Russia was banned Tuesday from the 2018 Winter Games by the International Olympic Committee over its state-orchestrated doping programme, but clean Russian athletes will be allowed to compete under an Olympic flag.
The sanction was the toughest ever levelled by the IOC for drug cheating and came just 65 days ahead of the Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
In announcing the decision, IOC president Thomas Bach accused Russia of “perpetrating an unprecedented attack on the integrity of the Olympic Games and sport”.
An explosive report by the World Anti-doping Agency (WADA) and two subsequent IOC investigations have confirmed that Russian athletes took part in an elaborate drug cheating programme which peaked during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.
Mounting evidence has indicated that the scheme involved senior government officials, including from the sports ministry, with help from secret state agents.
The IOC also banned Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Vitaly Mutko — who was sports minister during the Sochi Games — for life.
Mutko is currently the head of the organising committee for the 2018 World Cup, which Russia is hosting.
Attention will quickly turn to see if football’s world governing body FIFA allows the scandal-tainted ally of President Vladimir Putin to retain his senior World Cup role.
In a statement, FIFA said it had “taken note” of the IOC decision but it had “no impact on the preparations” for Russia 2018.
– Russia ‘apologised’ –
The IOC also suspended the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) and its chief Alexander Zhukov.
Zhukov said he “apologised” to the IOC on Tuesday for the “anti-doping violations” committed in his country in recent years.
The Winter Olympics’ South Korean organisers said Wednesday they would prefer if Russians competed under their own flag, but accepted as “second-best” the IOC ruling.
Lee Hee-Bum, chief of the Pyeongchang organising committee for February’s Winter Olympics, added the decision caught the Games organisers off guard.
“We did not know that it (the punishment) would be this much,” Lee said, adding there was a “heated debate” among the IOC members before reaching the decision.
The move raises the prospect of Moscow boycotting the Games, something that organisers will be desperate to avoid as they battle low ticket sales and concern over North Korea’s nuclear and missile tests.