Anyone who has read this blog over the past year and a half knows I absolutely LOVE the Olympics. I spent pretty much every moment of every day in the summer of 2016 watching the Rio Games and it was awesome. I am beyond excited for 2018 in Pyeongchang, but we’ve got some big news just a few short months ahead of the torch being lit.
The entire Russian Federation has been banned from participating in the Olympics, just 4 years after hosting. The country’s officials are banned, the flag will not be shown, and they will not play the Russian anthem. The ban stems from a finding that Russia had been systematically doping their athletes on a level never seen before. There are also reports that Russian Olympic officials ordered urine samples to be tampered with at the Sochi Games in 2014. The official record books will show zero medals for Russia, however, Russian athletes can still petition the IOC to compete as neutrals. It is unclear as to how many would clear whatever bar the IOC sets, but the option is out there for some to still compete.
There is a lot to unpack here so let’s dig right in. We’ve known about the Russian doping scandal for a while now. This is not new news. The penalty, however, came down hard on the Russians and some are saying it was light. The original whistle-blower said the Russia should be banned for two-years or until they can prove that they are up-to-date on anti-doping policies.
This is a huge blow to South Korea, the host nation. Russia is a world power in many winter sports and this could see entire events wiped out of the Olympics this year. Nothing worse for sponsorship dollars and fan engagement than cutting down the total number of sports. And if you haven’t heard, hosting the Olympics is certainly not cheap.
In line with the penalty, the IOC is going to go back and award medals to athletes from the 2014 Games that finished 2nd through 4th place and I really don’t like this idea. Winning a gold medal or any medal at the Olympics is a moment that cannot be replicated, outside of winning a medal at the next Olympics. Being handed a medal because of a ruling is not nearly the same thing. So many athletes won’t get to experience their own anthem at the medal ceremony and that is the greatness of finishing top 3 in the World.
The last piece that will be really interesting to see is how will Putin respond? He is a fiery character that is deeply passionate about Russian sports, especially winter ones and is never afraid to let people know how he feels. The response is going to be absolutely wild and I am all in waiting for this to drop. I would not, in the least, be surprised if Putin tries to host an in-country Olympics during the exact same period and has all the Russian athletes compete there. Just go back to Sochi, they have the infrastructure – or at least the shell of it – and let the games begin.