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Russia defiant in wake of Olympic ban

Mark Adams, IOC communication manager, Samuel Schmid, Chair of the IOC Disciplinary Commission, and Thomas Bach, President of the International Olympic Committee, attend a news conference after an Executive Board meeting on sanctions for Russian athletes, REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

Russia has rejected the International Olympic Committee's decision to ban its athletes from the 2018 Olympic Winter Games in Pyongchang, South Korea. The decision is the result of accusations that Russia systematically supplied its athletes with doping, which it denies.

The ruling, unprecedented in Olympic history, was the final confirmation that Russia is guilty of a state-sponsored doping programme that very much resembled the programmes run by East Germany during the Cold War.

But not all is lost for Russian athletes.

The Russian flag w ill not fly during the Olympics and Russian Olympic officials are not welcome, but athletes who have proved that they are clean are allowed to compete under a neutral flag.

They will then be referred to as “Olympic Athletes from Russia”.

When the announcement was made, Russian TV reacted defiantly.

“It was a display, almost of blind patriotism,” said RFI’s Moscow correspondent Thomas Lowe. “Really quite hysterical.”

As soon as the announcement was made, the TV displayed “a little icon with the Olympic rings, with a big, red dash through it”, he explained. TV presenters also promoted a hashtag “which they said originated from the people", called #NoRussiaNoGames.

"They are pushing that quite hard,” Lowe said.

Russian experts commenting on the decision were “just denying everything, point blank, completely, and saying that this is a political decision against Russia”, he added.

Boycott call

The TV comments seem to be in line with the opinion on the street.

“Many people think that this is a conspiracy against Russia," Lower reported. "Many people also say that everyone uses dope, Russia uses it as well, why is Russia being targeted?”

Meanwhile Russian authorities may contemplate a boycott. Earlier President Vladimir Putin had remarked that it would be a disgrace if Russian athletes were not able to compete under their national colours. But in his latest comments he remarked that a boycott had not been discussed.

“There is a bit of a split between what members of the Russian parliament think, and what athletes think,” says Lowe.

Igor Lebedev, the deputy speaker of the Duma, said that there is “no way” that Russia should go, that a boycott is necessary.

But many athletes who could compete are saying that they should go and they do not support a boycott.

The IOC ban comes close to what anti-doping regulators had pushed for in the wake of the 2016 Summer Games, where Russia was allowed to participate but in restricted numbers.

The ban is likely to face a legal appeal from Russia’s Olympic Committee.