Is There a Way for Russian Athletes to Still Compete at the 2018 Winter Olympics?

Russia Winter Olympics, 2018 Winter Olympics

Getty Russia was banned from competing in the 2018 Winter Olympics on Tuesday

On Tuesday the International Olympic Committee announced that they had banned the Russian Olympic team from competing in the 2018 Winter Olympics, set to take place in Pyeongchang, South Korea. The ban is punishment for “the systematic manipulation of the anti-doping system in Russia” and “in particular the manipulation at the anti-doping laboratory” at the 2014 winter games in Sochi. Russia’s execution of a massive and extensive state-backed doping program that was exposed following the Sochi games forced the committee’s hand as they leveled some of the harshest penalties ever.

As a result the Russian flag will not be allowed to be displayed at the opening ceremony, the Russian anthem won’t be played and Russian officials are prohibited from attending, specifically any “member of leadership of the Russian Olympic Team at the Olympic Winter Games Sochi 2014.”

But what about the Russian athletes? What happens to them?

According to the ruling, an athlete from Russia could still potentially compete in the games but would do so as a neutral party; specifically as an “Olympic Athlete from Russia (OAR.)” If they were to win any medals, the Olympic anthem would play during the medal ceremony and the official record books would still say Russia won zero medals in South Korea.

So how will these Olympic Athletes from Russia be chosen?

The list of Russian athletes invited to the 2018 Winter Olympics will be determined by a panel led by Valerie Fourneyron. Fourneyon is the chair of the ITA and she will be joined on the committee by “members of the Pre-Games Testing Task Force: one appointed by WADA, one by the DFSU and one by the IOC, Dr. Richard Budgett.”

It goes without saying that any athlete chosen will have to have a clear record and in the text of the ban, the IOC makes it clear how clean that record will have to be.

“Athletes must not have been disqualified or declared ineligible for any Anti-Doping Rule Violation. Athletes must have undergone all the pre-Games targeted tests recommended by the Pre-Games Testing Task Force. Athletes must have undergone any other testing requirements specified by the panel to ensure a level playing field.”

Athletes in consideration must have already qualified for the games.

Once in South Korea, these athletes will receive the “same technological and logistical support” as any other athlete competing in the games. They will just be doing so as representatives of themselves, not Russia.

2014 Winter Olympics, 2018 Winter Olympics

Getty(L-R) Russian Federation Chef de Mission Alexander Kravtsov, Olympic Village Mayor Elena Isinbaeva and Russian President Vladimir Putin at the 2014 Winter Olympics

Russian coaches and doctors are able to attend, but they too would have to meet certain guidelines specific to doping. They couldn’t have ever worked with an athlete who had violated the Anti-Doping Rules at some point and would need to “sign a declaration to this effect.”

In the end, the decision as to who can and cannot attend is totally let to the discretion of the committee.

The President of the IOC, Thomas Bach, said in the announcement that “as an athlete myself, I feel very sorry for all the clean athletes from all NOCs who are suffering from this manipulation.”

“This was an unprecedented attack on the integrity of the Olympic Games and sport,” Bach said. “The IOC EB, after following due process, has issued proportional sanctions for this systemic manipulation while protecting the clean athletes. This should draw a line under this damaging episode and serve as a catalyst for a more effective anti-doping system led by WADA.”

Now the IOC and the rest of the world waits to see how Russia and President Vladimir Putin will choose to respond.