The International Olympic Committee has suspended Russia from the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea, based on a mountain of evidence of systematic doping which has shaken the sport world to its core.
The Russian flag, uniform and anthem will be stripped from the Games, while several officials, including Russian vice-president Vitaly Mutko and former deputy minister of sport Yuri Nagornykh, are banned for life, and fines in excess of $15 million will be levied on the Russian Olympic Committee, in a series of unprecedented sanctions.
The IOC based the decision on its own report (The Schmid report), which uncovered widespread anti-doping abuse at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
Only Russian athletes with a history of stringent drug testing who petition to compete as a ‘Olympic athlete from Russia’ will be allowed to participate in the Games, at the discretion of an IOC panel, according to the IOC announcement Tuesday (Dec. 5) in Lausanne, Switzerland.
Local reaction was swift in commending the IOC for its decision, along with calls for cleaner sport.
“It’s nice to have some validation of what’s been going on, that we’ve known about since at least 2002,” said former Canadian national team cross-country ski coach Justin Wadsworth. “The IOC decision was on the strong side. It’s rare that an organization goes out and makes this kind of decision very often, and against one of their main supporters. There is so much evidence, they can’t deny it anymore.”
Wadsworth coached Canada’s cross-country ski team at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, where he was outspoken about several Russian performances, especially in the cross-country ski team. Six of those athletes were caught doping and banned from future Olympic Games, including 50 kilometre skate gold medallist Alexander Legkov, three-time silver medalist Maxim Vylegzhanin. Evgeniy Belov, Julia Ivanova, Evgenia Shapovalova and Alexey Petukhov.
As the husband of Canadian ski legend and WADA representative Beckie Scott, Wadsworth has had a first-hand glimpse into the maelstrom behind the anti-doping world. He called for Russia to admit guilt in order to move forward.
“This is not a win. It’s an admission of the facts from the IOC. Now it’s time for Russia to tell the world what they have done,” said Wadsworth. “The first step is admitting something was wrong. We’ve all made mistakes, and reconcile with friends. As soon as that can happen, we can work toward a global solution.”
Wadsworth said the announcement does show empathy for clean athletes.
“I do have a lot of empathy for Russian athletes, especially for some of them that are clean. But sometimes those athletes have to fight against their own system,” Wadsworth said.
He is now curious to see how the athlete panel judges the Russian athletes, and wonders if factors such as working with coaches with a history of doping will be factored into decisions.
Cross Country Canada high performance director Thom Holland said the announcement is welcome, but the path to clean sport is a long one.
“This is a great day for sport,” Holland said. “I was there in 2002, and there were Russians eliminated there. Other countries have had massive doping scandals as well in our sport … but with Russia, because their track record is so long … until we see something from Russia about cleaning up their system, and not just talk, we are a long way from any form of confidence.”
Holland is curious to see how Russia responds. Some Russian officials have remained defiant of the doping charges, while others have floated the idea of a boycott. A ‘No Russia, No Games’ social media campaign has sprung up.
Canada has had more world cups on home soil thanks to FIS’s stance on Russia. Quebec received a world cup last season after it was stripped from Russia. Canmore will host another cross-country ski world cup in 2020.
Biathlon Canada executive director Andy Holmwood said the doping scandal is deep enough, and the evidence is so compelling, the Russians should not be on the start line. He predicts the announcement will have “significant implications for biathlon.”
Three Russian biathletes have been named and banned by the IOC, but are all retired.
The International Biathlon Union still holds races in Russia, including world championships, world cups and IBU cups.
Biathlete Rosanna Crawford took to social media to support the IOC decision, and called for the IBU to follow suit.
“Hopefully the IBU will do what is right. I also want to say that I truly feel for the Russian athletes who might be clean or had no choice at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi. Right now, a clear message needs to be sent so this never happens again in sport,” Crawford wrote.
Retired athlete Dasha Gaiazova-Atkins said she and teammate Perianne Jones lost a world cup silver medal, and potentially a strong result in Sochi, due to Russian skiers who beat them, but were later caught doping.
“I feel the IOC has mad a very courageous decision. If you look at WADA, IOC, FIFA, there are a lot of politics we don’t know about. It’s fantastic they took a stance,” Gaizova-Atkins said.
The skier was born in Russia, and said she feels for those who were not part of the systematic doping program, but will feel the punishment.
“I read the Russian cross-country ski federation president has said they aren’t returning the medals from Russia. They will appeal and will not see the medals returned, even if it takes 10 years,” Gaiazova-Atkins said.
She’s had many colleagues in Russia dispute the findings, which she admits is hard.
“A lot of those athletes are my friends on Facebook. I know them as people and competitors. It turns out they are involved in doping. It’s a tough situation,” Gaiazova-Atkins said.
In a statement, IOC president Thomas Bach said the sanctions are measured.
“This was an unprecedented attack on the integrity of the Olympic Games and sport. The IOC EB, 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.
“As an athlete myself, I feel very sorry for all the clean athletes from all NOCs 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.”