communal nature made them unique and that the "utmost caution" was needed in view of the Sars outbreak.
He had acted on the unanimous recommendation of experts appointed to monitor the Sars situation, he added.
But Mary Davies, chief executive of the Irish Special Olympics Committee, said she was "very surprised and disappointed" by the decision.
"We wonder why should the Special Olympics and the athletes coming from those affected countries be singled out over the above any business person, tourist or student that comes here between now and games time," she said.
A spokesman for the Philippines delegation told Irish radio that athletes would be deeply upset by the decision.
"They are really so honoured and they are really looking forward to travelling abroad and visiting a new country," he said.
The authorities in one town, Clonmel, which was due to host the visiting athletes, had already asked competitors from Sars-affected countries to stay away even before the government's announcement.
The town had been due to host the 63-strong delegation from Hong Kong.