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Opinion: A victory for the IOC as Thomas Bach stands up to Russia

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has finally flexed its muscles by banning Russia from the Winter Olympics. It's a victory for its president but work remains to rid sport of drugs, writes DW's Michael Da Silva.

Almost a year and a half after the McLaren report revealed the depth and breadth of state-sponsored Russian doping, it was still not a foregone conclusion that the International Olympic Committee would make the correct call.

The decision to ban the nation from competing at the 2018 Winter Olympics, which gets underway in the South Korean city of Pyeongchang in February, will allow some clean athletes to compete as neutrals — but that is a humiliation for Russia.

Much like at the summer games in Rio de Janeiro last year, there will be no Russian flags or Russian national anthems played. History will show that for a second successive Olympic event, the country will be Olympic outcasts. Not since the notorious East German doping program of the 1960s, 70s and 80s have we seen such a brazen attempt to cheat on this industrial scale.

Read more: Russia banned from Pyeongchang 2018

But Tuesday's announcement differs quite markedly from the non-decision that the IOC made in 2016, when they passed the buck to the various federations to make the call, claiming they couldn't come to a finite decision and thus dodged having to enforce the blanket ban on Russian athletes that many were calling for.

Thomas Bach mit Wladimir Putin in Sotschi 2014 (Getty Images/I. Walton)

Thomas Bach banned Russia, but Vladimir Putin claims it's a Western conspiracy aimed to erode confidence in him

While Tuesday's decision falls short of the absolute blanket ban that some had hoped for, it at least shows that the IOC are capable of standing up to Russia. For the first time, they have flexed their muscles and it's likely to provoke Russia into a response. A boycott appears highly likely with Russian president Vladimir Putin claiming the whole thing is a Western conspiracy aimed at eroding his reputation. Russia will almost certainly not televise the event and, while the affair will make Russian relations with the West even frostier.

Thomas Bach's reputation was on the line after the farce of 2016. The McLaren report — which was based chiefly on evidence from Grigory Rodchenkov, the mastermind of the doping protocols and active participant in the Sochi Winter Olympics scam — was rushed out but Bach and the Olympic Committee could still have reached the same decision then. They took the easy way out.

Bach cannot be accused of the taking the easy option this time around but the challenge now is to make Russia — and Kuwait, Equatorial Guinea and Mauritius — play by World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) rules for future events. Otherwise we could be looking at a similar outcome when the summer Olympics roll round again in 2020.

WADA suffers from its own problems, underfunding being the main one, and this scandal has further highlighted the pressing need for a major overhaul of the anti-doping regulations that Russia have been evading since 2014. But for now at least, Bach and the IOC have not wilted under the spotlight.

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