The International Olympic Committee has banned Russia from participating in the 2018 Winter Games over allegations of doping. But the IOC has allowed clean Russian athletes to compete under an Olympic flag. Winter Games are scheduled to begin on February 9 next year in South Korea’s Pyeongchang.
IOC president Thomas Bach accused Russia of “perpetrating an unprecedented attack on the integrity of the Olympic Games and sport”.
IOC’s decision to ban Russia is the toughest ever sanction to have been leveled by the panel. The committee is convinced that the Russian state orchestrated the doping programme.
An explosive report by the World Anti-doping Agency (WADA) and two subsequent IOC investigations have confirmed that Russian athletes took part in an elaborate drug cheating programme which peaked during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.
Mounting evidence has indicated that the scheme involved senior government officials, including from the sports ministry, with help from secret state agents.
After reviewing the case against Russia at a meeting in Lausanne, Switzerland, the IOC also suspended the country’s Olympic Committee (ROC) and its chief Alexander Zhukov.
Zhukov said he “apologised” to the IOC on Tuesday for the “anti-doping violations” committed in his country in recent years.
The IOC had the option of hitting Russia with a blanket ban, the so-called nuclear option that was applied to apartheid-era South Africa from 1964 to 1988.
The IOC’s decision to choose a more moderate path does offer some Russian athletes a route to competing in the Games — although that will be by invitation only and dependent on a stringent testing programme.
“The IOC, at its absolute discretion, will ultimately determine the athletes to be invited from the list,” the IOC said in a statement.
No Russian athlete with a previous doping violation will be allowed to compete and no official who had a leadership role at Sochi 2014 will be invited to Pyeongchang.
Those athletes who do go to the Games, which start on February 9, will participate under the name “Olympic Athlete from Russia”. The country’s flag will not fly at any 2018 ceremony, the IOC also said in a statement.
Russian officials have previously met doping accusations with defiance.
The IOC also banned Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Vitaly Mutko for life. Mukhto was sports minister during the Sochi Games 2014 and is now the head of the organising committee for the 2018 World Cup, which Russia is hosting.
Russia has been stripped of 11 of its 33 Sochi medals for cheating, amounting to them losing their position at the top of the medals table to Norway.
Mutko has said the allegations were an attempt “to create an image of an axis of evil” against his country while Putin has warned that a Russia ban would cause “serious harm to the Olympic movement”.
He said forcing Russian athletes to compete under a neutral flag would amount to a national “humiliation.”
After the ban on Winter Games, attention will quickly turn to see if football’s world governing body FIFA allows the scandal-tainted Vitaly Mukhto, an ally of President Vladimir Putin to retain his senior World Cup role. In a statement, FIFA said it had “taken note” of the IOC decision but it had “no impact on the preparations” for Russia 2018.
(With inputs from agencies)