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Russia Has Been Banned From the 2018 Winter Olympics

After a massive doping scheme was uncovered in 2015, the IOC has handed out an unprecedented punishment

PyeongChang 2018 Torch Relay Continues Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images

Russia’s flag will not fly at next year’s Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang.

On Tuesday, the International Olympic Committee barred Russia from February's competition as punishment for a state-sponsored doping program the country ran prior to the 2014 Winter Olympics. This is the first time that such a punishment has been handed down in the 121-year history of the games.

The Russian doping program, which was uncovered in a 2015 report released by the World Anti-Doping Agency, was responsible for the destruction of urine samples, the intimidation of testing officials, and the creation of false identities used to subvert testing protocols. The discovery caused some of Russia’s track and field athletes to be barred from the 2016 Summer Games in Rio, but a blanket ban was not issued.

At the 2014 Sochi Games, Russian sports ministry operatives tampered with over 100 urine samples to conceal the PED use of top Russian athletes. Over 20 Russian athletes have now had their performances removed from the official Sochi standings as part of a medal recount that is still ongoing.

In 2015, Dick Pound, who was the president of WADA from 1999 to 2007, called the program a reflection of “an old attitude from the Cold War days.” In past decades, global superpowers used athletic competitions as proxy battles with their rivals, with medal counts serving as proof of superiority. This attitude has waned over time, though maybe not in the minds of Russian government officials. In its report of the ban, The New York Times wrote that Vladimir Putin’s “foreign policy in recent years has been based on the premise that he has rescued Russia from the humiliation inflicted on it by the West after the collapse of the Soviet Union.” This sporting-success-as-global-superiority mentality also seems to be held by the United States’s current president.

According to the Times, some Russian athletes “with histories of rigorous drug testing may petition for permission to compete in neutral uniforms.” These athletes will be allowed to compete under the “Olympic Athlete from Russia” flag and uniform, though the Russian anthem will not play during medal ceremonies and no medals won by these athletes will count toward the country’s total.

This ban will likely create further questions surrounding the state of Russian athletics going into the 2018 World Cup hosted by Russia. The entire Russian squad from the 2014 World Cup team is being scrutinized by FIFA, and Vitaly Mutko, who was involved in the organization of the Olympic doping scandal, is the head of the Russian Football Union and is leading Russia’s World Cup effort. Mutko has now been banned for life by the IOC, though it remains to be seen if FIFA will take action.

The Russian government has yet to release a statement addressing the ban.