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Pyeongchang 2018: Russian Athletes to Compete Under Neutral Flag

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) banned Russia from February's Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea on Tuesday after an investigation into allegations of state-sponsored doping at Sochi 2014. But athletes who can prove they are clean will be allowed to compete under a neutral flag as an 'Olympic Athlete from Russia' (OAR). Allowing clean Russians to compete at the Winter Olympics under a neutral flag is "fair and justifiable", says former Great Britain bobsleigher John Jackson."It's right not to allow Russia to compete but allow the clean Russian athletes to compete. "Athletes who have made sure they've done it to the best of their ability - not enhanced - should get the chance to compete," said Jackson, who along with team-mates Bruce Tasker, Joel Fearon and Stuart Benson is in line for a bronze medal after the disqualification of two Russian teams from the 2014 Games.

 

Russia finished top of the medal table for those Games but have since dropped to fourth due to the number of athletes subsequently sanctioned for doping and stripped of their medals. "I think we have been cheated, but I don't hold any grudges," Jackson said. "Life's too short. We're going to get what we deserve; we're going to get the medal, so let's just look forward to the Olympics. It will be a shame not to have Russia there because they are a big powerhouse in winter sport, but it now brings everything back to a level playing field and that's all you can ask as an athlete."

 

British Olympic Association chairman Sir Hugh Robertson said the decision was a "seminal moment in the battle against doping". He credited the IOC and World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada) in "moving to restore the integrity of Olympic sport". The decision to ban Russia has been described as the most important in the 123-year history of the IOC by a leading anti-doping chief.

 

A World Anti-Doping Agency-commissioned report by sports lawyer Dr Richard McLaren uncovered evidence to support allegations of state-sponsored doping between 2012 and 2015. And a further inquiry led by former Swiss president Samuel Scmidt was enough to convince the IOC to make its decision on Tuesday. Travis Tygart, head of the US Anti-Doping Agency (Usada), says the move is a "significant penalty" and is what "37 anti-doping organisations from around the world asked for". "Over the past 120-plus years, no decision has been as important as this, with respect to the future viability and the integrity of the Games. "Prior to today, the Olympic flame burned a lot less bright - but today people know that integrity matters, fair play matters, clean athletes' rights matter," Tygart told BBC Sport.

 

Russia's doping programme, which the McLaren report concluded involved about 1,000 athletes across 30 sports, was only uncovered when whistleblowers came forward. They include Dr Grigory Rodchenkov, former head of the Moscow anti-doping laboratory; 800m runner Yuliya Stepanova; and her husband, former Russian Anti-Doping Agency official Vitaly Stepanov. All three are now in hiding, fearing reprisals. Rodchenkov's lawyer Jim Walden said his client was "proud of the work that the IOC has done" but stressed that his testimonies had not been without a cost. "He is enormously concerned for his family, who he had to leave in Russia," Walden said. "He knows, without any doubt, that he's going to be looking over his shoulder for the rest of his life."Russian Olympic Committee president Alexander Zhukov did offer an apology to the IOC before it announced its sanctions.

 

However, senior Russian figures have vehemently denied many of the allegations and some Russian politicians have called for a boycott of the Games in South Korea, which begin on 9 February 2018. "I don't know what Russia's decision will be, but in my view a great power can't go 'incognito' to the Olympics," the deputy chairman of Russian parliament's defence committee, Frants Klintsevich said. Igor Morozov, another politician, claimed "hybrid war" had been declared on Russia, while the head of Russia's speed-skating body Alexei Kravtsov called the decision "humiliating".Russian Olympic Committee president Alexander Zhukov did offer an apology to the IOC before it announced its sanctions.

 

Photo Credit: 
irishtimes.com

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