LAUSANNE (Reuters) – Under huge pressure from all sides, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) will decide on Tuesday whether to ban Russia from next year’s Winter Olympics over alleged institutionalized doping.
Anti-doping agencies and many athletes want the country to be completely excluded from Pyeongchang but Russia itself has vehemently denied state involvement and complained of political manipulation.
Faced by the same decision ahead of the Rio Summer games 18 months ago, the IOC stopped short of imposing a blanket ban and instead left decisions on individual athletes’ participation to the respective sports federations.
Russia’s anti-doping agency (RUSADA) has been suspended since a report by a World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) commission in 2015 found evidence of state-sponsored doping in the country and accused it of systematically violating anti-doping regulations.
A further WADA report by Canadian lawyer Richard McLaren in 2016 found that more than 1,000 Russian competitors in more than 30 sports were involved in a conspiracy to conceal positive drug tests over a five-year period.
In the last month, the IOC’s own commission has banned more than 20 Russian athletes from the Olympics for life over doping violations at the 2014 Sochi Games while WADA has said that Russia remains “non-compliant” with its code.
The options facing the 15-member IOC Executive Board, which meets on Tuesday, include a blanket ban on Russia, allowing Russian athletes to compete as neutrals or deferring the decision to sports federations as it did in 2016.
Allowing Russian athletes to compete as neutrals – as they did at this year’s world athletics championships – would mean that they could not compete under Russia’s flag and the national anthem would not be played at medal ceremonies.
“The IOC has a delicate decision to make,” sports marketing expert Patrick Nally told Reuters.
”On the one hand it needs to show WADA and the world’s media that it is chastising Russia but at the same time it needs to be temperate in its approach … Banning them outright will, I think, be too negative a step.
“A compromise is necessary if the IOC wants to maintain stability. It can withstand media criticism but it can’t withstand an all-out war with one of its influential members.”
Last week, Joseph de Pencier, head of the iNADO umbrella group of national anti-doping agencies, said allowing Russia to take part in Pyeongchang would raise doubts about sport’s willingness to root out drug cheats.
Russian officials have accused WADA of shifting blame and said their country is the victim of a politicized dirty tricks campaign designed to besmirch its reputation and curb its sporting success.
On Monday, two Russian Olympic champions urged the IOC to allow Russian athletes to compete.
“I passionately believe that it is not the answer to ban innocent, clean, young Russian athletes from competing under the Russian flag in Pyeongchang,” said Svetlana Zhurova, who won Olympic gold in speed skating in 2006.
Former figure skater Evgeni Plushenko, a four-time Olympic medalist, said making Russians compete as neutrals would be “unfair on them and all their competitors who in some way would feel that the competition and Olympic spirit would have been devalued.”
Writing by Brian Homewood; Editing by Richard Balmforth