Lausanne: Russia were banned from the 2018 Winter Games at PyeongChang, South Korea by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) over its state-orchestrated doping programme, but clean Russian sportspersons will be allowed to compete under an Olympic flag and will be called ‘Olympic Athletes of Russia.
The sanction was the toughest ever levelled by the IOC for drug cheating and was delivered just 65 days ahead of the event.
In announcing the decision, IOC president Thomas Bach accused Russia of ‘perpetrating an unprecedented attack on the integrity of the Olympic Games and sport’.
An explosive report by the World Anti-doping Agency (WADA) and two subsequent IOC investigations have confirmed that Russian athletes took part in an elaborate drug cheating programme which peaked during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.
The IOC also banned Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Vitaly Mutko – who was sports minister during the Sochi Games – for life. He is currently the head of the organising committee for the 2018 Football World Cup, which Russia is hosting.
Attention will quickly turn to see if FIFA allows the scandal-tainted ally of President Vladimir Putin to retain his senior World Cup role. In a statement issued Wednesday, FIFA said it had ‘taken note’ of the IOC decision but it had ‘no impact on the preparations’ for Russia 2018.
After reviewing the case against Russia at a meeting here Tuesday, the IOC also suspended the country’s Olympic Committee (ROC) and its chief Alexander Zhukov. The Russian later on in the day said he ‘apologised’ to the IOC for the ‘anti-doping violations’ committed in his country in recent years.
The IOC had the option of hitting Russia with a blanket ban like it did so for the Rio Summer Games. The IOC’s decision to choose a more moderate path does offer some Russian athletes a route to competing in PyeongChang – although that will be by invitation only and dependent on a stringent testing programme.
“The IOC, at its absolute discretion, will ultimately determine the athletes to be invited from the list,” the IOC said in a statement. “No Russian athlete with a previous doping violation will be allowed to compete and no official who had a leadership role at Sochi 2014 will be invited to PyeongChang,” it added. Russia’s flag will also not fly at any 2018 ceremony.
Bach said these measures amounted to ‘proportional sanctions for this systemic manipulation’ committed by Russia.
The US Olympic Committee praised IOC’s ‘strong and principled’ decision. “The IOC’s decision to ban Russia from the 2018 Winter Olympics is a welcome step in serving justice to Vladimir Putin’s government for its elaborate doping scheme in 2014,” US Senator John McCain said in the statement.
Russia have been stripped of 11 of their 33 Sochi medals for cheating, meaning they have lost their position at the top of the medals table to Norway.