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Volume 7 No. 83
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Ban Of Russia Could Rob Winter Olympics Of 'Star Power;' IOC's Decision Widely Praised

A decision by the IOC to ban Russia from the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics over state-sponsored doping "could rob South Korea's first Winter Games of some much-needed star power," according to Yoo Jee-ho of YONHAP. Though it was not a "blanket ban on Russia," the decision may still prompt the country to instruct or encourage its athletes to "boycott PyeongChang 2018 altogether." Russia has been a "strong Winter Olympic presence across the board for years," and a boycott would "deal a blow" to PyeongChang 2018 in terms of ticket sales and TV ratings. PyeongChang has "already been struggling to draw attention to the majority of events, except for a few sports such as short track speed skating and figure skating." South Korean fans also will not get to see "perhaps the most recognizable Russian athlete: short track speed skater Victor An." Teen figure skater Evgenia Medvedeva is a Gold Medal favorite in the ladies' singles in PyeongChang, "but now the question is whether she will even compete at all." The 18-year-old addressed the IOC's exec board before the decision was announced, explaining how she could not "bring herself to compete as a neutral athlete if it came to that." But after the ban was handed down, Medvedeva did not "commit one way or the other" (YONHAP, 12/6). In Seoul, Baek Byung-yeul reported the POCOG said that it accepted and respected the decision. It said, "We accept and respect the decisions of the IOC Executive Board that Russia may compete under a neutral flag. We will work with the IOC and all other relevant stakeholders accordingly to ensure all the athletes and officials attending the Games as part of this team are given the best experience possible." POCOG President Lee Hee-beom, who traveled to Lausanne for the exec board meeting, said that the IOC found the "second-best alternative." Lee: "I think the IOC came up with the second-best alternative. Athletes who are clean will still be able to participate and win medals. I think its fortunate the IOC will at least allow that, and we welcome that decision" (KOREA TIMES, 12/6).

CASE CLOSED: REUTERS' Karolos Grohmann reported IOC President Thomas Bach said that Russia’s doping affair "should now be considered closed." He said, "These sanctions should draw a line now under this very sad period for the Olympic movement. Now after these sanctions have been implemented and respected and accepted, we should look forward into a cleaner future of sport" (REUTERS, 12/5).

MODEL DECISION: BLOOMBERG's Leonid Bershidsky reported countries trying to develop an effective format for sanctions against President Vladimir Putin's regime in Russia "should look no further" than the IOC's decision. It strikes a "difficult balance between hurting the regime and not punishing Russians themselves, as a people of great accomplishment and value to the world." It also "forces the regime to show domestically whether it cares more about itself or the Russian people." Having made the point that it is not punishing the country, "just its tarnished institutions," the IOC banned Mutko and his former deputy, Yuri Nagornikh, from future Olympics; told Ministry of Sports officials not to come to PyeongChang; and suspended the IOC membership of Russian Olympic Committee President Alexander Zhukov. Russian athletes, "by contrast, are not banned." Nothing in the wording of the ban "stops them from draping themselves in the Russian flag after winning, or from singing the Russian anthem." Nor are Russian athletes "banned from accepting government funds -- in effect, taxpayers' funds" -- so they can travel to the Olympics and compete in them (BLOOMBERG, 12/6).

'FAIR AND JUSTIFIABLE': The BBC reported allowing clean Russians to compete at the Winter Olympics under a neutral flag is "fair and justifiable," former Great Britain bobsleigher John Jackson said. Jackson: "It's right not to allow Russia to compete but allow the clean Russian athletes to compete. Athletes who have made sure they've done it to the best of their ability -- not enhanced -- should get the chance to compete" (BBC, 12/6). The AP reported the New Zealand Olympic Committee hopes the IOC's decision "will have a big impact in the fight against doping." NZOC President Mike Stanley "believes the strong sanctions will act as a deterrent." He said, "This is a very strong set of sanctions against Russia which really undertook an unprecedented attack against the Olympic movement in their systematic doping efforts. We certainly believe these sanctions are completely appropriate" (AP, 12/6).

LONG ROAD AHEAD: REUTERS' Gene Cherry reported whistleblower Vitaly Stepanov said that Russia's doping "culture" will take "years to change." Stepanov, a former employee of the Russian Anti-Doping Agency, "helped expose massive doping problems in Russia" in '14 with his wife, Yulia Stepanova. He welcomed the IOC decision as "fair" but "expressed doubt that it would do much to change Russia’s mindset in the short term." Stepanov said, "I think we are still many years away from the time when the doping culture truly changes in Russia. There are many sports officials running sports in Russia in the old way. Many coaches that are still doing the same ... doping athletes" (REUTERS, 12/5).

'SIGNIFICANT VICTORY': REUTERS' Cherry, Keating, Shine, Tétrault-Farber & Carroll reported WADA President Craig Reedie said in a statement, "WADA believes that the IOC has taken an informed decision to sanction Russia for its involvement in institutionalized manipulation of the doping control process before, during and after the 2014 Sochi Olympic Games." Canadian law professor Richard McLaren, the author of last year’s WADA report, said in a statement, "I congratulate the IOC for its decision. ... The sports community is demonstrating its commitment to ensuring athletes benefit from an even playing field and drug-free competition." U.S. Anti-Doping Agency CEO Travis Tygart said in a statement, "Over the past three years, a high stakes game of chicken has been played between those willing to sacrifice the Olympic ideals by employing a state-directed doping program to cheat to win and, on the other side, athletes unwilling to stand silent while their hopes and dreams were stolen and the Olympic Games hijacked. Today the IOC (International Olympic Committee) listened to those who matter most -- and clean athletes won a significant victory" (REUTERS, 12/5).

LIVING IN FEAR: REUTERS' Steve Keating reported Grigory Rodchenkov, the former head of Moscow’s anti-doping laboratory turned whistleblower, "will be looking over his shoulder for the rest of his life," his lawyer, Jim Walden, said on Tuesday. Walden: "I hope the situation improves from here, but the Kremlin has proven to be a determined and difficult adversary for Grigory. I think the future ahead is hard to chart but for sure, without any doubt in my mind, I can say he knows he is going to be looking over his shoulder for the rest of his life" (REUTERS, 12/5).

LANDMARK DECISION: QUARTZ's Jules Boykoff wrote the scale of the Russian doping scandal "is gobsmacking." It is "the stuff of spy novels." The news that the IOC banned the Russian Olympic team "has the ring of justice." Like the doping scandal, "the scope of this punishment is unprecedented." And whether Russians decide to boycott the Games or "swallow their pride and compete as neutrals," the reputation of the Olympics itself "faces a well-deserved smackdown." The IOC’s penalty "may strike some as bold, perhaps even harsh." But the truth is that Olympic barons "backed themselves into a corner by failing to act sooner to squelch doping" (QUARTZ, 12/6).

LONG OVERDUE: In London, Samuel Lovett wrote make "no mistake, the decision to ban Russia from next year’s Winter Games is unprecedented." It is also a decision that has been "long overdue" in light of "watertight" evidence against Russia. Finally, it seems, the IOC "has shown its hand and asserted itself with the sort of authority expected from the governing body." The decision "has been widely welcomed -- and with good reason." The "disheartening reality of the matter is that this is not so much a case of preservation but restoration." Last year, prior to the 2016 Games, the IOC had the chance to punish Russia for its transgressions "but shirked responsibility" (INDEPENDENT, 12/6).