IOC suspends Russian NOC but leaves door open to PyeongChang

Russian athletes permitted to compete as neutrals despite calls for outright ban.

IOC suspends Russian NOC but leaves door open to PyeongChang

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has suspended the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) but ruled that athletes from Russia will be able to compete under a neutral flag at next year’s Winter Olympic Games in PyeongChang.

Tuesday's ruling by the IOC’s 14-member executive board follows the findings of a report by the Schmid Commission, which confirmed evidence of “the systemic manipulation of the anti-doping rules and system in Russia” leading up to and during the Sochi Games of 2014.

An IOC statement said the Schmid Commission had recommended that the committee's executive board take 'the appropriate measures that should be strong enough to effectively sanction the existence of a systemic manipulation of the anti-doping rules and system in Russia, as well as the legal responsibility of the various entities involved (i.e., including uniform, flag and anthem).'

The IOC's decision to suspend the ROC with immediate effect means no Russian officials or representatives from the country's ministry of sport will be permitted to attend next February's Games, including Vitaly Mutko, Russia's current deputy prime minister and former minister for sport, who has been banned from all future Olympics.

Russian athletes who can prove they are clean will, however, be able to compete under strict conditions set out by the IOC. Any permitted competitors will be forced to compete as an 'Olympic Athlete from Russia (OAR)' and under the Olympic flag, while the Olympic Anthem will be played during any ceremony involving those athletes.

Allegations of widespread doping among Russian athletes, coaches and officials emerged last year following revelations made by Grigory Rodchenkov, the former director of the Moscow anti-doping laboratory turned whistleblower who masterminded an elaborate plot to conceal positive samples.

After evidence first came to light prior to the Rio 2016 Summer Games, the IOC ignored widespread calls for a blanket ban on Russian athletes for that event, instead deferring decisions on eligibility to individual sporting federations. As a result, dozens of Russian athletes competed at those Games.

The IOC's statement insisted Tuesday's ruling, which mirrors measures taken by the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) in August 2016 and upheld in September, could not have been made before Rio 2016 because 'due process, to which every individual and every organisation is entitled', had to be followed.

It added that the Schmid Commission - which was tasked by the IOC to investigate the findings of a damning report published by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) in 2016 and led by the Canadian lawyer Professor Richard McLaren - has since undertaken 'over 17 months of extensive work', including gathering information and evidence and interviewing 'all the main actors' involved.

"This was an unprecedented attack on the integrity of the Olympic Games and sport," said IOC president Thomas Bach. "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."

Further sanctions handed down by the IOC include a demand for Russia to pay US$15 million to reimburse the costs incurred by the committee as a result of its investigations, and to contribute to the establishment of the Independent Testing Authority (ITA), a new entity set up to oversee global anti-doping efforts.

Other officials sanctioned include Yuri Nagornykh, Mutko's deputy minister at the time of the Sochi 2014 Games, and Dmitry Chernyshenko, the former chief executive of the Sochi 2014 organising committee, who has been stripped of his role on the Coordination Commission for Beijing 2022. ROC president Alexander Zhukov has also had his IOC membership suspended.

A statement from the PyeongChang 2018 local organising committee (POCOG) read: "We accept and respect the decisions of the IOC Executive Board that Russia may compete under a neutral flag. We will work with the IOC and all other relevant stakeholders accordingly to ensure that all the athletes and officials attending the Games as part of this team are given the best experience possible.”

The IOC, whose leaders are meeting in Lausanne this week, says it 'reserves the right to take measures against and sanction other individuals' implicated in Russia's doping scheme. It adds that it may 'partially or fully lift the suspension of the ROC' following the PyeongChang Games provided all decisions taken under Tuesday's ruling are 'fully respected and implemented by the ROC and by the invited athletes and officials.'

In the lead up to Tuesday's highly anticipated ruling, reports emerged that Russia was contemplating a boycott of the upcoming Games in the wake of any punishment. All eyes will now be on the country's officials to see what their response will be - it is understood that the ROC is likely to file a legal appeal, while Russian media reports that Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, will make an announcement on Wednesday.

There will also be increased pressure on other sports bodies to take action, not least Fifa, world soccer's governing body. Russia is due to host next year's World Cup and Mutko, the president of the Russian Football Union, remains the public face of the tournament as chairman of its organising committee.