Four years ago, Russia staged a spectacular tribute to its Communist past in the opening ceremony of the 2014 Olympics in Sochi. Today the International Olympic Committee decided not to get nostalgic for the good old days of Soviet-bloc athlete doping. In a historic first, the IOC barred Russia from competing in Pyeongchang in next February’s Olympiad over its coordinated effort to use performance-enhancing drugs in international competition.
Best guess is that the hammer and sickle don’t come out of retirement this time:
Russia’s Olympic team has been barred from the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea. The country’s government officials are forbidden to attend, its flag will not be displayed at the opening ceremony and its anthem will not sound. Any athletes from Russia who receive special dispensation to compete will do so as individuals wearing a neutral uniform, and the official record books will forever show that Russia won zero medals.
That was the punishment issued Tuesday to the proud sports juggernaut that has long used the Olympics as a show of global force but was exposed for systematic doping in previously unfathomable ways. The International Olympic Committee, after completing its own prolonged investigations that reiterated what had been known for more than a year, handed Russia penalties for doping so severe they were without precedent in Olympics history.
The ruling cemented that the nation was guilty of executing an extensive state-backed doping program. The scheme was rivaled perhaps only by the notorious program conducted by East Germany throughout the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s.
That program was so well-known at the time that the film Top Secret satirized it in 1984 with this scene of the “East German women’s swim team” honoring visitors to the nation:
Few countries have ever been barred from competition at the Olympics, which has tried and sometimes failed to keep international politics out of the Games. (Germany and Japan did not get invited immediately after World War II, and South Africa didn’t get invited in 1964 due to its apartheid policies.) In previous Olympiads, some countries had chosen not to compete over political differences. The most dramatic examples that come to mind are the boycott by the US and dozens of its allies of 1980’s Moscow Games over the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan, and the Soviet return of serve in their boycott of 1984’s Los Angeles Olympiad. The IOC has at times also struggled with recognition of some claims of sovereignty for representation at the Olympics. Taiwan, which considers itself independent and competed as its own nation in games earlier, now has to compete as “Chinese Taipei,” a designation which infuriates its athletes. This, however, is at the very least the first time that a country has been barred over corruption in the athletic competition itself.
However, Russia’s doping conspiracy was so tied to its Olympic leadership and its government, and was so widespread and arrogant, that the IOC finally concluded that it had no choice but to set a precedent for a “death penalty.” Nor do the penalties end there. The IOC barred at least one Russian official for life from any participation in future Olympics — Vitaly Mutko, who is now the deputy prime minister for Russia. More than two dozen Russian athletes have been barred from international competition for doping, and more may be added to the list. If any Russians do compete under the IOC banner in Pyeongchang, they’re not likely to be competitive — and they’re likely to draw a very large amount of scrutiny, too.
The IOC decision puts pressure on the World Cup, CBS Sports notes. Guess who’s in charge of that?
Expect questions about Russia's rampant cheating to center on Vitaly Mutko, now Russia's deputy prime minister. Olympic officials have banned him for life from attending the Games. He is in charge of the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
— Rebecca R. Ruiz (@RebeccaRuiz) December 5, 2017
Russia will undoubtedly appeal the decision, but they’d better not make any travel plans to South Korea. If the IOC was amenable to another punishment, they wouldn’t have gone out of their way to create this “death penalty” for Russia in this instance. Putin could also pull a “you can’t fire me, I quit” maneuver by announcing a boycott that would prevent any of its athletes from competing independently. Knowing Putin, that seems likelier than not.