The 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea are about to kick off on Feb. 9, and people are eager to find out about the status of the Russian delegation after the country was banned from participating due to state-sponsored doping. While some Russian athletes are still competing under a "neutral flag," don't expect Russian President Vladimir Putin to show up at the Olympics.
On Dec. 5, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced that Russia had been banned from the 2018 competition following a year-long investigation into state-sponsored doping by Russian officials. According to the New York Times, the investigation found that Russian officials had engaged in widespread tampering of athletes' steroid test results at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. It also claimed that several officials from Russia’s sports ministry worked overnight in Sochi to alter over 100 Russian athletes' samples to hide evidence of doping. Thomas Bach, president of IOC, told the Times that he was particularly disturbed by how the tampering had been accomplished: by "corrupting the Olympic laboratory."
The ban on Russian competition in the 2018 games is all-encompassing. Russia's flag cannot be displayed during the opening ceremony. Approved Russian athletes who have not been linked to doping can compete, but only as an "Olympic Athlete from Russia" under a neutral flag. Russian government officials are also barred from attending the Olympic games.
It is unclear whether this ban on government officials also applies to Russia's top government official, President Putin, who was personally invited to the games by South Korea's president back in September — before the Russian ban had been announced. But recently, when asked if he'd attend the games, Sputnik International reported that a Putin spokesperson told Russia’s Izvestiya publication that "There are no such plans yet."
Putin's unlikely attendance at the games is unsurprising, especially considering his harsh condemnation of the Russia ban when it was announced. Indeed, when the IOC revealed the ban, Putin told Russia news outlet TASS that "It all looks like an absolutely staged and politically-motivated decision. We see this. For me there is no doubt about it." Putin also referred to the IOC's ruling as unjust "collective punishment."
However, the president did assert that, despite his disdain for the ban, he would not seek to stop any Russian athletes from competing under a neutral flag, saying "We, without doubt, will not declare a blockade, we will not prevent our Olympians from taking part [in the Games], if one of them wants to take part in a personal capacity ... They have been preparing for these competitions for their whole careers, and for them it's very important."
Any Russian athlete who does compete at the Olympics is subject to strict uniform regulations laid out by the IOC to ensure that Russia (as a country) is not represented at the games. As described by the New York Times, athletes' uniforms can only say "Olympic Athlete from Russia” or “O.A.R.," and the committee has mandated that "print size for words ‘Olympic Athlete from’ should be equivalent to the word 'Russia.'" Moreover, the colors red, white, and blue (those on Russia's flag) cannot be used collectively on Russian athletes' uniforms.
If athletes from Russia win medals at the games, the Russian anthem cannot be played during the medal ceremony and the Russian flag will not be raised. Their medals will not count toward Russia's historic medal count, as the IOC ruling mandates that Russia be noted in historic records as having won zero Olympic medals during the 2018 Winter Games in PyeongChang.
Regardless of whether or not President Putin is in attendance, Russian representation at the 2018 Winter Olympics will certainly look very different.