Rus­sia’s ban from Olympics un­prece­dented

But coun­try given a path past dop­ing scan­dal

USA TODAY International Edition - - FRONT PAGE - Rachel Axon

LAU­SANNE, Switzer­land – Three years af­ter the first ma­jor rev­e­la­tions about sys­temic Rus­sian dop­ing came to light, the In­ter­na­tional Olympic Com­mit­tee’s de­ci­sion to ban Rus­sia from the Pyeongchang Olympics brought sig­nif­i­cant sanc­tions on in­ter­na­tional sport’s big­gest stage.

Rus­sia will be banned from the Olympics, pun­ish­ment for what an IOC com­mis­sion con­cluded Tues­day was a “sys­tem­atic ma­nip­u­la­tion of the anti-dop­ing rules” that op­er­ated through the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

But in the IOC’s un­prece­dented de­ci­sion are enough olive branches that Rus­sia might not per­ma­nently re­main a black sheep.

In­di­vid­ual Rus­sian ath­letes can com­pete in Pyeongchang in Fe­bru­ary, pro­vided they meet guide­lines and are ap­proved, while the Rus­sian Olympic Com­mit­tee re­mains sus­pended.

Rus­sians have threat­ened to boy­cott such a de­ci­sion, and Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin is set to ad­dress par­tic­i­pa­tion on Wed­nes­day, ac­cord­ing to Rus­sian me­dia re­ports.

“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,” IOC Pres­i­dent Thomas Bach said.

De­spite his as­ser­tion that the IOC’s de­ci­sion was not po­lit­i­cal, it would be dif­fi­cult to view the des­ig­na­tion of neu­tral ath­letes as “Olympic Ath­letes from Rus­sia” as any­thing but.

Rus­sian ath­letes “can be more about build­ing a bridge into the fu­ture of a cleaner sport.”

IOC Pres­i­dent Thomas Bach

Ath­letes com­pet­ing un­der the Olympic flag, as Rus­sians would, have his­tor­i­cally been des­ig­nated as In­de­pen­dent Olympic Par­tic­i­pants or In­de­pen­dent Olympic Ath­letes. The Rus­sian flag and an­them will be gone, re­placed by the Olympic ver­sions, but the coun­try where these ath­letes are from will be clear.

“It’s ob­vi­ously the first real con­se­quence, and make no mis­take, it’s sig­nif­i­cant,” said U.S. Anti-Dop­ing Agency CEO Travis Ty­gart. “The Olympics is all about coun­tries com­pet­ing against each other, and to have no Rus­sia flag, no Rus­sia an­them, no Rus­sia Olympic Com­mit­tee, there is a sig­nif­i­cant con­se­quence that hope­fully send the right mes­sage to any state look­ing to cheat.”

The process ahead re­mains tricky. The IOC set cri­te­ria for the panel that will de­ter­mine el­i­gi­ble ath­letes, in­clud­ing that they have been sub­ject to rec­om­mended pre-Games test­ing.

It’s un­clear how quickly the panel will de­cide on ath­letes be­fore the Games be­gin Feb. 9, and there will be fewer Rus­sian ath­letes.

Al­ready, 25 ath­letes have had their Sochi re­sults dis­qual­i­fied and been banned, re­sult­ing in a loss of 11 medals.

The IOC’s de­ci­sion Tues­day also af­fects Rus­sian of­fi­cials tied to the sys­tem that Cana­dian lawyer Richard McLaren called an “in­sti­tu­tional con­spir­acy” that in­cluded sam­ple tam­per­ing dur­ing the Sochi Olympics. Most no­tably, for­mer Moscow lab di­rec­tor­turned-whis­tle-blower Grig­ory Rod­chenkov de­tailed a sys­tem of urine swap­ping through a hole in the wall.

Vi­taly Mutko, then the min­is­ter of sport, and his then-deputy, Yuri Nagornykh, are ex­cluded from all fu­ture Games.

“The proof is in the pud­ding. They sus­pended the two peo­ple who were the head of the dragon, so to speak,” said Jim Walden, Rod­chenkov’s at­tor­ney. “That to me speaks louder than any other words.”

For the sig­nif­i­cant step for­ward the IOC’s de­ci­sion rep­re­sents, it con­tains a trap door that could cheapen its sig­nif­i­cance.

The IOC may lift the sus­pen­sion of the Rus­sian Olympic Com­mit­tee at the clos­ing cer­e­mony pro­vided the ROC, ath­letes and of­fi­cials re­spect and im­ple­ment the IOC’s sanc­tions.

The IOC right­fully got credit for the sym­bolic gain of ex­clud­ing the Rus­sian flag dur­ing the Games, but it risks negat­ing it by al­low­ing the Rus­sian flag dur­ing the clos­ing cer­e­mony.

“It seems like a deal. It seems like a way for the Rus­sian Fed­er­a­tion to tell its folks that there’s a com­pro­mise reached and we will ap­pear at the Games,” Walden said.

Through its con­ces­sions, the IOC cre­ated a path for Rus­sia to move for­ward and in­cen­tive to par­tic­i­pate to the ex­tent it can rather than boy­cott.

But as much as Bach would like to “look for­ward into a cleaner fu­ture of sport,” for the ath­letes and sport lead­ers who have been seek­ing mean­ing­ful sanc­tions, his idea of a bridge might be a bridge too far.

Alexandr Zubkov leads the Rus­sian Fed­er­a­tion team in the open­ing cer­e­mony for the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Rus­sia. ROBERT HANASHIRO/USA TO­DAY

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