IOC suspends Russian national Olympic Committee for 2018 Games

Sportsnet's Stephen Brunt reacts to the International Olympic Committee announcing that the Russian National Committee has been suspended but will allow clean athletes to still participate under a neutral flag.

TORONTO – The International Olympic Committee suspended Russia’s national Olympic committee from the 2018 Winter Games, but will allow invited athletes who pass strict anti-doping protocols to compete in Pyeongchang under a neutral flag.

IOC president Thomas Bach made the announcement at the body’s headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland after its executive board discussed the findings of a commission led by former Switzerland president Samuel Schmid that investigated “the systemic manipulation of the anti-doping system in Russia.”

Over what the IOC described as “17 months of extensive work” that it could not do ahead of the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro, Schmid confirmed the previous findings of separate investigations led by Canadians Dick Pound and Richard McLaren that uncovered a staggering system to evade drug testers.

Those reports emerged in 2015 and 2016, but Bach declined to ban Russia from Rio even as the International Association of Athletics Federations declined to allow Russian track and field athletes to participate. This time, he said the Schmid commission gave the IOC board the evidence it needed to act.

“As an athlete myself, I feel very sorry for all the clean athletes from all NOCs who are suffering from this manipulation,” said Bach.

Under the decision, the Russian Olympic Committee is suspended immediately, no officials from the Russian sports ministry will be accredited for Pyeongchang and the former minister of sport during the 2014 Sochi Olympics, Vitaly Mutko, is banned from all future Olympics.

Russian athletes will need to be invited to the 2018 Games and to participate they must never have been disqualified for any anti-doping violation; undergone all pre-Olympic testing recommended by the Pre-Games Testing Task Force; and undergone other testing to ensure a level playing field.

Those selected will participate under the name “Olympic Athlete from Russia,” compete under the Olympic flag and will hear the Olympic anthem in any ceremony.

In an interview Monday, Pound said the IOC needed to do the right thing and “exclude” Russia from Pyeongchang.

“My view is the IOC should be the principal actor in this,” Pound, the former World Anti-Doping Agency president, told Sportsnet. “It should make the decision that is right, take it and be done with it. Not to say, ‘Well, we’ll let the Russians who can prove that they’re clean, assuming they can, in, but they can’t come with the Russian flag, just an Olympic flag.’ That gives the Russians another chance to throw a hissy fit and withdraw, rather than be excluded. I think it’s important to get that right.”

Russia’s doping scandal first started coming to light in December 2014, when an ARD documentary on German TV alleged that Russian officials systemically accepted payments from athletes to supply banned substances and cover up positive tests. In it, former discus thrower Yevgeniya Pecherina claimed that “most, the majority, 99 per cent” of top international-level Russian athletes cheated.

That prompted both the IAAF and WADA to begin investigations, with Pound leading an independent commission that confirmed the ARD report in December 2015.

“It’s worse than we thought,” Pound said at the time.

McLaren was tasked the following May with leading an independent investigation into Russia’s actions after whistleblower Grigory Rodchenkov, the former head of Moscow’s anti-doping lab who defected to the U.S. in 2015, detailed to the New York Times how the Sochi Games had been fixed.

McLaren released an interim report in mid-July before the 2016 Rio Olympics corroborating Rodchenkov’s claims, but while the IAAF decided to ban Russian track and field athletes from those Games, the IOC did not.

“Justice has to be independent of politics,” Bach said then.

The full report in December included data from computer hard drives, databases and emails that supported witness testimony on how post-competition urine samples of Russian athletes were systemically swapped out of the Sochi lab through a hole in the wall, and replaced with clean samples stored in a nearby building occupied by the FSB.

“It is impossible to know how deep and how far back this conspiracy goes,” McLaren said during the announcement.

Russian government and sports officials have consistently denied the claims, but 25 Russians that competed in Sochi have since been punished retroactively for doping, costing the country 11 medals.