Doping: Russia backs Winter Olympics athletes

Russian athletes wanting to participate in the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea will have the unanimous support of the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC), the body said Tuesday.

Last week Russia was banned from taking part in February’s Games after the International Olympic Committee (IOC) found the country had engaged in “systemic manipulation” of anti-doping rules, though Russian athletes who can prove they are clean will be “invited” to compete under the name “Olympic Athlete from Russia” (OAR).

Following the IOC’s decision on December 5, Russian President Vladimir Putin said the country’s athletes would not be told to boycott the Games, which will take place in PyeongChang from February 9-15. He did, however, call the ban a politically motivated decision.

At Tuesday’s meeting in Moscow, attended by some of the country’s top athletes and presidents of winter sports federations, the Russian Olympic Committee said it was “united” and “supported” its athletes.

“Everyone had the same opinion, we believe our athletes should go to South Korea and win medals for our country,” said ROC president Alexander Zhukov, who has been suspended as a member of the IOC.

“The bottom line is that Russian athletes expressed their willingness to participate in the PyeongChang Games despite these very difficult conditions and the decision made by IOC which is unfair to a large extent and that is what everyone said.”

‘Complex questions’

Zhukov added that the ROC would take “all necessary measures” to ensure the country’s athletes could compete in South Korea and would assist in “resolving all managerial, technical, financial and other issues.”

The ROC will also provide “overall support” to athletes not invited to compete under the neutral flag or who will refuse to participate in the Games, he said.

Zhukov said the IOC has established a special task force which will meet a Russian delegation in Lausanne, Switzerland, on December 15 to discuss the “complex questions” of Russian participation.

On Monday, the ROC athletes commission made a single statement on behalf of Russia’s winter sports athletes, explaining they were “fully prepared” to take part in the Games under a neutral flag.

Ilya Kovalchuk, an ice hockey player for SKA Saint Petersburg, told reporters before Tuesday’s announcement: “We are Russian athletes, so it’s quite clear: they can take away the flag and the anthem, but they can not take away the honor and the conscience.

“Patriotism and love for your country is in your heart, so no one can take it away from us. So we must go there and fight with double energy.”

From first to fourth

A 17-month IOC investigation, carried out by the former president of Switzerland, Samuel Schmid, was tasked with looking at whether or not the Russian government and authorities had played a part in covering up doping of the country’s athletes during the 2012 London Olympics and 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics.

Schmid’s report confirmed “the systemic manipulation of the anti-doping rules and system in Russia” — and that it had come under the authority of the Russian sports ministry.

The Schmid report was itself created to look into the findings of reports by Canadian lawyer Richard McLaren which said the Russian state conspired with athletes and sporting officials to undertake a doping program which was unprecedented in its scale and ambition.

Separately, the parallel Oswald Commission — headed by another Swiss, the IOC member Denis Oswald — was set up to examine Russian doping in Sochi in 2014 and has so far banned 25 athletes retrospectively.

Those retrospective bans means Russia, traditionally a major force in winter sports, has dropped from first to fourth in the 2014 medal table.