Russia was slapped with an unprecedented punishment from the International Olympic Committee for systematic doping. While some Russian athletes may be allowed to compete, its national team will be banned at the upcoming winter games in South Korea and President Vladimir Putin has warned that such a punishment could provoke a boycott. William Brangham talks to Christine Brennan of USA Today.
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But first, Russian will be banned from participating as a national team in the upcoming Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea, because of previous systematic doping.
Some Russian athletes could still compete with special dispensation, but the punishment from the International Olympic Committee, or IOC, is unprecedented.
William Brangham gets a fuller look at this surprising decision.
Today's decision by the IOC means you will not see scenes like these. There will be no display of the Russian flag at the Games in February. The Russian anthem will not be played. Russian government officials cannot attend.
Some Russian athletes, many of whom often medal in the Winter Games, can play if they can prove they are clean of performance-enhancing drugs, but they will have to wear neutral non-Russian uniforms.
Russian President Vladimir Putin had already warned that a tough punishment like this could provoke a boycott. His country's officials have denied they used banned drugs at the Sochi Olympics.
But the IOC has found evidence that the Russian Sports Ministry had an extensive doping program in effect at those 2014 Winter Games.
IOC President Thomas Bach cited those findings today.
The report clearly lays out an unprecedented attack on the integrity of the Olympic Games and sports.
The report includes, in particular, the manipulation of the anti-doping laboratory at the Olympic Winter Games in Sochi 2014. This decision should draw a line under this damaging episode and serve as a catalyst for a more effective and more robust anti-doping system led by WADA.
So, what does this mean for the Winter Games?
Christine Brennan covers the Olympics extensively for USA Today. And she joins me now.
So, Christine, this is a pretty surprising, stunning development. What's your reaction?
Oh, absolutely, William. I was surprised. I didn't see this coming.
I thought this is what the International Olympic Committee executive board should do, but did I think it was going to happen? No. The IOC is the oldest of the old boys' networks. And Vladimir Putin is their buddy.
He just spent $51 billion, billion with a B, to put the Olympics in Sochi just four years ago. And I think Vladimir Putin thought that he had a lifetime pass to basically get away with whatever he wanted with the International Olympic Committee based on that incredible gift he gave of the Olympics in Sochi and building them from scratch, to the tune of $51 billion, but no.
And the IOC basically said, enough is enough. This is not, William, Lance Armstrong or Marion Jones or some of the other scoundrels who have — who are notoriously cheating and getting caught. This is the state-sponsored doping machine of Russia, government-involved, multilayered, over 1,000 athletes cheating, at the very least, and now 25 athletes just from Sochi alone kicked out, banned that accounted for 11 medals that should have gone to other athletes to other countries from who were not cheating, and instead were robbed of that moment on the victory stand by this diabolical Russian plan.
So, it's a great day for clean sport, and it's a great day for those who are sick and tired of all the cheating that has been going on in the Olympic Games.
So, as I mentioned before, depending on whether the Russians choose to boycott or not, Russian athletes, if they can prove that they're clean, can compete.
Can you explain how that might happen? They have to wear these strange uniforms. How will that go forward?
And, by the way, the uniforms, Nike is already in on that. And they're the ones that are going to be making these white, or whatever they are, basically neutral uniforms.
So, they're — and then, as you said, of course, no Russian flag, no Russian anthem. It will be the Olympic hymn and the Olympic flag, the five-ring Olympic flag.
But how this goes from here, it's going to be fascinating. There's two months basically until the Games starting in February. And so athletes who — Russian athletes who want to maintain their innocence and say they're clean — and, certainly, there are those who are — are going to go in front of a panel that is supposed to be independent, that will involve the World Anti-Doping Agency, several other entities, experts who are not affiliated with any country, at least hopefully.
And they will plead their case. What they will do is show that they have taken X-number of drug tests around the world. So, say, a figure skater competes at Skate America or Skate Canada. Well, he or she will then have a drug test, very likely, from Canada or from the United States. That's one or two.
If you have been in Japan and competing, if you're a biathlete and you have competed around the world, you have been tested around the world. The idea is to prove that you were tested by legitimate drug testing around the world in Western nations or in Asia who have been going by the book and have not been cheating, as the Russians have.
And if you can prove that — they will probably do an interview as well with the athlete — then, in fact, that athlete will be able to compete at the Olympics in South Korea.
Last quick question for you, Christine.
Do you think this big stance today will do anything to stop doping more widely?
I hope it does, because this is a major statement. This is unprecedented.
And this is really the finest hour in the long, tangled history, William, of the Olympic Games and performance-enhancing drugs.
So, if any country is out there, a Russia in the future, anyone else, who is thinking, hey, we're going to try to pull this off and have it be state-sponsored doping, well, they just got a huge message today that you're going to pay a very big price for that.
All right, Christine Brennan of USA Today, thank you so much.
Thank you, William.