Until now, only individual Russians have been sanctioned over doping violations, but WADA was recently presented with new information. So will the IOC still allow Russian athletes to compete at the 2018 Winter Games?
Critics of the president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), Thomas Bach, are demanding that all Russian athletes be banned from competing in the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, in light of new information on alleged doping violations in the country, which was passed on to the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) on November 10.
As was the case in the weeks and months leading up to the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, the IOC boss, who is said to have a sympathetic attitude towards Russia and its leader, is in a tight spot. If he takes a clear stand against President Vladimir Putin, who recently reiterated his assertion there is no state involvement in doping, the Russians could boycott the Olympics.
"That's exactly what Bach wants to avoid at all costs," German investigative journalist Hajo Seppelt told public broadcaster ARD.
However, Seppelt, who has reported extensively about doping in Russia, also notes that should Bach fail to take action, he will likely have the rest of the world up in arms against him.
Two commissions of inquiry
Despite allegations against Russia outlined in a report published almost 18 months ago by Richard McLaren, neither Thomas Bach nor the rest of the IOC was prepared to decide the fate of the entire Russian team at the Rio Olympics. Instead, Bach left it up to the individual sports federations to take whatever action they deemed appropriate.
After the Rio Games, Bach also declined to issue a blanket ban on Russians competing at the Olympics, but he did establish two commissions to look into the findings of the McLaren report. Swiss IOC official Denis Oswald headed the Disciplinary Commission, which examined the evidence for the manipulation of doping samples taken during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. The second commission, under the leadership of Swiss politician Samuel Schmid, was to look at the role of state structures in doping.
Sanctions against individual athletes
So far, the Oswald Commission has limited itself to handing out individual fines and penalizing six Russian skiers along with figure skater Adelina Sotnikova. Should the IOC decide to punish biathletes Jana Romanova and Olga Vilukhina as well, this would have a direct impact on the medal table from the Sochi Games, more than three years after the event – Russia would no longer be top of the standings.
The decision only to punish individual athletes is a symptom of the IOC's weakness, argues Christof Wieschemann, the German lawyer representing Russian cross-country skier Alexander Legkov who on October 30 was suspended for life by the IOC. Wieschemann is convinced that Legkov was presented with no evidence of his guilt. The IOC has not yet published its ruling.
Bach and the IOC are reported to have considered other possible sanctions against Russia, including fining the Russian Olympic Committee to the tune of $100 million (€86.4 million). The New York Times has cited an unnamed source who said that among the other sanctions considered was a ban on playing Russia's national anthem in Pyeongchang or excluding of Russian athletes from the opening ceremony of the Winter Games.
Fresh data received by WADA
Perhaps the IOC will have no choice but to resort to extrem measures. In many respects, however, this will depend on just what new information WADA has received on the use of banned substances by Russian athletes. According to WADA, the new data confirm the findings of the McLaren report. WADA is reported to have already contacted the IOC about this, and is expecting IOC to take this into account when deciding on any new sanctions against Russia.
Just where this new information came from has not been disclosed. However, a likely source is thought to be the former head of the Moscow anti-doping laboratory, Grigory Rodchenkov. According to media reports, Rodchenkov himself came forward to turn over the information to the IOC. This may also explain why the number of suspected Russian athletes suddenly jumped from 28 to 35.
A decision on what, if any further sanctions are to be imposed on Russia, is to be taken as a meeting of the IOC Executive Committee chaired by Thomas Bach from December 5 to 7 in Lausanne.