KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTING —- Russia has been banned – and not banned – from the 2018 Winter Games in PyeongChang, South Korea, in the most delicately-balanced decision of Thomas Bach’s IOC reign.
The president of the International Olympic Committee emerged from a meeting of his executive board which had to rule on Russian participation in the wake of not only the allegations of the World Anti-Doping Agency’s McLaren Report but its own investigations.
Some 25 Russian competitors from the last Games in Sochi in 2014 have had their results expunged from the records and been barred from PyeongChang on the recommendations of a commission headed by IOC veteran Denis Oswald.
WADA is refusing to recognise the Russian anti-doping authority while the world athletics federation (IAAF) also has maintained a bar to Russian readmission to international competition.
However, despite the pressure of powerful western sports bodies and some media allies, Bach and the IOC also had to try to defend the credibility of the PyeongChang Games in February.
Bach described the Russian doping and cover-up system, created after a disappointing Games in Vancover in 2012, as “an unprecedented attack on the integrity of the Olympic Games and sport.”
Samuel Schmid, a former President of Switzerland who undertook the decisive IOC latest investigation, said: “We have never seen any such cheating and this has caused unprecedented damage to Olympisme and to Olympic sport.”
However, a full ban on Russian competitors has been resisted.
A statement from the IOC said Russian athletes could compete in PyeongChang under the name “Olympic Athlete from Russia (OAR)”. They can compete with sportswear bearing that label but under the Olympic Flag. The Olympic Anthem would be played in any medals ceremony, rather than the Russian anthem.
Senior Russian sports officials will be barred from ever attending the Games. These would include former Minister of Sport Vitaly Mutko and his fromer deputy Yuri Nagornykh who were obviously accorded full blame for the system.
Dmitry Chernyshenko, ex-ceo of the Sochi organising committee, has been axed from the Beijing 2022 coordination commission while Russian Olympic head Alexander Zhukov has been suspended from membership of the IOC.
Russia is expected to announce tomorrow/Wednesday whether it accepts this decision. The likelihood is that it will accept the IOC verdict on the basis that, as Bach also said this should “draw a line under this damaging episode.” Alternately, it could appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
If accepted, it does mean Russia would be all-clear to compete at the summer Games in Tokyo in 2020.
Bach asked about the difference between the ‘softer’ decision before the 2016 Rio de Janeiro summer Games and this time around, explained: “At the time of Rio we did not have the opportunity to follow due process and hear the Russian side and give them the right to defend themelves.
“Also, at the time of Rio, it was mainly about the failure in the Moscow laboratory. Now it’s about the manipulation of the Olympic laboratory in Sochi so the conditions then and now are totally different.”
As for a boycott, Bach said: “An Olympic bocyott has never achieved anything and I don’t see any reason for a boyctott by the Russian athletes because we allowing the clean athletes to participate and to show that there clean athletes in Russia.
“We think that these clean athletes can be more about building a bridge into the future of a cleaner sport than erecting a new wall between Russia and the Olympic movement.”
Bach said he had not discussed “this issue with the President of the Russian Federation at all.” As for the initial Russian response, Bach said Zhukov had apologised for his country’s actions.
The initial reaction from the United States Olympic Committee sounded like relief about the nature of the sanction.
A statement said: “The IOC took a strong and principled decision. There were no perfect options, but this decision will clearly make it less likely that this ever happens again. Now it is time to look ahead to PyeongChang.”