As four more Russians were on Friday disqualified for doping at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach signaled a possible shift toward barring the nation’s athletes from next year’s Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
Two-time bobsled gold medalist Alexander Zubkov, who carried the Russian flag at the opening ceremony in Sochi, was removed from the 2014 records in the latest round of verdicts from an IOC panel prosecuting people caught in a program to cover up doping and tamper with tainted samples.
Now the president of the Russian bobsled federation, Zubkov was disqualified and banned for life from the Olympics along with speedskater Olga Fatkulina, who won silver in the 500m.
“I’m not going anywhere,” Zubkov said, adding that he plans to appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport and has no intention of stepping down.
“I was working toward those medals for years. All my achievements, all my victories have always been and remain clean,” Zubkov said in a telephone interview. “Sport has turned into politics.”
Russia originally topped the medals table in Sochi, but the latest cases drop it to nine gold medals, fewer than Norway and Canada. In total medals, Russia now has 24, behind the US, Norway and Canada.
A total of 14 Russians have been disqualified this month, with nine medals lost.
Zubkov said the ruling was the work of “a commission which makes decisions without any basis or proof.”
“The leaders were sitting there and falling asleep behind their desks when the facts and evidence from my side were being read out. They weren’t interested,” Zubkov said. “These acts and decisions were drawn up beforehand and it’s very plain to see.”
Hours earlier, Bach told critics not to put pressure on his executive board before a key decision next month on Russia’s participation at the upcoming Games.
Bach is to chair an IOC board meeting on Dec. 5 that could ban Russia’s team from Pyeongchang because of state-sponsored doping in Sochi.
Long seen as an ally of Russia, Bach seemed to confirm that position this month when he criticized “unacceptable” demands for a total ban, while two Olympic panels investigate an alleged doping conspiracy.
However, in a speech on Friday, Bach cautioned against those “from whichever side” who seek to influence the IOC.
“Some may try to build pressure. They will be wrong,” Bach told European Olympic officials meeting in Zagreb.
Russian officials have this month threatened not to televise the Pyeongchang Games and to block the release of players from clubs in the Moscow-based Kontinental Hockey League.
The IOC is facing the same politicized decision over Russia as it did before the Rio Olympics.
In July last year, Bach’s board did not impose a blanket ban on Russia after investigator Richard McLaren published his first report into the Sochi program less than three weeks before the opening ceremony. Instead, the IOC let sports governing bodies lead the decisionmaking.
Bach was seen then as prioritizing Russian athletes’ rights to compete in what proved a chaotic period of urgent legal cases based on McLaren’s interim report. The full investigation report published in December last year went even deeper into the Russian doping program and beyond winter sports.
The “important difference” this time was that accused Russian athletes have had due legal process and a fair hearing from the IOC, Bach said.
“Now it is about what happened at the Olympic Winter Games Sochi 2014. Now it is about us,” Bach told leaders of European national Olympic bodies. “Now it is about the integrity of the Olympic Games. Now it is about what happened at Olympic Games in a laboratory of the Olympic Games. What happened with Olympic athletes. What happened with Olympic medalists. This is what we have to bear in mind when I say that we will take a fair decision.”
Bobsled athletes who could be upgraded by the IOC include US driver Steven Holcomb, who placed third in the two-man and four-man events, but died unexpectedly in his sleep six months ago. Swiss and Latvian crews are in line for gold medals.
Also disqualified and expelled from the Olympics on Friday were women’s bobsledder Olga Stulneva and men’s speedskater Alexander Rumyantsev. They did not win medals.
Politics and sports are often linked in Russia, and athletes from Zubkov’s sleds have gone on to high-level positions.
His brakeman, Alexei Voevoda, is now a member of the Russian parliament, while pusher Dmitry Trunenkov runs a youth program for the Russian military.
Trunenkov was last year banned from all sports activities in a separate doping case brought by Russian authorities.
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