The International Olympic Committee is set to meet to vote on how to respond to allegations of state-sponsored doping in Russia. Here's a primer on the allegations, what we know so far, and possible outcomes.
What's it all about?
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) board is to meet at the organization's headquarters in Lausanne on Tuesday to decide what, if any action to take against Russia over evidence of systematic, state-sponsored doping among the country's elite athletes. This evidence was outlined in the 2016 report on doping in Russia, which was commissioned by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and compiled by Canadian lawyer Richard McLaren. The strongest possible action that the IOC board could take would be to issue a blanket ban on Russian athletes competing in next year's Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang. It could also allow them to compete, but force them to do so under a neutral flag, or bar them from taking part in the opening ceremony. It could also order that the Russian national anthem not be played at the Winter Games. There has also been speculation that the IOC could let Russia off the hook in return for payment of a $100-million fine.
What is the most likely outcome?
To a great extent this will depend upon the findings of the disciplinary commission led by Samuel Schmid, a former member of the Swiss Federal Council who was appointed by IOC to look in to what extend the Russian authorities and police were involved in systematic doping in Russia. Schmid is to present his report at Tuesday's meeting.
How did the doping allegations come to light?
The allegations first came to light in a documentary produced and broadcast by ARD public television at the end of 2014. The McLaren Report, published in two parts in 2016, backed-up the claims made in the documentary, as has evidence from key whistleblower Grigory Rodchenkov, the former head of the Moscow laboratory known as the Anti-Doping Centre. Entries from Rodchenkov's diaries, which were recently published by the New York Times detail discussions and meetings with former Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko and other officials. Rodchenkov now lives in the United States. Mutko, who is currently Russia's deputy prime minister, has rejected the diary entries as fakes.
What happened in Sochi?
After having fled to the United States, Rodchenkov said that during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, positive doping tests had been switched with the help of Federal Security Service (FSB). Around a dozen Russian medalists are thought to have been using performance-enhancing drugs.
What sanctions have been imposed so far?
Another disciplinary commission, led by Swiss IOC member Denis Oswald, has issued lifetime bans to 25 Russian athletes who competed at the Sochi Games, based on the reanalysis of doping test samples from 2014. Among them is Olga Zaitseva, who won silver in the women's biathlon relay at the Sochi Games.
What's Russia's position on the issue?
Russia has repeatedly denied the existence of a state-sponsored doping system in the country. Prior to the draw for the 2018 World Cup on Friday, Vitaly Mutko used a news conference to insist that Russia was completely innocent.
"I am ready to go to any court, any disciplinary body, and say that in Russia there has never been and never will be any program to cover up doping," Mutko said.
The mainly Russia-based Kontinental Hockey League(KHL), meanwhile, has raised the possibility of preventing its players from taking part in the Olympic ice hockey tournament in protest against doping allegations against Russian athletes. This would be a major blow tournament as the KHL is regarded as the world's second-best league after the National Hockey League – which has already decided not to let its players go to Pyeongchang.
How big would a blanket ban on Russian athletes be?
This would be the first time in the history of the modern Olympics that a country has been banned for doping. Nations have been barred from single Olympic Games for political reasons in the past, but never over doping allegations.
pfd/em (AFP, AP. dpa)