PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (AP) — The massive, state-linked Russian doping scandal didn’t stain the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, IOC President Thomas Bach said Sunday.
It was, however, the subject of the vast majority of the questions Bach fielded as the IOC tried to shake the stigma of Russian cheating that has plagued the last three Olympics — Sochi, Rio de Janeiro and now Pyeongchang.
The IOC doesn’t want it to touch Tokyo’s Summer Olympics in 2½ years.
Just hours before Sunday’s closing ceremony, the IOC ruled that the 160-plus Russian delegation — participating under the neutral “Olympic Athletes from Russia” logo — could not march in the closing ceremony under its own flag. This would have been a signal that Russia was back in the Olympic Family.
Russian athletes produced two of the four positive doping tests in Pyeongchang despite IOC guarantees about intense testing before and during the Olympics.
“These two doping cases have in fact played the major role when coming to the decision of not lifting the suspension,” Bach explained. “This was the key factor.”
However, the IOC also decided that the Russian Olympic Committee will still have its suspension lifted if there are no more positive tests by Russians at the Pyeongchang Games.
Bach gave no timeframe for lifting the suspension, but the testing could be completed in a few days.
The IOC stores test samples for a decade when new science can detect cheating, but Bach said Russia would not have to wait that long for reinstatement.
This was the IOC’s attempt to “draw a line” under the Russian scandal.
“I don’t think, quite frankly, that these Winter Games have been tainted by the Russian affair,” Bach said.
The Russian Olympic Committee was banned from the Olympics on Dec. 5 because of widespread doping at the 2014 Sochi Games. But “clean” Russian athletes were allowed to compete under the neutral banner, and the IOC left open the possibility of reinstatement ahead of the closing ceremony if the country met a series of criteria.
IOC member Nicole Hoevertsz, who heads the Russia implementation group, said the country’s delegation met many of the criteria required for reinstatement during the Olympics.
“Despite a good collaboration from the OAR delegation to respond to these (doping) cases in a prompt and transparent way, the implementation group was convinced that these cases caused significant concern,” said Hoevertsz, who is from Aruba.
The IOC’s full membership unanimously approved the recommendation of the executive board just hours before the final competition and the closing ceremony. Fifty-two of the IOC’s 100 members were present at the meeting, though many left days before the critical decision.
Bach repeated several times the two Russian cases gave “no indication whatsoever of systematic doping.” He termed them “cases of negligence.”
Bach has defended the right of individual athletes to be judged separately and shied away from collective punishment. His stand has been seen as “soft on Russia” by many who called for an outright ban.
“We have to draw a line and look toward the future,” Hoevertsz said. “It is never going to be business as usual any more in the world of sport and in Russia. Many changes have been made and many changes still have to be made.”
Bach said the treatment of Russia was not a “blueprint (for the future) because I hope this affair remains a unique one.”
He also gave a sobering assessment about doping and cheating and the struggle to control it.
“We will always have positive tests with regard to every nation,” he said. “This fight against doping will never be over. As long as you have human beings in competition with each other you will have some who try to cheat. In society we have laws against theft and robbery for thousands years, but there is still theft or robbery.”
Shamil Tarpischev, an IOC member from Russia, blamed the positive test on “the lack of cultural education. These cases are isolated and we are running our own investigation.”
He also tried to draw a line under the scandal.
“We believe,” Tarpischev said, “this should be the end of this big problem.”
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