Russia Banned from 2018 Winter Olympics
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Russia Banned from 2018 Winter Olympics

    The International Olympic Committee has banned Russia from the upcoming PyeongChang Winter Olympics in South Korea.

    After looking into allegations of state-sponsored doping in Sochi, the IOC says it believes Russia's anti-doping system was "systemically manipulated."

    IOC President Thomas Bach says, "The Russian Olympic Committee is suspended with immediate effect. Individual clean Russian athletes will be able to participate under strict conditions at the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games."

    Bach added that the clean athletes can compete neutrally, and not under the Russian flag. But they will have to meet strict conditions: they must have a perfect record in all past doping tests, undergo tests conducted by the IOC before the PyeongChang Olympics, and receive approval from the IOC.

    Of the 25 athletes who were banned, Russia's Olympic Committee President Alexander Zhukov says 22 will appeal the ban to the Court of Arbitration for Sport. Zhukov was suspended from the IOC, and the country's Deputy Prime Minister Vitaly Mutko also received a lifetime ban from the Games. The Russian Olympic committee was handed a US$15 million fine.

    But Zhukov suggested the ban might not stick. He says, "If the Olympics go normally and there are no violations, the temporarily-suspended Russian Olympic Committee will be reinstated."

    People in Moscow had mixed opinions about the news. A citizen said, "This decision is not for sports. It is a political decision made by the international community." Another said, "It's a fair decision. Doping is bad."

    Back in October, Russian President Vladimir Putin said the IOC is under strong pressure. He said his country may be forced to participate in the Olympics without its national flag, or not take part at all, but either way, it was humiliating.

    Following the IOC's decision, Putin gave the green light to Russian athletes to participate in the PyeongChang Games neutrally on December 7th. He said, "For them it is very important, so we will not prohibit it. We will not block anything or create conditions that would make their participation impossible."

    Executives and athletes with the Russian Olympic Committee are expected to meet to officially endorse Putin's policy.

    WADA's report revealed Russian doping

    The World Anti-Doping Agency, or WADA, last year released a detailed report accusing Russia of orchestrating and hiding systematic doping.

    The report says a Moscow laboratory that was accredited by WADA manipulated doping test results for some promising Russian athletes with possibilities of testing positive from late 2011 to 2015. It says the lab was under the surveillance of Russia's Sports Ministry during that time.

    The report says more than 1,000 athletes and coaches in more than 30 events were involved in the state-sponsored doping in competitions including the Summer and Winter Olympics and Paralympics.

    Russia is believed to have been especially well-prepared in the 2014 Sochi Olympics, which it hosted. Its athletes were provided with a so-called "doping cocktail" -- a mixture of alcohol and steroids banned for their muscle-building effects -- sometime before the Olympics.

    The athletes only needed to swish the cocktail around in their mouths to get them absorbed. They spat out the solution after that. Drugs absorbed this way could be detected for only a short period of time. So even if athletes took the steroids shortly before competitions, they faced a low likelihood of testing positive.

    The WADA report also says that the lab in charge of doping tests at the Sochi Olympics swapped tainted urine samples with clean ones for Russian athletes on a list provided in advance by the Sports Ministry.

    It says a small hole, dubbed the mouse hole, was made in a wall of the anti-doping laboratory's room where samples were kept. Through this hole, the lab staff would hand the tainted samples to Russian Federal Security Service officials in the adjacent room in the middle of the night. The officials entered the anti-doping facility disguised as engineers to fix the pipework.

    The officials would open the sealed bottles and replace the tainted urine samples with clean ones taken in advance, and hand them back through the hole.

    The bottles containing the samples were supposed to be tamper-proof. But the Russian security officials had figured out a way to get around this about a year before. When WADA's investigative team examined the bottles with microscopes, they found slight scratches, indicating that they were opened.

    Russia's Olympic medals

    Russia launched a national effort to improve its athletes' competitiveness internationally ahead of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. In the Vancouver Olympics held 4 years before, Russia won the least gold medals on record, including even the Soviet era.

    In Sochi, Russian athletes won 33 medals, including 13 gold, 11 silver and 9 bronze. The total was more than double the Vancouver Games, and the most among all 88 participating nations and regions.

    The gold medals were won in figure skating -- in the women's individual, the pairs and the team events -- as well as in the bobsleigh, cross-country skiing and short-track speed skating events.

    But later, after the IOC conducted a reexamination, 11 medals were stripped from the athletes. They include medals in the men's 50-kilometer freestyle cross-country skiing, in which Russia dominated the podium, bobsleigh and biathlon. That has left Russia with 22 medals -- 9 gold, 5 silver, and 8 bronze. The series of reexaminations have disqualified 25 prominent Russian athletes from the upcoming PyeongChang Olympics next year.

    But figure skater Evgenia Medvedeva, who won the women's single title at the World Championships for 2 consecutive years, and many other medal hopefuls are still hoping to take part in the global event.

    Why not for Rio de Janeiro, but for PyeongChang?

    Russia's systematic manipulation was discovered after the Winter Olympics in Sochi 3 years ago. But the IOC's policy toward Russia for the Rio de Janeiro Summer Games last year was nowhere near as draconian.

    It allowed Russia to take part in the Rio Olympics, except for athletes who had been officially disqualified by an international track and field organization.

    Sports Commentator Jun Ikushima says the IOC took a much tougher stance this time because it was sharply criticized by the international media for allowing Team Russia to compete in Rio.

    He says the IOC must have realized that it had to take action to maintain the integrity of the Olympics.

    Meanwhile, Russian President Putin has repeatedly denied state involvement in the doping violations. Instead he is blaming the United States.

    Putin points out the alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 US presidential election. He says the United States is now trying to retaliate by creating a problem before the Russian presidential election.

    Putin is condemning the IOC's decision as part of a US conspiracy to interfere with the Russian presidential election, set for March.