Russian athletes will be forced to compete as neutrals at February’s Winter Olympics after the country’s Olympic committee was banned over the biggest drugs scandal in history.
The International Olympic Committee finally took meaningful action against what it acknowledged had been “systematic” cheating by the nation at London 2012 and Sochi 2014, outlawing its flag, uniform and anthem from Pyeongchang 2018.
More than a year after refusing to throw Russia out of Rio 2016 following the publication of a World Anti-Doping Agency-commissioned report that found Russia guilty of a cover-up which included an FSB-assisted sample-swapping scheme, the IOC announced the findings of its own independent investigation into the scandal.
The report by former Swiss president Samuel Schmid ruled that the Russian Ministry of Sport and Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) bore ultimate responsibility for what IOC president Thomas Bach branded “an unprecedented attack on the integrity of the Olympic Games and sport”, one which Wada investigator Professor Richard McLaren last year said involved 1,000 athletes, including footballers.
Russian deputy prime minister Vitaly Mutko, who was sports minister at the time of the scandal, was also handed a lifetime Olympic ban, something that could lead to calls for him to be replaced as head of the country’s World Cup organising committee.
However, the report found insufficient evidence he personally orchestrated the scheme or had knowledge of it, despite the publication last week of the diaries of the former director of the Moscow laboratory which allege meetings and conversations with Mutko about it.
Schmid stopped short of describing what went on as “state-sponsored” – a conclusion reached by previous investigations – while he said on Tuesday night there was “no evidence” to implicate Russian president Vladimir Putin, who claimed last month accusations against his country had been invented as revenge for its perceived interference in Donald Trump’s election as US president.
Russia, which has repeatedly denied state-sponsored doping, had threatened to boycott February’s Games if the IOC forced its athletes to compete as neutrals and a decision on that is expected on Wednesday.
Bach defended the time taken by the IOC to reach a similar decision made last year by the International Paralympic Committee and two years ago by the International Association of Athletics Federations, declaring Russia’s right to “due process” had only now been respected.
What he described as “proportionate sanctions” were handed down by the IOC’s executive board, which he said had been unanimous in its decisions.
As well as banning the ROC and Mutko, it suspended the latter’s former deputy, Yuri Nagornykh, from all future Games and ROC president Alexander Zhukov’s IOC membership.
It ordered the ROC to reimburse costs incurred over the investigation and to contribute $15 million (£11.17m) towards the establishment of a new independent testing authority.
That was some way short of the $100m fine that had been previously been threatened.
The IOC also did not go as far as the IPC, which has banned all Russians, or the IAAF, which has allowed only a small number to compete who could prove they operated outside their country’s system.
Instead, it announced eligibility criteria that excluded any athlete that had served a drugs ban and required everyone else to undergo “targeted tests” and “other testing requirements”.
Bach declared himself “very sorry” for clean athletes robbed because of the scandal and said the IOC would try to organise ceremonies in Pyeongchang for those due reallocated medals.
They include Great Britain’s four-man bobsleigh team, who originally finished fifth behind two doping Russian crews in Sochi and should now receive bronze.
Bach also branded any boycott of the Games as unjustified, adding: “An Olympic boycott has never achieved anything.”
Meanwhile, the UK Government welcomed the decision, with sports minister Tracey Crouch posting on Twitter: “Pleased that the IOC has taken this decision. It is an important step in protecting the integrity of sport and gives comfort to our athletes that they are competing on a level playing field.”