PYEONGCHANG, South Korea – The International Olympic Committee on Sunday upheld the ban of Russia from the Pyeongchang Winter Games because of doping, denying the 168 athletes competing here as “Olympic Athletes from Russia” the right to march in the closing ceremony under their country’s flag.
The IOC’s full membership unanimously approved the recommendation of the executive board just hours before the final competition and the closing ceremony. Fifty-two of the IOC’s 100 members were present for the vote on the fallout from the massive Russian doping scandal, which has tarnished the IOC and raised doubts about its ability to protect clean athletes.
The IOC repeatedly said going into the Olympics that Russian athletes had been “rigorously tested,” implying they were unlikely to fail drug tests.
IOC President Thomas Bach said a condition for Russia’s reinstatement was no further positive drug tests at these Olympics. Two of the four athletes who tested positive in Pyeongchang were Russian, including a curler who had to return his bronze medal.
“The IOC executive board decided first not to lift the suspension of the Russian Olympic Committee for the closing ceremony,” Bach said, “therefore, no delegation of the Russian Olympic Committee will have taken part in these Olympic Winter Games.”
The IOC holds testing samples for 10 years, often uncovering positive cases years after medals had been awarded. The IOC did not bring up this contingency in considering Russia’s possible reinstatement.
Russia was banned from the Olympics on Dec. 5 because of widespread doping at the 2014 Sochi Games. The IOC left open the possibility of reinstatement ahead of the closing ceremony if the Russians met a series of criteria, and Russian athletes were allowed to participate under the Olympic flag.
IOC member Nicole Hoevertsz from Aruba and head of the Russia implementation group said the Russian delegation met many of the criteria required for reinstatement during the Olympics.
The two failed drug tests, however, were too much.
“Despite a good collaboration from the OAR delegation to respond to these (doping) cases in a prompt and transparent way, the implementation group was convinced that these cases caused significant concern,” Hoevertsz said.
The Russia ban and the positive doping results have been a distraction during the entire Pyeongchang Olympics. They also disrupted the Rio de Janeiro Summer Olympics.
Bach has defended the right of individual athletes to be judged separately and shied away from collective punishment. His stand has been seen as “soft on Russia” by many who called for an outright ban.
“We have to draw a line and look toward the future,” Hoevertsz said. “It is never going to be business as usual any more in the world of sport and in Russia. Many changes have been made and many changes still have to be made.”
Shamil Tarpischev, an IOC member from Russia, blamed the positive test on “the lack of cultural education. These cases are isolated and we are running our own investigation.”
He also tried to draw a line under the scandal.
“We believe this should be the end of this big problem,” Tarpischev added.
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