Sports Pulse: USA TODAY Sports reporter Rachel Axon breaks down the IOC’s decision to ban Russia from the Winter Olympics. USA TODAY Sports
LAUSANNE, Switzerland – Russian officials will not stop athletes from competing under the Olympic flag.
Following the International Olympic Committee’s decision Tuesday to issue unprecedented sanctions on the country that include a ban from the upcoming Pyeongchang Olympics, concerns lingered as to whether Russian officials would boycott the decision.
In suspending the Russian Olympic Committee, the IOC created a way for individuals to compete as “Olympic Athletes from Russia” with uniforms with that name. Any athletes who meet the criteria regarding testing and their anti-doping history, will be reviewed by a panel before being invited by the IOC.
Those athletes will compete under the Olympic flag and hear the Olympic anthem should they win gold medals.
Russian officials had previously said they would boycott a decision that removed Russian symbols from the Games, as this does. More than three dozen anti-doping organizations had lobbied for that sanction, one that issues a collective punishment for Russia’s systemic doping while protecting the rights of clean Russian athletes.
“Without any doubt we will not declare any kind of blockade,” Putin said in televised remarks, according to the Associated Press. “We will not block our Olympians from taking part, if any of them wish to take part as individuals.”
On Tuesday, the IOC executive board issued its sanctions after receiving a report from a commission chaired by Samuel Schmid.
That commission confirmed “the systemic manipulation of the anti-doping rules and system in Russia” during the Sochi Olympics.
Another commission, which was chaired by Denis Oswald, had previously accepted the findings in a report from Canadian lawyer Richard McLaren that revealed institutionalized doping in Russia that included sample tampering in Sochi.
McLaren’s report revealed urine swapping through a hole in the wall in Sochi. It showed more than 1,000 Russian athletes were involved in a broader system to dope and cover up positive tests.
The Oswald Commission called the Russian doping system “one of the worst ever blows against the integrity and reputation of the Olympic Games.”
That commission has disqualified 25 Russian athletes from Sochi, resulting in the loss of 11 medals.
The IOC’s collective sanctions on Tuesday represent the first time it has suspended a National Olympic Committee for a doping-related issue.
Athletes who do wish to compete under the Olympic flag will be determined by a panel chaired by Valerie Fourneyron, the chair of the recently established Independent Testing Authority.
It’s unclear when that panel will issue decisions on who is eligible to compete, but the IOC criteria include the requirement that those athletes in consideration must have undergone all pre-Games testing recommended by a taskforce advising anti-doping efforts before Pyeongchang.
The IOC also permanently excluded deputy prime minister Vitaly Mutko, the then Minister of Sport, and Yuri Nagornykh, his deputy, for their roles in the doping system.
ROC President Alexander Zhukov was also suspended as an IOC member.
The ROC will reimburse the IOC for costs of the investigations and it will contribute $15 million to the establishment of the Independent Testing Authority.
Despite that, the decision also made enough concessions with Russia to prevent a boycott.
“I don’t see any reason there for a boycott by the Russian athletes because we allowed the clean Russian athletes there to participate and to show that there are clean athletes in Russia,” IOC President Thomas Bach said on Tuesday. “And in this way, we think that these clean Russian 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.”
That could include reinstatement of ROC at the closing ceremony in Pyeongchang. The sanctions say the IOC “may partially or fully lift the suspension of the ROC from the commencement of the closing ceremony” provided the ROC, athletes and officials respect and implement the IOC’s sanctions.
Asked about that provision on Wednesday, IOC spokesman Mark Adams said, “Should they comply with that, then it is possible to discuss that they could come back at the beginning of the closing ceremony. What exactly that would entail, I think that’s a hypothetical in the future, so we’ll see. But it leaves a way open to draw a line and to move forward.”