By Baek Byung-yeul
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) banned Russia from competing in next year's PyeongChang Winter Olympics, Wednesday (local time), dealing a fresh blow to the Winter Games is struggling to draw greater public attention.
The Olympics governing body said it was suspending the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) with immediate effect after an investigation found evidence of state-sponsored doping in Russia.
IOC President Thomas Bach made the announcement at the IOC headquarters in Lausanne after its executive board studied and discussed the findings of a commission that investigated the state-sponsored doping.
Former Switzerland President Samuel Schmid, who led the IOC commission, said it had "confirmed the systemic manipulation of anti-doping rules and systems in Russia during the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic Games, as well as various levels of administrative, legal and contractual responsibility."
"This was an unprecedented attack on the integrity of the Olympic Games and sport," Bach said. "As an athlete myself, I'm feeling very sorry for all the clean athletes. Working with the IOC Athletes' Commission, we will now look for opportunities to make up for the moments they have missed at the finish line or on the podium."
The IOC said certain Russian athletes will still be able to compete at the Olympics, scheduled for Feb. 9 to 25, as an Olympic Athlete from Russia (OAR) without their national flag or anthem. Also, those athletes hoping to compete must qualify according to the qualification standards of their respective sport and they must not have been disqualified or declared ineligible over any anti-doping rule violations.
The decision also includes a $15 million fine for the ROC to reimburse for the costs of the investigation and contribute to the establishment of the Independent Testing Authority.
The IOC added if the decisions are "fully respected and implemented by the ROC and by the invited athletes and officials," the sanctions may be lifted in time for the closing ceremony.
Regarding the IOC decision, the PyeongChang Organizing Committee for the 2018 Olympic & Paralympic Winter Games (POCOG) said they accept and respect the decision.
"We accept and respect the decisions of the IOC Executive Board that Russia may compete under a neutral flag. We will work with the IOC and all other relevant stakeholders accordingly to ensure all the athletes and officials attending the Games as part of this team are given the best experience possible."
POCOG President Lee Hee-beom, who traveled to Lausanne for the executive board meeting, said the IOC found the second-best alternative. "I think the IOC came up with the second-best alternative," he said. "Athletes who are clean will still be able to participate and win medals. I think its fortunate the IOC will at least allow that, and we welcome that decision."
The decision to punish Russia over its state-sponsored doping operation will have potentially negative consequences for the PyeongChang Olympics.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said last month that it would be humiliating for Russia to compete at the PyeongChang Games without its national symbols, so the IOC decision may trigger Russia to encourage its athletes to boycott the Games.
Given that the PyeongChang Olympics has already received a severe blow with the decision by the National Hockey League (NHL) not to send its players to the competition, the absence of Russian athletes, who have been a powerhouse of winter sports, will deal another blow to the Games.