IOC to allow Russians to compete as neutrals at Olympics

FILE - In this Feb. 18, 2014, file photo, a Russian skating fan holds the country's national flag over the Olympic rings before the start of the men's 10,000-meter speedskating race at Adler Arena Skating Center during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip, File)

LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) — Russian athletes will be allowed to compete at the upcoming Pyeongchang Olympics as neutrals despite orchestrated doping at the 2014 Sochi Games, the International Olympic Committee said Tuesday.

The IOC suspended the Russian Olympic committee and IOC member Alexander Zhukov, and also banned Russian Deputy Prime Minister Vilaty Mutko from the Olympics for life. Mutko was the sports minister in 2014 and is the head of the organizing committee of soccer’s next World Cup.

The IOC also imposed a fine of $15 million on the Russian Olympic committee to pay for investigations into the case and toward future anti-doping work.

Still, the IOC ruled that some Russians will be invited to compete as an “Olympic Athlete from Russia (OAR)” without their national flag or anthem.

Russia could refuse the offer and boycott the games. Russian President Vladimir Putin has previously said it would be humiliating for Russia to compete without national symbols.

“An Olympic boycott has never achieved anything,” IOC President Thomas Bach said at a news conference. “Secondly, I don’t see any reason for a boycott by the Russian athletes because we allow the clean athletes there to participate.”

The sanctions could be challenged at the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

The Russian doping program caused “unprecedented damage to Olympism and sports,” said IOC-appointed investigator Samuel Schmid, the former president of Switzerland who was asked to verify an “institutional conspiracy.”

Russia has repeatedly refused to accept that a state-sponsored doping program existed. Such denials helped ensure bans on its track federation and anti-doping agency have not been lifted.

Instead, Russia blames Grigory Rodchenkov, the former director of Moscow and Sochi testing laboratories, as a rogue employee. It wants the scientist extradited from the United States, where he is a protected witness.

The executive board reached its decision Tuesday after a scheduled 4½-hour debate when it heard from a Russian delegation that included world figure skating champion Evgenia Medvedeva. The delegation was led by Zhukov, who was later suspended.

Two IOC commission leaders — appointed after World Anti-Doping Agency investigator Richard McLaren upheld Rodchenkov’s doping claims in July 2016 — also reported to the Olympic board.

Schmid’s report included a 50-page sworn affidavit from Rodchenkov, who was also a key witness for McLaren and an IOC disciplinary commission.

The chairman of that disciplinary panel, Swiss lawyer Denis Oswald, reported about prosecuting Russian athletes implicated in cheating at the 2014 Sochi Games. By Monday, 25 Russians had been disqualified from the Sochi Games and banned from the Olympics for life, and 11 medals were stripped. One Russian was cleared.

Russia no longer leads the Sochi medals table. Even before the IOC reallocates the stripped medals, the United States has the most total medals and Norway has the most golds.

The banned Russian athletes have said they will appeal against the Oswald judgments at the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne.

Any sanctions imposed by the IOC can also be challenged at CAS, and later at Switzerland’s supreme court, which can intervene if legal process has been abused.

The IOC said a panel of officials chaired by former France Sports Minister Valerie Fourneyron will decide which athletes to accept at the Olympics in February.

Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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