Skip to main content

It's never too late to see justice done, so the first order of business is to warmly congratulate the International Olympic Committee for finally standing up to state-sponsored doping in Russia.

The IOC executive board vote banning the Russian Olympic Committee from the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics is historic. It is also a surprise.

We didn't think they had it in them.

The IOC is telling one of its core members, and one of the world's most powerful nations that, because of mass cheating, it is suspended from the next Olympic Games.

That message should restore at least a small measure of faith in the Olympic movement, which has a long and unfortunate history of institutional corruption and moral vacuity.

The Olympics may be "just sports," but to the extent sporting events register in the greater cultural consciousness, the Games matter a great deal around the world. Only soccer's World Cup is bigger (and wouldn't you know it, Russia is hosting that next summer).

The five rings logo is also weighty with international prestige, which is at least part of the reason Russia cheated. It's also why that deceit had to be addressed.

Despite rumours of a last-minute accommodation in Russia's favour, the IOC has booted a raft of high-ranking Russian committee officials, and slapped a lifetime ban on former Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko, who is now Russia's Deputy Prime Minister.

The latter gesture qualifies as an extraordinary rebuke to Mr. Mutko's political benefactor, President Vladimir Putin. He will surely take it as a personal affront. Good.

Preemptive threats of retaliation from Moscow were issued weeks ago; it is possible Russia will opt to not broadcast the 2018 Winter Games, or pass legislation forbidding players in the Kontinental Hockey League from competing in Korea. So be it.

The evidence is incontrovertible and overwhelming that Russia's sports establishment engaged in an enormous, Kremlin-approved and publicly funded doping program involving more than a thousand athletes over at least a decade's worth of competitions.

We know this because former Russian competitors told a German documentary crew about it in 2015. We know it from Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov, the lab administrator who ran the scheme and is now living in hiding in the United States.

We know it from the comprehensive investigation led by Canadian law professor Richard McLaren on behalf of the World Anti-Doping Agency.

We know it from retrospective testing of urine samples from the last four Olympics.

A total of 25 Russian athletes who competed in the 2014 Sochi Games have been suspended for life, and 11 medals stripped in six different sports. Russia has seen 47 Olympic medals rescinded since the 1996 Games, by far the highest total in the world. More will inevitably follow as re-testing continues.

Some argue that is reason enough to exclude all Russian competitors from the events in Pyeongchang, which kick off in less than two months.

However, procedural fairness demands individual Russian athletes have the opportunity to show they are clean. The sins of the system, however large they may be, cannot be automatically extrapolated onto every individual who must live within it.

As a result, the IOC will permit those who undergo a rigorous pre-Games testing protocol to compete as neutrals, under the designation OAR – Olympic Athlete from Russia.

Even then, invitees will be restricted to Russian athletes who have never previously faced punishment for doping infractions, and the chance to compete will be doled out at the sole discretion of an IOC panel.

Any medals won will be awarded under the Olympic flag and anthem. There will be Russian athletes at the Pyeongchang Olympics – but no Team Russia.

Many competitors from other countries will feel aggrieved at having to share the world stage with Russian peers; the taint of a decade's worth of wrongdoing cannot be dissipated with one IOC vote and a couple of months of testing. It's not a perfect solution, but no net can catch every fish.

However, given the IOC's craven abdication of responsibility ahead of the 2016 Rio Summer Games, Tuesday's decision is welcome, overdue and a very big surprise.

Never have so many been so happy to have been so wrong about the Olympic movement.