Russia banned from 2018 Winter Olympics; athletes can compete under neutral flag

Sporting News
The International Olympic Committee laid down heavy penalties in the wake of the Sochi 2014 doping scandal.
The International Olympic Committee laid down heavy penalties in the wake of the Sochi 2014 doping scandal.

Russia has been banned from competing at the 2018 Winter Olympics, but athletes can compete under a neutral flag, the IOC announced Tuesday.

The decision came on the heels of a 17-month investigation into what the IOC called “the systemic manipulation of the anti-doping rules and system" at the 2014 Sochi Games.

"This was an unprecedented attack on the integrity of the Olympic Games and sport," IOC president Thomas Bach said in a release. "The IOC (executive board), after following due process, 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 WADA."

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Among the measures handed down Tuesday by the IOC was immediate suspension of the Russian Olympic Committee and a decision not to accredit any official from the Russian Ministry of Sport for the Pyeongchang Olympics in February.

Some individual Russian athletes will be allowed to compete in South Korea under "strict conditions," but they will wear uniforms that read OAR (Olympic Athlete from Russia) and feature the Olympic flag.

Russian athletes hoping to be included must not have had any previous anti-doping violations and must pass a series of tests ahead of the Pyeongchang Games.

"The IOC, at its absolute discretion, will ultimately determine the athletes to be invited from the list," the committee said.

While the notion of individual Russian athletes competing under a neutral flag had been anticipated, it's unclear what impact the IOC decision might have on team sports — most notably hockey. The IOC decision allows for the inclusion of teams, but all athletes on the roster would have to be approved individually by the aforementioned process.

The United States reacted favorably to the move, with USOC CEO Scott Blackmun releasing a statement that read: "The 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."

NBC Sports, which will again broadcast the Olympics in the U.S., also weighed in with a statement:

"As the exclusive U.S. media rights holder through 2032, we believe in clean competition and strong actions to ensure it. Therefore, we fully support today's IOC decision, which levels significant sanctions against the guilty, but also provides a path for clean athletes to compete in Pyeongchang."

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