Russia banned from Olympics; athletes can compete as neutrals

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Russia’s Olympic Committee was banned from the PyeongChang Olympics due to the nation’s doping scandal, but individual Russian athletes will be invited to compete at the Winter Games as neutrals under the Olympic Flag.

The full IOC announcement is here.

Russian athletes deemed “clean” by a panel will be invited to compete under the name “Olympic Athlete from Russia (OAR).”

No Russian flag, anthem or uniforms (except for, possibly, the Closing Ceremony), though the word “Russia” is expected to be on the uniforms.

If an OAR athlete or team wins gold, the Olympic Anthem will play just as it did for the Unified Team at the 1992 Albertville Games.

The IOC said athletes will be invited via “strict conditions” detailed here:

  • Athletes must not have had a doping violation.
  • Athletes must have undergone pre-Games targeted drug tests recommended by a testing task force.
  • Athletes must have undergone any other testing requirements specified to ensure a level playing field.

“This was an unprecedented attack on the integrity of the Olympic Games and sport,” IOC president Thomas Bach said in a press release, adding that he does not anticipate a boycott by Russian athletes. “The IOC [executive board], after following due process, has issued proportional sanctions for this systemic manipulation while protecting the clean athletes. This should draw a line under this damaging episode and serve as a catalyst for a more effective anti-doping system led by [the World Anti-Doping Agency].”

The decision clears a path to PyeongChang for Russian stars like figure skater Yevgenia Medvedeva and short track speed skater Viktor Ahn.

Medvedeva spoke at the IOC meeting in Switzerland on Tuesday. Read what she said here.

“Invited athletes will participate, be it in individual or team competitions, under the name ‘Olympic Athlete from Russia (OAR),'” the IOC release read.

Bach repeated that statement when asked how Tuesday’s decision affects Russian hockey and curling teams and relays.

The International Ice Hockey Federation was not ready to comment on the situation immediately after the announcement, according to hockey media.

Russian president Vladimir Putin is expected to comment on the decision Wednesday, according to Russian media.

The next steps for Russian athletes and officials are expected to be discussed at a meeting next Tuesday, according to Russian news agency TASS.

Russian sports minister Vitaly Mutko was banned from the Olympics for life. The Russia Olympic Committee was fined $15 million.

Russia Olympic Committee president Alexander Zhukov, whose IOC membership was suspended, apologized before Tuesday’s announcement, Bach said. Bach declined to detail for what Zhukov apologized, but Zhukov’s speech was later published.

“As the exclusive U.S. media rights holder through 2032, we believe in clean competition and strong actions to ensure it,” NBC Sports said in a statement. “Therefore, we fully support today’s IOC decision, which levels significant sanctions against the guilty, but also provides a path for clean athletes to compete in PyeongChang.”

MORE: Russian stars await Olympic invites | U.S. athletes react

Russia’s doping scandal emanates from the Sochi Olympics. It was first reported in May 2016 that Russian Olympians on performance-enhancing substances were protected by a urine-swapping scheme. Implicated Russian athletes have denied being part of a doping plan.

Late-night swaps of dirty samples for clean urine stored months earlier went via a “mouse hole” into a secured room at the Sochi testing laboratory.

Secret service agents had found a way to break into tamper-proof sample bottles and return them with clean urine, claimed whistleblower Grigory Rodchenkov, the former head of a Moscow drug-testing lab.

After investigations, the International Olympic Committee last month began stripping Russia of Sochi Olympic medals (11 of its Sochi-leading 33 medals so far) and banning athletes from the Olympics for life (25 so far). A full list is here.

The last nation to be banned from a Winter Olympics was South Africa, which was barred from 1964 through 1992 due to its apartheid policies.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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MORE: 100 Olympic storylines 100 days out from PyeongChang

Transgender track and field athletes now face same standard that has kept out Caster Semenya

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Transgender athletes will have to reduce their testosterone level to the same level applied to Caster Semenya and other athletes with Differences of Sex Development (DSD), under a new policy enacted by World Athletics (formerly the IAAF).

As with DSD athletes, the threshold for middle-distance runners has been lowered from 10 nanomoles per liter to 5.

“These Regulations have been drafted to align with the Eligibility Regulations for the Female Classification (Athletes with Differences of Sex Development) and include updates to reflect current medical standards and the legal framework,” World Athletics said in announcing the latest IAAF Council decisions.

The IAAF claimed a similar basis in medical standards last year when it announced its updated policy on DSD athletes: “No female would have serum levels of natural testosterone at 5 nmol/L or above unless they have DSD or a tumour.”

Semenya, a two-time Olympic champion at 800 meters, challenged that limit in the Court of Arbitration for Sport but lost her case in May. Given a brief reprieve by a Swiss court, she ran the fastest 800-meter time of the year (1:54.98), but a higher court overruled her appeal. She did not compete in the recent world championships.

MORE: Semenya laments lack of support

Another athlete affected by the DSD policy, 2016 Olympic bronze medalist Margaret Wambui, told the Olympic Channel she was struggling to find a new direction after the rule was passed.

“It affected me a lot,” Wambui said. “I didn’t want to train or do anything. …

“Caster has fought for us. She has done her level best. She has tried, but we failed.”

VIDEO: Wambui: “No one chose to be born the way they are”

Transgender athletes have not yet been prominent in international track and field, though controversies have arisen at other levels, particularly in a Connecticut case in which high school athletes filed a Title IX complaint after losing to transgender athletes. The athletes who filed the claim said they were potentially at a disadvantage in terms of earning college scholarships.

The new World Athletics policy insists that its stipulations for transgender athletes are actually generous. “The decision limit also takes into consideration that, for clinical purposes, the Endocrine Society Clinical Practice Guideline for Endocrine Treatment of Gender-Dysphoric/Gender-Incongruent Persons recommends that transgender females should have serum testosterone levels of less than 50 ng/dL (i.e. approximately 1.7 nmol/L).”

But while DSD and transgender athletes face different issues, Semenya and other DSD athletes have set a precedent by withdrawing from competition rather than bring their levels down to the 5 nmol/L standard. In CAS proceedings, Semenya said she experienced regular fevers, night sweats, significant weight gain and constant abdominal pain while taking medication to meet the previous standard of 10 nmol/L.

The International Olympic Committee also put a 10 nmol/L limit in place for both transgender and DSD athletes in 2015. Some athletes have complained that transgender athletes still have an unfair advantage under that policy.

The World Athletics policy also addresses transgender men, granting them permission to take regulated testosterone supplements to bring levels within a typical range for men.

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U.S. men’s volleyball extends medal streak with bronze in World Cup

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With its medal-winning streak in jeopardy, the defending champion U.S. men’s volleyball team beat Egypt 22-25, 25-16, 25-14, 25-13 on Tuesday in Hiroshima, Japan. Poland beat Iran later in the day to slip past the U.S. for silver behind unbeaten Brazil.

The experienced U.S. men have claimed a medal in the last four major international tournaments — gold in the 2015 World Cup, bronze in the 2016 Olympics, bronze in the 2018 world championships and bronze in this year’s World Cup. The men also placed second in the 2019 Nations League and third in the first Nations League in 2018, though the team failed to medal in the last two editions of the World League in 2016 and 2017.

Most importantly for next year, the U.S. men swept their Olympic qualification tournament in August.

Micah Christenson was named best setter of the tournament, as he was in the 2015 tournament and in the 2018 world championships. Middle blocker Max Holt was also named to the tournament “Dream Team.

VIDEO: U.S.-Egypt highlights

The U.S. team’s World Cup started with a five-set loss to Argentina, which went on to finish fifth. The U.S. rebounded to beat Italy, world champion Poland, host Japan, Tunisia and Iran before losing to eventual champion Brazil. Border rival Canada took the U.S. to five sets, but sweeps against Australia and Brazil put the team in position to clinch its medal.

Heading into next year’s Olympics, the U.S. team has several internationally accomplished players. In addition to Christenson’s multiple awards, Matt Anderson was named the best opposite hitter in the world championship and Nations League in 2018, and Aaron Russell was named to the Dream Team in the 2016 Olympics. Russell, playing for Italian team Trentino, also was named MVP of the World Club Championship in December.

The U.S. women’s team also won two medals this year gold in the Nations League, silver in the World Cup and swept its own qualification tournament.

This success comes despite the lack of a professional league in the United States. USA volleyball announced last week it has processed paperwork for 257 women and 82 men to play in foreign leagues for the 2019-20, with more players to follow.

The World Cup is contested every four years, the year before the Olympics. The world championship takes place in even non-Olympic years. Qualification for the World Cup is more difficult — only 12 teams reach the tournament, while 24 teams take part in the world championship. 

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