Russia Banned from 2018 Olympics; “Clean” Athletes May Compete under Neutral Uniform

Russia’s Olympic team has been banned from the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea. The country’s government officials are forbidden to attend, its flag will not be displayed at the opening ceremony, its anthem will not sound, and the official record books will show Russia won zero medals. The Russian Olympic Committee was also fined $15 million and ordered to reimburse the IOC’s costs of the investigation. Vitaly Mutko, the Deputy Prime Minister of Russia and former Minister of Sport, has also been barred from attending any future Olympic Games.

The punishment handed down by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) on Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2017, after completing its investigation into Russia’s extensive state-backed doping program are severe and without precedent in Olympics history. Some Russian officials had threatened to boycott if the IOC delivered such a severe punishment. The decision may even have major consequences for next year’s soccer World Cup in Russia.

Reacting to the move Tuesday, Scott Blackmun, CEO of the U.S. Olympic Committee, said, ‘[t]he 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.” Russia’s move into doping is often traced to the 2010 Games in Vancouver, when the country’s athletes fell well short of expectations. At the 2014 Games in Sochi, Russian more than doubled its medal count, winning the most medals of any country. The IOC has since disqualified many Russian athletes and retracted medals, so now Russia has fallen far behind other countries on the Sochi results list.

The IOC president, Thomas Bach, revealed Russia’s widespread cheating was accomplished by corrupting the Olympic laboratory that handled drug testing at the Games on orders from Russia’s own Olympic officials. Urine samples were tampered with or swapped with clean ones to conceal evidence of steroid use. Canadian lawyer Richard McLaren’s report from the World Anti-Doping Agency showed more than 1,000 Russian athletes were involved. Russian officials have refused to acknowledge the scope and depth of the findings about the country’s Olympic teams, saying that the problems were limited to individual athletes. Russian President Vladimir Putin has called the doping charges against Russia “a dangerous return to this policy of letting politics interfere with sport.”

Bach emphasized that ‘clean’ Russian athletes should still get the recognition they deserve if they win. The IOC will allow those Russian athletes with histories of rigorous drug testing to petition for permission to compete in neutral uniforms under the Olympic flag and name “Olympic Athlete from Russia.”

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