(ATR) The fate of Russia at the 2018 Winter Olympics is being decided today.
The ruling IOC Executive Board is scheduled to spend as much as five hours deliberating the circumstances of Russia’s participation in the 2018 Games in PyeongChang, South Korea.
At issue is whether to totally ban Russian athletes or allow those proven clean of drug use to compete but under a range of possible conditions.
After topping the medals table at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi with 33, Russia has since slipped to fourth place in the wake of rulings by IOC disciplinary commissions in the past few months. So far 25 Russian athletes who competed in Sochi have been disqualified over drug testing samples that were manipulated or tampered prior to testing.
The decision of the IOC executive will be one of the most politically sensitive the group has made in many years.
Russia is one of the most important countries in the Olympics whether summer or winter. The number one patron of Olympic sport in Russia is none other than Vladimir Putin. He has charged that Russia is the victim of western intrigue in this drugs scandal which has lasted for more than two years. Putin and other Russian leaders have rejected accusations that the manipulation of samples uncovered in Sochi was not directed by the state.
Regardless of Russian protestations, the IOC has been forced into a position that it must take significant action in the face of such significant subterfuge of a national anti-doping program.
IOC President Thomas Bach is believed to be in favor of finding ways to include Russian athletes in PyeongChang at the same time finding appropriate punishment for Russia. At the Rio Olympics only athletes cleared by their respective internationalfederations were permitted to compete. A similar process is likely for these Winter Games.
But unlike Rio, the IOC could take steps to neutralize the Russian team, banning the flag, anthem for team uniform. There have been worries that such a treatment could lead to a boycott by Russia, but officials appear to be downplaying that kind of talk ahead of the IOC decision.
The effect of a huge fine against Russia, as much as $100 million, could also be an option that directly punishes Russia without targeting athletes. The IOC has done it before, against Austria, for the blooddoping scandal at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin that included a police raid of the private accommodations of members of the biathlon and cross country team.
The Austrian Olympic Committee was fined $1 million. The idea of a $100 million fine boggles.
The 14 members of the IOC executive include some new members, Robin Mitchell of Fiji, Nicole Hoevertsz of Aruba and Denis Oswald of Switzerland.
For Oswald, this is his latest tour of duty after serving more than 10 years ago. And he is chair of the disciplinary commission which has been goingthrough the cases of the Sochi athletes, issuing a series of rulings in the past 60 days disqualified more than two dozen Russian athletes.
Oswald will report to the EB along with Samuel Schmid, a Swiss politician who has been leading another commission examining the suspicions the state is behind the doping scandal.
The IOC president is scheduled to report late in the day in Lausanne on the decisions he and his colleagues will make.
More than 200 representatives of the press been credentialed for the announcement that will be streamed live by the IOC through its website www.Olympics.org.
Written and reported in Lausanne by Ed Hula.
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