(NEW YORK) — Facing intense pressure, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) today will decide whether to ban Russia from the Winter Olympics this February as punishment for the country’s alleged state-sponsored cover up of doping by its athletes.
The IOC’s executive board will meet Tuesday in Lausanne, Switzerland to hear final reports from two commissions investigating Russian doping and to decide on what sanctions Russia should face ahead of the Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea. Russian athletes could be barred entirely from the competition or forced to compete under a neutral flag.
The anti-doping agencies of 17 countries, including the United States, have demanded the IOC impose a blanket ban, issuing a collective statement in September that it was time for the body to stop “paying lip-service” to the anti-doping fight.
Last year, an investigation commissioned by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) found evidence that Russia had concealed doping by hundreds of its athletes for years, aided by the country’s intelligence services, with the cover-up reaching a crescendo during the 2014 Winter Olympics that Russia hosted in Sochi. That report by the Canadian lawyer Richard McLaren found the scheme had been overseen by Russia’s sports ministry and affected as many as 1,000 athletes across 30 sports.
Last summer, facing similar calls to exclude Russia from the Rio Olympics, the IOC pushed the decision onto the international federations of individual sports, allowing them to choose which Russian athletes could compete. Although virtually Russia’s entire track and field team were barred from the Rio Games, in the end the country was able to field around 70 percent of its Olympic team.
This time, anti-doping agencies and many athletes are demanding the IOC impose a tougher penalty, arguing that Russia has not done enough to clean up its act.
“The IOC needs to stop kicking the can down the road and immediately issue meaningful consequences,” the 17 national anti-doping agencies, that included those of the U.S. and U.K., said in a joint statement released at a meeting in Colorado in September. Russia’s presence at the Olympics poses a “clear and present danger” to clean athletes, the statement said.
Besides a full ban, the IOC is considering forcing Russian athletes to compete as neutrals in Pyeongchang, meaning that they would not wear their team colors and the Russian national anthem would not be played at medal ceremonies. The IOC has also so far banned more than 20 Russian athletes from the Olympics for life over doping violations at Sochi.
Russia has refused to accept McClaren’s key finding that the cover-up was carried out with government support, claiming that it was done by individual coaches, athletes and officials. Instead, Russian officials have denounced McClaren’s report as a U.S.-led plot meant to discredit Russia. In October, President Vladimir Putin suggested the doping allegations were meant to harm his chances in elections next year.
That refusal to accept McClaren’s findings led WADA in October to keep Russia’s national anti-doping agency, RUSADA, suspended, also citing Russia’s failure to provide sufficient access to doping samples.
The IOC will hear the final reports of two of its own commissions investigating Russian doping Tuesday and are expected to endorse McLaren’s conclusions. One of those, headed by the lawyer Denis Oswald, already did so in a ruling last month that stripped a Russian cross country skier of his Sochi gold medal.
Reports that the IOC might makes its athletes compete under a neutral flag though has raised the possibility that Russia could boycott the Pyeongchang Olympics. Russia’s sports minister, Pavel Kolobov, has said that having its athletes compete under a neutral flag is “unacceptable.”
But on Monday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that the Kremlin was not considering a boycott at the moment, though he added the final decision would be up to Putin.
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