The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has levied its toughest ever doping penalty on Russia by banning it from the 2018 Winter Olympics, commencing on February 9, in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
In his Tuesday statement, IOC President Thomas Bach accused Russia of blatantly flouting the anti-doping rules put in place by the committee, calling it an “unprecedented attack on the integrity of the Olympic Games and sport.”
However, any clean athlete from the country will be allowed to compete in the games as an “Olympic Athlete from Russia” (OAR) without the Russian flag or anthem.
“The country’s government officials are forbidden to attend, its flag will not be displayed at the opening ceremony and its anthem will not sound,” The New York Times reported from the venue of Tuesday’s IOC meeting in Switzerland. “Any athletes from Russia who receive special dispensation to compete will do so as individuals wearing a neutral uniform, and the official record books will forever show that Russia won zero medals.”
“The IOC, at its absolute discretion, will ultimately determine the athletes to be invited from the list,” the IOC said in a statement.
The country can go ahead and boycott the games altogether as Russian president Vladimir Putin had earlier said that it would be degrading for the country to participate without its national symbols.
“An Olympic boycott has never achieved anything,” IOC president Thomas Bach said during a media conference.
“Secondly, I don’t see any reason for a boycott by the Russian athletes because we allow the clean athletes there to participate,” he added.
The committee has also imposed a life ban on Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister, Vitaly Mutko, for his hand in the state-backed doping program, and has suspended Russia Olympic Committee (ROC) president Alexander Zhukov as an IOC member.
Additionally, a $15 million fine has been imposed on the ROC to pay for expenses incurred for the doping investigations and for future anti-doping work. The decision, however, can be contested at the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
“As a former athlete I am feeling very sorry for all the clean athletes who are suffering from this manipulation,” Bach said.
The sanctions have come on the back of a damaging report by the World Anti-doping Agency or WADA and two follow-up IOC investigations confirming Russian involvement in an elaborate drug-cheating program which spiked in the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
“We accept and respect the decisions of the IOC Executive Board that Russia may compete under a neutral flag,” the PyeongChang 2018 organizing committee said on Wednesday.
“We will work with the IOC and all other relevant stakeholders accordingly to ensure that all the athletes and officials attending the Games as part of this team are given the best experience possible,” the Pyeongchang committee added.
“There were no perfect options, but this decision will clearly make it less likely that this ever happens again,” the US Olympic Committee said about the IOC announcement, calling it a “strong and principled decision.”
The head of the German Olympic Sports Confederation, Alfons Hoermann, said the decision was “historic.”
Russia´s Bobsleigh Federation, Alexander Zubkov said on Russian television, “This is humiliation. This is a punch in the stomach.”
To add to Russia’s Olympic woes, 11 of the 33 medals it won in Sochi have been declared invalid, effectively meaning that Norway has replaced Russia at the top of the medals table.
In a conference call with reporters, Jim Walden, a lawyer representing Grigory Rodchenkov – former Russian laboratory chief and whistleblower responsible for revealing the country’s drug-cheating program – said:
“It was the most elaborate and sophisticated doping system in the history of sports. If it did not carry the most significant sanction it would simply have emboldened Russia and other countries who don’t respect the rules.”
Australia’s 2018 Olympic team chef de mission Ian Chesterman welcomed the IOC decision.
“The culprits, the corrupt, have been dealt with,” Chesterman said in a statement. “Russia, and all involved with Sochi 2014 had a responsibility to nurture the Olympic Games and respect the athletes competing by providing a fair competition,” he said. “Clearly, across so many levels, that trust was abused.”
Here are some reactions on social media.
The IOC banning Russia from the 2018 Olympic Games is not the first time IOC has banned a nation–South Africa was banned for its apartheid policy and Afghanistan was banned for discrimination against women–but reason for ban here is more about allegations of sports corruption. https://t.co/cIjiAyMkrE
— Michael McCann (@McCannSportsLaw) December 5, 2017
I think it’s great that the IOC has banned Russia from the 2018 Winter Olympics. It’d be great if the US could ban them from our elections. Just a thought. #RussiaBannedFromOlympics
— Mrs. SMH (@MRSSMH2) December 5, 2017
— Sputnik (@SputnikInt) December 6, 2017
Such a sad news that #RussiaBannedFromOlympics It was what #USA and some other countries were hoping for.This turned out to be more of a political that sporting issues.There were a few discrepancies pointed out in the #McLaren report, but neither the he or the #IOC addressed them
— Freedom League (@FreedomLeague4) December 6, 2017
As an athlete I’m so happy that something is finally being done about doping in sports. Clean raw talent and hard work, no short cuts and there should be no exceptions. #RussiaBannedFromOlympics
— Calvyn Justus (@CalvynJustus) December 6, 2017