Russia "won't boycott" the Pyeongchang Games and will allow competitors to participate "as neutral athletes" in the February event, according to James Ellingworth of the AP. Russian President Vladimir Putin said, "Without any doubt we will not declare any kind of blockade. We will not block our Olympians from taking part, if any of them wish to take part as individuals." That comes after the IOC yesterday barred the country and its sports officials from Pyeongchang as punishment for its extensive state-run doping operation around the '14 Sochi Games. Putin today said that the country "still did not accept" the doping accusations. He also "called the IOC ruling unfair 'collective punishment.'" Some Russian sports officials "have been criticized for not doing enough to prevent the ban, with senior lawmakers and sports figures calling for them to be fired." Meanwhile, state media today "dismissed the ban as part of a plot to hurt Russia" (AP, 12/6). Within minutes of the IOC's announcement yesterday, Russian state broadcaster VGTKR said it would not broadcast the Games if the Russian team is not there (Ben Fischer, Staff Writer). REUTERS reports more than 20 Russian athletes banned for life by the IOC for doping offences at Sochi are "appealing their ban." The Court of Arbitration for Sport today said that the athletes had asked it to "rule before the start" of the Pyeongchang Games on Feb. 9 (REUTERS, 12/6).
LAYING DOWN THE HAMMER: In N.Y., Ruiz & Panja in a front-page piece report the penalties the IOC handed down were "so severe they were without precedent in Olympics history." The ruling was the "final confirmation that the nation was guilty of executing an extensive state-backed doping program." The scheme was "rivaled perhaps only by the notorious program conducted by East Germany." In barring Russia’s team, IOC officials "left the door open for some Russian athletes" to compete. Ruiz & Panja note those with "histories of rigorous drug testing may petition for permission to compete in neutral uniforms." Although it is "unknown exactly how many will clear that bar, it is certain that the contingent from Russia will be depleted significantly." Olympics officials said that they "might lift the ban on Russia in time" for the Closing Ceremony, suggesting the nation’s flag "could make a symbolic appearance in the final hours of the Pyeongchang Games" (N.Y. TIMES, 12/6). If approved by the IOC, individual athletes will participate under a generic flag and be identified as “Olympic athletes from Russia.” This includes team sports such as hockey, bobsled and curling. While not the most severe option the IOC had at its disposal, the decision marks the first time an entire country’s Olympic leadership has been banned for doping violations. "We have never seen any such manipulation and cheating and this has caused unprecedented damage to Olympism and sport," said IOC-appointed investigator and former Switzerland President Samuel Schmid (Fischer).
WADING INTO POLITICAL TERRITORY: The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Germano, Grove & Robinson in a front-page piece report by suspending the Russian Olympic Committee, the IOC is "punishing one of its most prominent medal-winning powerhouses and stepping headfirst into political tensions between Russia and the West." The sanctions "signal the IOC is taking a stronger position against doping" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 12/6). USA TODAY's Rachel Axon in a front-page piece writes despite IOC President Thomas Bach's assertion that the decision was "not political, it would be difficult to view the designation of neutral athletes as 'Olympic Athletes from Russia' as anything but." The Russian flag and anthem "will be gone, replaced by the Olympic versions, but the country where these athletes are from will be clear." USADA CEO Travis Tygart said, "It’s obviously the first real consequence, and make no mistake, it’s significant. The Olympics is all about countries competing against each other, and to have no Russia flag, no Russia anthem, no Russia Olympic Committee there is a significant consequence that hopefully send the right message to any state looking to cheat" (USA TODAY, 12/6). Meanwhile, filmmaker Bryan Fogel, whose film "Icarus" exposed the Russian doping system, wondered if the Russian government does not “take actual responsibility for this and accept these findings as truth and come forward to the world and apologize, then why should they ever be reinstated in any Olympic Games?” ("Nightline," ABC, 12/5).
IMPACT ON HOCKEY TOURNAMENT: In DC, Rick Maese notes the IOC's decision "casts an even darker cloud over the men’s hockey tournament." NHL players already are "barred from competing, and without Russia in the mix, it’s likely that players from the Moscow-based Kontinental Hockey League -- widely considered the world’s second-best -- won’t be allowed to compete, further watering down the competitive pool" (WASHINGTON POST, 12/6). THE HOCKEY NEWS' Ken Campbell wrote Canada has already "had to deal with the fact that the NHL has pulled out of participating" in Pyeongchang, thereby "taking away the opportunity for Canadian players playing in the best league in the world from trying to win a third straight gold medal and its fourth in five Olympic Games." If the Russians "do decide to boycott the Games, and the KHL follows suit by banning all of its players" from participating, it will have a "devastating effect on Canada’s lineup" and medal hopes. If Russia and the KHL "pull out, there will be no country hosed more badly by the NHL and the IOC than Canada" (THEHOCKEYNEWS.com, 12/5). TSN's Darren Dreger noted Team Canada GM Sean Burke "was hoping for a minimum of 10 players" currently active in the KHL to comprised his roster for Pyeongchang. TSN's Bob McKenzie reported IIHF President Rene Fasel is trying to "let this thing settle for 24 to 48 hours and see what, if anything, the Russians are going to come out with and then react to that" ("Insider Trading," TSN, 12/5).