The International Olympic Committee has left a decision whether to reinstate Russia to the Pyeongchang Olympics until the day of the closing ceremony.
The IOC must announce by Sunday if the Russian Olympic Committee will be readmitted to the Olympic family after being ousted because of a massive doping scandal. That would allow about 160 Russian athletes competing at the Pyeongchang Games to fly their own flag at the closing ceremony. They have been competing in South Korea under a neutral flag under the name “Olympic Athletes from Russia.”
After four hours of meetings Saturday, the IOC said it hadn’t yet reached a decision. And that left all options open.
The IOC could readmit the Russian team, continue the ban or hedge with what it has described as a “partial solution.”
“The deliberation will continue tomorrow and their decision has yet been taken,” IOC spokesman Mark Adams said.
Two strikes against readmission are positive doping tests by two Russian athletes at the games, including a curler who had to forfeit his bronze medal. That’s half of the four doping cases reported so far at this year’s Olympics.
The positive tests come after the IOC had said Russian athletes had been “rigorously tested” months before the games — and during them.
Almost three months ago, IOC President Thomas Bach and the dozen members of the IOC’s executive board acted alone to ban Russia. But Adams could not explain who would decide this time: the executive board, or the full membership meeting on Sunday.
Before the executive board meeting, Adams said the Russian scandal would be debated by the full membership on Sunday, “but whether there will be a vote or not, I’m not able to say.”
He also said “a partial lifting (of the ban) is an option that is available to discuss and decide — should it be necessary.”
Bach is almost certain to make the final decision. He has argued individual athletes should not be punished for the sprawling, state-run scandal. He has also seemed hesitant to move against a powerful member like Russia.
The executive board is often seen as a rubber stamp, and even more so the full membership. Many of those members have left Pyeongchang, including the IOC’s two strongest dissenting voices: Richard Pound of Canada and Adam Pengilly of Britain. They have been the only two members to openly oppose Bach.
Pound left on his own, upset that the IOC allowed Russian athletes to participate. Pengilly was expelled from the games last week after a run-in with a security guard. Pengilly disputed details of the incident, but the IOC moved quickly to send him home.
The IOC’s full membership is 100, but three are suspended. That means only 49 members are needed for a quorum on Sunday. The IOC says it will have one, and is asking some members to return just to make sure.
The Institute of National Anti-Doping Organizations has ripped the IOC for allowing Russians to compete. In an open letter, it said “you can’t merely wish away the most significant fraud in the history of sport.” It said by not taking hard action this time, the IOC “would be culpable in this effort to defraud clean athletes of the world.”