The International Olympic Committee (IOC) embarked on an un unprecedented course of action Tuesday, banning Russia from the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang during its executive board meeting in Lausanne, Switzerland.
While Russia will be prohibited from sending an official team to the Games, ‘clean’ Russian athletes who have never been convicted of doping and who have undergone stricter doping regulations since April, will be allowed to compete under a neutral flag in PyeongChang.
The IOC has not yet clearly defined the set of rules regulating the status of neutral athletes at the Winter Olympics, but did clarify that all ‘neutral’ athletes from Russia will live in the Olympic Village and will enjoy the same rights as competitors from other countries.
All Russian athletes wishing to compete independently at the Games, and therefore under the neutral flag, must prove their clean history before submitting an application to a special doping review panel headed by France’s former sports minister Valerie Fourneyron.
Following the IOC’s verdict to ban Russian national emblems in PyeongChang, all independent athletes will be required to wear neutral uniforms with the awkward acronym OAR (Olympic Athlete from Russia). It remains unclear what exactly the OAR kit will look like, as the IOC said Wednesday it will take several days to find a sportswear supplier who will design a neutral uniform.
“A decision about who will be responsible for making an OAR logotype uniform for the Russian athletes has not yet been made. We need at least a couple of days to make any decision,” said IOC Communications Director Mark Adams.
Earlier, inside the games reported that the Olympic governing body had contacted its official sports uniform designer Nike to prepare a neutral kit for the Russian athletes. In 2012, Nike designed uniforms for four neutral athletes participating at the London Games – three representing the Netherlands Antilles, and one from South Sudan.
Following the breakup of the USSR, a ‘Unified Team’ comprising athletes from former Soviet Republics competed at the 1992 Albertville Winter Olympics under the IOC flag. The Olympic anthem was played to honor victories for the Unified Team, who racked up 9 golds on their way to finishing second in the overall standings that year.
If Russian athletes perform as independent athletes, it will not be the first time athletes from the country have competed under a neutral flag. Last summer, 19 national track and field team members, who had met the IAAF Doping Review Board criteria, took part in the 2017 World Championships in Athletics as "Authorized Neutral Athletes."
The IOC is yet to make a decision on which members of Team Russia’s technical staff will be allowed to travel to South Korea. So far, the training staff and medical teams which were part of the Sochi 2014 team, and any who have been implicated in any doping violation, will be denied entry to PyeongChang 2018.