Russia banned from Winter Olympics over state-sponsored doping

  05 December 2017    Read: 1618
Russia banned from Winter Olympics over state-sponsored doping

The Russian Olympic Committee has been banned from next year’s Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang and ordered to pay $15m in costs by the International Olympic Committee for its part in a state-sponsored doping programme at the Sochi Games in 2014.

However Russian athletes were thrown a lifeline by the IOC, who have decided they can compete in a uniform bearing the name “Olympic Athlete from Russia” provided they can prove they were not involved in a state-sponsored doping programme. Russian athletes invited to compete will compete under the Olympic flag and the Olympic Anthem will be played in any medal ceremony.

The IOC also decided to exclude the then minister of sport, Vitaly Mutko, and his then deputy minister, Yuri Nagornykh, from any participation in all future Olympic Games. Mutko is at present the head of the organising committee for the 2018 World Cup and on Friday rejected suggestions that there had been systematic doping.

There had been suggestions beforehand that such a punishment might lead to a wholesale Russian boycott of the Winter Olympics. However no announcement has yet been made by the country’s president, Vladimir Putin, or the Russian Olympic Committee.

The IOC’s decision was announced on Tuesday evening by its president, Thomas Bach, after the 14-person executive committee spent the afternoon poring over the final report of the Schmid commission, which has been examining for the past 15 months whether there was an “institutional conspiracy” by Russian officials within the ministry of sport to corrupt the London 2012 Summer Olympics and the 2014 Sochi Winter Games.

The IOC also heard from a large Russian delegation, led by the former KGB agent Vitaly Smirnov – a long-time IOC member and a major sports administrator dating back to the Soviet era – as well as the brilliant 18-year-old skater Evgenia Medvedeva, the double-world champion who has not lost for two years. However their pleas to keep the Russian Olympic Committee in the Winter Games went unheeded as the IOC decided that there was sufficient evidence to ban it.

Nonetheless, many will feel that the IOC has not done enough given the weight of evidence against Russia – and that the IOC has again flinched its responsibilities, just as it did in July 2016 when it decided against banning Russia from last year’s Rio Olympics despite a report from the respected Canadian law professor Richard McLaren 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, despite a second report by McLaren in December 2016 which confirmed that more than 1,000 Russian athletes had been involved in, or benefited from, state-sponsored doping.

However in the past month there has been a sea-change in the tone and language of the IOC and the World Anti-Doping Agency. It started when Wada revealed that it had received fresh evidence from a whistleblower that had “reinforced” McLaren’s findings. Separately, the Oswald commission, set up by the IOC to examine Russian doping in Sochi in 2014, 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 the Russian whistleblower Grigory Rodchenkov, who ran the Moscow anti-doping laboratory before fleeing last year and revealing what he knew to McLaren, was recently enhanced by the Oswald commission, who confirmed that he was a “truthful witness”.

The Pyeongchang Games will begin in 66 days, on 9 February, and run until 25 February.

More about: #Winter-Olympics