Which Athletes Will Profit From Russia’s Winter Olympics 2018 Ban?

Russia has been banned from the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics after the IOC found evidence of an “unprecedented systematic manipulation” of the anti-doping system that has led to a series of suspensions for the country’s athletes in recent months.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) did not impose a blanket ban on Russia ahead of the Rio 2016 Summer Games but said on Tuesday that the evidence unearthed by the Schmid Commission made the doping situation impossible to dispute.

It therefore suspended Russia, which finished top of the medals table at its own 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, from next year’s Games in South Korea that run from Feb. 9-25.

However, in a bid to protect “innocent athletes” the door has been left open for Russians to compete as an “Olympic Athlete of Russia”, as long as they satisfy strict conditions that show they have a doping-free background.

The IOC also decided to suspend Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) President Alexander Zhukov as an IOC member, while Russian Deputy Prime Minister Vitaly Mutko, sports minister at the time of the Sochi Games, was also banned from any future participation at the Olympics.

Former Switzerland President Samuel Schmid told a news conference his report focusing on allegations of government involvement in Russian doping at the Sochi Games confirmed “the systematic manipulation of the anti-doping rules and system”.

The results were not based only on testimony by Russia’s former anti-doping chief-turned-whistleblower Grigory Rodchenkov. There was also scientific evidence, witness statement documents and correspondence, he said.

“The facts are that in Russia there was systemic manipulation of doping and the anti-doping system...that also took place at Sochi 2014,” added Schmid.

IOC President Thomas Bach said: ”Today we gave the Russian delegation the opportunity to express themselves. In this meeting this afternoon the president of ROC (Russian Olympic Committee) has apologized.

“As a former athlete I am feeling very sorry for all the clean athletes who are suffering from this manipulation... but because we are allowing clean athletes to participate they can set about building a bridge for the future (rather) than erecting a new wall between Russia and the Olympic movement.”

Zhukov described the IOC decision as contradictory. “There are positive and negative sides,” he said. “The IOC has allowed all clean athletes in all sports.”

Other Russians were more forthright, with Alexei Kravtsov, president of the Russian Skating Union, saying: ”The decision is offensive, insulting and completely unjustified.

“I consider that this decision will deal a great blow to the whole Olympic movement.”

Alexei Kurashov, president of the Russian freestyle federation, added: ”The Olympic movement has discredited itself and there will be fundamental consequences to this.

“These are not the principles of Olympism. I can’t say that the activities of the IOC are honest.”

U.S. Senator John McCain, a frequent critic of the Kremlin, praised the IOC announcement.

“The International Olympic decision to ban Russia from the 2018 Winter Olympics is a welcome step in serving justice to Vladimir Putin’s government for its elaborate doping scheme in 2014,” he said in a statement.

“Today’s announcement sends an important message to Putin’s Russia that being a member of the international community means abiding by rules, norms, and standards - and that anything less will not be tolerated.”

The IOC’s decision comes 18 months after it decided not to impose an outright ban on Russian athletes ahead of Rio and told international sports federations to decide individually on the participation of Russians at the Olympics in Brazil.

While all of Russia’s track and field athletes bar one and the weightlifting team were banned from Rio, about 70 percent of Russia’s original 387-strong squad took part at those Games.

Bach said on Tuesday, however, that the situation was different now.

“(Ahead of Rio) there was no opportunity to hear the Russian side and at the time of Rio it was mainly about the failure in the Moscow lab. Now it’s about the manipulation of an Olympic lab. The conditions then and now are totally different.”

Bogdan Kiselevich, Dinar Khafizullin, Sergei Mozyakin and Alexander Barabanov of Russia (left to right) in Helsinki, Finland, November 12. Bogdan Kiselevich, Dinar Khafizullin, Sergei Mozyakin and Alexander Barabanov of Russia (left to right) in Helsinki, Finland, November 12. Russia's ban from the 2018 Winter Olympics means it won't compete in the hockey tournament in Pyeongchang. Jussi Nukari/AFP/Getty

The Schmid report said the IOC had “not found any documented, independent and impartial evidence confirming the support or the knowledge of this (anti-doping manipulation) system by the highest State authority” after Richard McLaren’s independent report for the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) had said the Russian government and secret service were involved.

McLaren’s report in 2016 found more than 1,000 Russian competitors in more than 30 sports had been involved in a conspiracy to conceal positive drug tests over a five-year period.

The I.O.C.'s decision will have major ramifications for athletes from the U.S. and around the globe. With the NHL not allowing its players to compete in Pyeongchang, Russia was the overwhelming gold-medal favorite in hockey. "Russia will benefit from having some of its top players, like forwards Ilya Kovalchuk and Pavel Datsyuk, playing overseas  in the KHL, and eligible to play in the Games," Evan Sporer wrote for Sporting News in October. "The KHL will permit its players to attend the tournament. Russia will be without its biggest star in Washington Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin, though."

With Russia now banned from the Olympic hockey tournament, the U.S. now has a realistic shot at a medal—even without its NHL players. In an article published on Wednesday morning, the BBC predicted the U.S. would finish third in the medal table with or without Russia, though the country's absence could add one extra medal to its tally. Norway, with four extra medals, stands to gain most from Russia's absence according to the BBC projections.

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