ATR Golden 25 - Solving Russia Doping Crisis #1

(ATR) Russian participation in the Olympics becomes a major distraction for the IOC.

SOCHI, RUSSIA - JANUARY 28:  The Flags of the Olympic Rings, Sochi 2014 and the Russian National flag in the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Park in the Costal Cluster on January 28, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
SOCHI, RUSSIA - JANUARY 28: The Flags of the Olympic Rings, Sochi 2014 and the Russian National flag in the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Park in the Costal Cluster on January 28, 2014 in Sochi, Russia. (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)

(ATR) For the second Olympics in a row, the participation of Russia at the Olympics is a divisive and awkward issue.

Solving the Russian doping crisis is number one in the 2018 edition of the Around the Rings Golden 25. Published since 1997, the Golden 25 is an annual review of people, events and issues expected to influence the Olympic Movement in the year ahead.

After the experience of Rio de Janeiro with a last-minute furor over whether to allow Russia to compete, the IOC finds itself still mired in the consequences of the doping scandal that has put Russia on the outs of the Olympic Movement.

Over the next two months, the IOC will administer its latest sanctions against Russia in the wake of rulings that doping samples of its athletes at the 2014 Winter Games were tampered with to avoid positive results.

For PyeongChang, Russian athletes who are cleared to compete will be known as "Olympic Athlete from Russia". The Russian flag, its colors and the national anthem are all banned from use. The Russian Olympic Committee is suspended, including President Alexander Zhukov, whose IOC membership is on hold as a result.

IOC Executive Board member Nicole Hoevertsz of Aruba will lead the three-member panel responsible for implementing sanctions in PyeongChang. IOC member Danka Bartekova, a shooter from Slovakia and a member of the Athletes Commission, as well as IOC Director General Christophe De Kepper round out this elite panel.

Denis Oswald, newly returned to the IOC EB, has been the chair of the IOC Disicplinary Commission which has held dozens of hearings in 2017 involving doping charges against Russian athletes in Sochi. A Swiss lawyer, Oswald is one of the most experienced IOC members, leading coordination commissions and international rowing federation FISA. So far, all the rulings his panel has issued have stood the test of CAS appeal, but a couple dozen cases still are pending CAS rulings.

The EB will be watching developments closely as the possibility remains for Russia’s suspension to be lifted for the closing ceremony. This would allow a return of the Russian flag and the team uniform, which would be a reward for some of the systemic changes the IOC and the World Anti-Doping Agency want Russia to enact.

Those changes are needed not just for 2018 but in perpetuity if the IOC and Russia want to avoid this mess in Tokyo for 2020.

IOC member and WADA President Craig Reedie is a key to the recertification of the Russian anti-doping program. Reedie’s former IOC colleague, Vitaly Smirnov, is leading the push for change within Russia.

Deputy Prime Minister Vitaly Mutko would be wise to remove himself from the scene if he’s interested in helping to restore Russia’s Olympic standing. A lifetime ban from the Olympics, which he is challenging before the Court of Arbitration for Sport, should be a clear message that Mutko is not wanted.

National anti-doping agencies, which have urged harsh penalties and wholesale changes, will look critically on the progress of the Russian reinstatement. U.S. Anti-Doping Agency Travis Tygart has been outspoken. Journalist Hajo Seppelt of ARD in Germany has been instrumental in bringing the doping scandal to light; he remains on the story despite death threats.

IAAF President Sebastian Coe, who leads the only international federation to block Russia from the 2016 Olympics, will figure into a permanent solution. If Russians are still not welcomed back into the IAAF fold for Tokyo, athletics will still be an event with an asterisk from the 2020 Games.

Conversations between IOC President Thomas Bach and Russian President Vladimir Putin also may be needed to smooth the way for Russia’s return.

The doping story for PyeongChang also includes a major step forward in the way drug testing is conducted. Beginning in 2018, an independent agency -- not the IOC -- will take over testing at the Games.

Dr. Valérie Fourneyron, a doping expert from France with no connection to sport, is the independent chair. But with three of its five members from the IOC and $15 million in funding from Lausanne, the Independent Testing Authority has to prove in PyeongChang that it will truly be independent.

2017 ranking – #3

Reported by Ed Hula.