The last time the Winter Olympic Games were held in 2014, they found their home in Sochi, Russia. With home field advantage, the Russian delegation of athletes dominated, claiming 33 total medals in 18 different events, the highest number of any other nation at the Games. However, at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in 2018, Russia’s medal count will be zero. On December 5th, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) banned the Russian Federation from any involvement in the Games. Not only are athletes forbidden from competing, Russia government officials may not attend, and the country’s flag and national anthem will be absent from the opening ceremonies. This drastic penalty comes after a yearlong investigation by the IOC into the extreme and state-sponsored doping of Russian athletes.
The Olympic ban is not the first time Russian athletes have been punished for their government’s illegal actions in competition. The International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), which is the international governing body for track and field, suspended the Russian Federation in fall of 2015, preventing them from participating in track and field events at both the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio and the 2017 IAAF World Championships in London. They were also barred from the 2017 Weightlifting World Championships.
The blanket ban imposed for the Pyeongchang Games comes after leadership in Moscow were discovered orchestrating a massive conspiracy to cover up the illegal performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) that they were providing to athletes. The IOC found extensive evidence of urine samples being tampered with to cover up the drug use of top Russians, particularly among samples from the Sochi Games. Dozens of medalists have since tested positive. Their medals and performances have been revoked and in some cases lifetime bans are being considered. The Russian women’s hockey team, men’s and women’s bobsled teams and women’s biathlon 4×4.6 km relay have all lost their medals from Sochi due to one or more members of the team testing positive.
In spite of this there is still hope for some Russian athletes who have undergone extensive testing to prove that they are clean of the doping scandal in their country. Athletes who are deemed acceptable will be allowed to compete in the games under a neutral flag. As many as 200 athletes could be approved, but the number who will be allowed is at the sole discretion of the IOC. A group of Russian athletes released a statement recently, which translated to English states, “We play clean. We play by the rules. We strive to win in a fair fight. For the sake of this, we are ready to go to the Olympic Games and prove that [we] are strong in talent, skill, will and spirit.”