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IOC bans athletes from competing under Russian flag

AP, Kyodo

Russian athletes will be allowed to stand on the medal podium at the Winter Olympics — just not with their anthem playing or their nation’s flag rising above them.

The International Olympic Committee barred Russia and its sports leaders from the upcoming games in South Korea after its lead investigator concluded members of the Russian government concocted a doping scheme at the 2014 Sochi Games that “caused unprecedented damage to Olympism and to sports.”

Not welcome in Pyeongchang next year will be any sign of the Russian Olympic Committee or any member of its sports ministry, which was responsible for what investigators concluded was a top-to-bottom scheme of “manipulation and cheating” to ensure Russians could dope at the Olympics on their home turf and not get caught.

On Wednesday, a spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin said the Kremlin needs to analyze the IOC’s ruling before making any decisions regarding the country’s participation.

Dmitry Peskov said, “we need to put emotions aside” and “make a serious analysis” of the ruling before taking any steps. Peskov also said Russia “still needs to answer some questions” from the IOC.

Japanese Olympic Committee chief Tsunekazu Takeda on Wednesday backed the decision.

“I think the IOC has made protecting the credibility and integrity of the Olympics its priority,” Takeda said.

“It should be no surprise (that the IOC has taken this stance) to protect the value of the Olympics.

“The JOC will continue to cooperate with the IOC in order to make the Pyeongchang Olympics a success and for the sake of future Olympics.”

The IOC punishment did leave room for many Russians to compete under the name “Olympic Athlete from Russia” or OAR. They would have to pass drug tests to prove they were clean and also did not benefit from the Sochi scheme.

“It is certainly possible (that Russian figure skaters) will have the right to compete as individuals,” said Hidehito Ito, chairman of the Japan Skating Federation’s figure skating committee.

“(But as a country) Russia is Japan’s biggest rival so in that sense it (the ban) is a real shame.”

If Russian athletes win, the Olympic flag would be raised and the Olympic anthem played to honor their victories. That is, if Putin allows them to go to the Feb. 9-25 games. He previously has said it would be humiliating for Russia to compete without its national symbols.

“An Olympic boycott has never achieved anything,” IOC President Thomas Bach said at a news conference. “Secondly, I don’t see any reason for a boycott by the Russian athletes because we allow the clean athletes there to participate.”

Alexander Zhukov, the Russian Olympic Committee president who also was suspended from his IOC membership, told TV reporters in Lausanne that one key was preserving the name “Russia” in the team name.

“They’ll be called Russian athletes and not some kind of neutrals . . . that’s very important,” Zhukov said.

If it was a victory to have the word “Russia” in the team name and invite some Russian athletes to compete, it came at a cost.

The IOC also suspended the Russian Olympic Committee until at least the start of the closing ceremony in South Korea.

In an embarrassment for Russia’s hosting of the 2018 World Cup, the IOC also banned Russian Deputy Prime Minister Vitaly Mutko from the Olympics for life.

Mutko heads the organizing committee of soccer’s next World Cup. As sports minister in 2014, he was deeply implicated in the Sochi doping plot by two IOC commissions and a World Anti-Doping Agency investigation.

“The IOC executive board has made its position to the responsibility of Mr. Mutko very clear,” said Bach, who would not comment if it was appropriate for soccer’s governing body FIFA to continue working with an official who is also president of Russia’s soccer federation.

At the State Kremlin Palace on Dec. 1, FIFA President Gianni Infantino said at a joint news conference with Mutko that the IOC’s decision would not affect the World Cup.

That message was repeated Tuesday by FIFA in a statement which noted that its ethics and disciplinary committees could still open cases against Mutko and Russian soccer players implicated in doping cover-ups.

The IOC also imposed a fine of $15 million on the Russian Olympic Committee to pay for its two investigations into the case and toward future anti-doping work.

The sanctions could be challenged at the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Any Russian athlete hoping to earn invitations to Pyeongchang will have to come through a stricter-than-usual testing regime and not have a doping violation on their record.

Jun Yuda, the JSF’s speedskating head of development, said, “It’s taken this long for the punitive measures to be taken for Sochi so who knows whether it will be possible to protect (Pyeongchang) and keep it completely clean.”

Invitations will be decided by an IOC panel chaired by former French Sports Minister Valerie Fourneyron.

The IOC also will bar Russian officials who were team leaders at Sochi, and coaches or medical staff who have been linked to doping athletes.

The CEO of the Sochi Olympics, Dmitry Chernyshenko, also had his place on an Olympic panel overseeing the 2022 Beijing Winter Games withdrawn by the IOC.

Russia has repeatedly refused to accept that a state-sponsored doping program existed. Such denials helped ensure bans on its track federation and anti-doping agency have not been lifted.

Instead, Russia blames Grigory Rodchenkov, the former director of Moscow and Sochi testing laboratories, as a rogue employee. It wants the scientist extradited from the United States, where he is a protected witness.

The executive board reached its decision Tuesday after a scheduled 4½-hour debate when it heard from a Russian delegation that included world figure skating champion Evgenia Medvedeva. The delegation was led by Zhukov, who was later suspended.

Two IOC commission leaders — appointed after WADA investigator Richard McLaren upheld Rodchenkov’s doping claims in July 2016 — also reported to the Olympic board.

The report by IOC-appointed investigator Samuel Schmid, the former president of Switzerland who was asked to verify an “institutional conspiracy,” included a 50-page sworn affidavit from Rodchenkov, who was also a key witness for McLaren and an IOC disciplinary commission.