Russia has been banned from the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea over the country’s “systemic manipulation” of anti-doping rules.
However, Russian athletes who can prove that they are clean will be “invited” to compete in Pyeongchang, the International Olympic Committee said on Tuesday.
It is the most wide ranging punishment ever meted out by the IOC on a participating nation, let alone a powerhouse of the Olympic movement.
Russia’s Olympic Committee has also been ordered to pay $15 million to reimburse the IOC’s costs of investigating the doping scandal and help set up the new Independent Testing Authority (ITA).
Vitaly Mutko – the deputy prime minister of Russia, former minister of sport and chairman of the organizing committee for soccer’s 2018 World Cup in Russia – has been barred from attending any future Olympic Games and so has his former deputy, Yuri Nagornykh.
‘Drawing a line’
The “clean” Russian athletes must meet strict guidelines to make it to South Korea and will compete under the name “Olympic Athlete from Russia” (OAR). They will wear a uniform with that name on it, and the Olympic anthem will be played at any medal ceremonies for Russian athletes.
“This was an unprecedented attack on the integrity of the Olympic Games and sport,” said IOC President Thomas Bach, who is a friend of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“The IOC has issued proportional sanctions for this systemic manipulation while protecting the clean athletes. This should draw a line under this damaging episode and serve as a catalyst for a more effective anti-doping system led by the World Anti-Doping Agency.
“As an athlete myself, I feel very sorry for all the clean athletes from all (National Olympic Committees) who are suffering from this manipulation. Working with the IOC Athletes’ Commission, we will now look for opportunities to make up for the moments they have missed on the finish line or on the podium.”
Having consistently denied the allegations of a state-backed doping campaign, Russia could now decide to block the offer of exemptions and boycott the Pyeongchang Olympics altogether.
Putin has previously said it would be a humiliation to compete without any national symbols.
According to the Russian news agency TASS, the All-Russia State Broadcasting Company (VGTRK) will not broadcast the Winter Olympics, which run from February 9-25, in the absence of the Russia team from the event.
“What is left of the principles of Olympism, from the spirit of the Olympics, from the idea of the Olympic Games?!” asked two-time Olympic pole vault champion, Elena Isinbayeva, on her Instagram account.
“Without Russia it’s a lame Olympics! #norussianogames.”
WADA, which in November said Russia was still “non compliant” to its code, welcomed the IOC ban, as did Travis Tygart, the CEO of the US Anti-Doping Agency.
“Over the past three years, a high stakes game of chicken has been played,” wrote Tygart, who was one of the key players in bringing down the disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong.
“Between those willing to sacrifice the Olympic ideals by employing a state-directed doping program to cheat and win and, on the other side, athletes unwilling to stand silent while their hopes and dreams were stolen and the Olympic Games hijacked.
“Today the IOC listened to those who matter most – and clean athletes won a significant victory.”
Looking ahead to the process of determining which Russian athletes were “clean,” WADA President, Sir Craig Reedie said. “It must be proven that these athletes have not been implicated in the institutionalized scheme and have been tested as overseen by the panel.
“We are eager to collaborate with other stakeholders in this regard.”
The United States Olympic Committee issued a statement also praising the IOC’s “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.”
The IOC stressed that “due process” was followed this time, something they claim was impossible prior to the Rio summer Olympics in 2016, when they did not ban Russia and, instead, left it to individual sports’ governing bodies to decide.
Bach and the rest of the IOC executive board spent most of Tuesday analyzing the findings of the Schmid Commission, one of two commissions set up by the IOC in the wake of the 2016 reports by Canadian lawyer, Richard McLaren.
The 17-month investigation carried out by the former president of Switzerland, Samuel Schmid, was tasked with looking at whether or not the Russian government and authorities had played a part in covering up doping of the country’s athletes during the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics.
Schmid’s report confirmed “the systemic manipulation of the anti-doping rules and system in Russia.”
Separately, the parallel Oswald Commission – headed by another Swiss, the IOC member, Denis Oswald – is dealing with the specific cases and determining sanctions against individual athletes.
It has so far handed out lifetime bans to 25 Russian competitors since the start of November and stripped 11 medals, which means Russia has dropped from first in the Sochi medal table, to fourth behind Norway, Canada and the USA.
McLaren’s original reports last year, which were commissioned by the World Anti Doping Agency (WADA), unearthed what he described as a “cover-up that operated on an unprecedented scale” in Russia between 2011 and 2015 – a systematic doping scheme across summer and winter sports that benefited more than 1,000 athletes.
The findings were based on the testimony of the primary whistleblower, Grigory Rodchenkov, the eccentric former head of the Moscow anti-doping laboratory, who was immortalized in the Netflix documentary “Icarus.”
Rodchenkov, who fled Russia in 2015 to seek refuge in the United States where he is currently enrolled in a witness protection program, claimed to have masterminded the doping and evasion infrastructure that peaked at the Sochi games.
He alleged the whole thing was backed by the Russian government and that members of the FSB – Russia’s intelligence agency – were directly involved in the manipulation of samples.
However, the Kremlin has consistently denied state involvement and has issued an arrest warrant for Rodchenkov, who they claim acted alone in administering the drugs to coaches and athletes, who themselves did not know they were taking performance enhancing substances.
“Today’s decision by the International Olympic Committee sends a powerful message that it will not tolerate state-sponsored cheating by any nation,” said Rodchenkov’s lawyer Jim Walden in a statement.
“Dr. Rodchenkov provided credible and irrefutable evidence of the Russian state-sponsored doping system, which was ultimately supervised and financed by then-Minister of Sports Vitaly Mutko and other high-level government officials.”
In 2018, Russia will host the World Cup, but football’s world governing body FIFA said in a statement that the IOC’s decision “has no impact on the preparations” for the tournament.
CNN’s Sebastian Shukla contributed to this report from Moscow.