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Volume 6 No. 232
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IOC Bans Russian Team From PyeongChang Over State-Run Doping Program

The IOC banned the Russian Olympic team from the PyeongChang 2018 Games as punishment for its extensive state-run doping operation in Sochi, but individual athletes may be permitted to compete under a neutral Olympic flag if they are untouched by the scandal. Attention now turns to the highest levels of the Russian government, which has not ruled out a total boycott in response. Within minutes of the announcement on Tuesday, Russian state broadcaster VGTKR said it would not broadcast the Games if the Russian team is not there.

If approved by the IOC, individuals 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, Tuesday’s 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.

The lack of an official Russian presence at the Games has several high-profile implications: In the event of a Gold Medal from a Russian athlete, organizers will play the Olympic Anthem and raise the Olympic Rings flag. Russian flags and symbols will not be allowed at the Opening Ceremony; and no Russian officials will be credentialed for the Games.

The IOC also permanently banned from the Olympics 2018 World Cup Organizing Committee Chair Vitaly Mutko, who was Russian minister of sport in ’14; and his deputy, Yuri Nagornykh. The IOC also suspended the membership of Russian Olympic Committee President Alexander Zhukov. Russia will be forced to pay a $15M fine to reimburse the IOC for its doping investigation.

All sanctions could be challenged at the Court of Arbitration for Sport. Before Tuesday, 25 individual Russians had already been banned by the IOC committee investigating specific cases. Tuesday’s news came after the publishing of a report assessing the government’s role. IOC President Thomas Bach, who is known to speak with Russian President Vladimir Putin regularly, said, “A boycott has never achieved anything. There is no reason for boycott because we allow the ‘clean’ athletes from Russia to participate.”

USOC CEO Scott Blackmun called the decision “strong and principled.” “There were no perfect options, but this decision will clearly make it less likely that this ever happens again,” Blackmun said. "Now it is time to look ahead to PyeongChang."

In the IOC statement, it said it “may partially or fully lift the suspension of the ROC from the commencement of the Closing Ceremony,” seemingly leaving the door open for rapprochement. Bach said a Russian official did apologize in a private meeting Tuesday with the IOC Exec Board. This is the first time a country has been banned from the Winter Games since South Africa in the waning days of the apartheid era in ‘92.

NBC Sports supported the IOC’s decision in a statement. “As the exclusive U.S. media rights holder through 2032, we believe in clean competition and strong actions to ensure it,” the network said. “Therefore, we fully support today’s IOC decision, which levels significant sanctions against the guilty, but also provides a path for clean athletes to compete in PyeongChang.”

WELCOME NEWS: In London, Sean Ingle reported the news "will be greeted with relief in many quarters," especially after the IOC "flinched" from banning Russia from last year's Rio Olympics despite a report from Canadian law professor Richard McLaren in July '16 which found that the country's government, security services and sporting authorities colluded to hide widespread doping across "a vast majority" of winter and summer sports. Some had "feared a repeat" performance from the IOC on Tuesday. However, in the past month there has been a "sea-change in the tone and language" of the IOC and WADA. It started when WADA revealed that it received "fresh evidence" from a whistleblower that "reinforced" McLaren's findings. Separately, the Oswald commission, set up by the IOC to examine Russian doping in Sochi in '14, began to ban Russian competitors from those Games retrospectively. So far, the figure stands at 25 athletes, with 11 medals stripped. Meanwhile, the credibility of Russian whistleblower Grigory Rodchenkov was "recently enhanced" by the Oswald commission, which confirmed that he was a "truthful witness" (GUARDIAN, 12/5).

MAJOR PUNISHMENT: In N.Y., Ruiz & Panja reported the ruling "cemented" that Russia was guilty of executing an extensive state-backed doping program. The scheme was rivaled perhaps only by the "notorious" program conducted by East Germany throughout the '60s, '70s and '80s. The sports world "will wait to see how Russia responds." Putin "seemed to predict a boycott" of the PyeongChang Games with a "defiant dismissal" of the doping scandal and a foreign policy in recent years that has centered on the premise that he "rescued Russia from the humiliation inflicted on it by the West after the collapse of the Soviet Union." His spokesperson, Dmitri S. Peskov, said that "no boycott was under discussion before the announcement, however, and the news broke late in the evening in Moscow when an immediate official reaction was unlikely" (N.Y. TIMES, 12/5).

FILING AN APPEAL: TASS reported the Russian Bobsleigh Federation filed lawsuits with the Court of Arbitration for Sport on behalf of 12 Russian bobsledders and skeleton racers against the decision made by the IOC to ban them from the Olympics for life and annul their Sochi results. Athletes filing lawsuits against the IOC include Sergey Chudinov, Alexander Tretyakov, Olga Potylitsyna, Elena Nikitina, Maria Orlova, Alexey Negodailo, Dmitry Trunenkov, Alexander Zubkov, Alexander Kasyanov, Ilvir Khuzin, Alexei Pushkarev and Olga Stulneva (TASS, 12/5).