Russians won’t compete in the Pyeongchang Olympics under their own flag, if they compete at all, following a decision from the International Olympic Committee on Tuesday.
The IOC’s executive board announced that it has suspended the Russian Olympic Committee, a move that effectively bans the country almost two months before the opening of the Games, but created a path for individuals to compete as neutral athletes.
Those athletes will be designated as “Olympic Athletes from Russia,” and wear a uniform with that designation. They will compete under the Olympic flag and the Olympic anthem will play at any ceremony.
If those athletes attend is unclear as Russian officials have said the country would boycott if the IOC adopted such a decision, one that was supported by more than three dozen national anti-doping organizations.
The athletes will be determined by a panel chaired by Valerie Fourneyron, the chair of the Independent Testing Authority that was recently established.
The IOC sanctioned the country for running a state-sponsored doping system, one which undermined the Sochi Olympics in 2014.
The IOC’s executive board reached the decision after receiving a report from a commission chaired by Samuel Schmid which confirmed “the systemic manipulation of the anti-doping rules and system in Russia.”
The collective action comes as another IOC commission disqualified 25 Russian athletes from Sochi, resulting in the loss of 11 medals.
That commission, chaired by IOC member Denis Oswald, was tasked with handling individual cases.
In the first reasoned decision released by the Oswald Commission, it accepted the findings in a report from Canadian lawyer Richard McLaren. His report last year revealed state-sponsored doping in Russia that included sample tampering during the Sochi Olympics.
McLaren’s report showed more than 1,000 Russian athletes were involved in a broader system to dope and cover up positive tests.
That Oswald Commission called the Russian doping system “one of the worst ever blows against the integrity and reputation of the Olympic Games.”
Ultimately, the IOC’s acceptance of the evidence that Russian had run the system led it to a different decision than it reached last year when it sought to balance collective responsibility with individual justice.
Before Rio, the IOC opted not to ban Russia. Instead, it gave criteria about the eligibility of athletes and left the decisions to the international federations that govern each sport. Those decisions were reviewed by the Court of Arbitration for Sport, and a majority of the Russia delegation ended up competing.
While hewing to the right of clean athletes to compete, Tuesday’s decision placed the collective responsibility on the Russian system.
The IOC’s solution is similar to one adopted by the International Association of Athletics Federations, which did not allow Russian track and field athletes to compete in Rio under their own flag and instead only allowed athletes who could demonstrate their anti-doping record to participate as neutral athletes.
Ultimately, only one did.
The IAAF kept those requirements in place while the Russian Athletics Federation remains suspended, and Russians competed as neutral athletes at this year’s world championships.
Should Russia boycott the decision, it would mark the first time it has missed the Olympics since boycotting in 1984.