Sunday, February 11, 2018

When is a Russian ban not a Russian ban?

So, what in the end is the point of the IOC's ban of Russia from the 2018 Winter Olympics, when there is a huge team attending it called the Olympic Athletes from Russia (OAR)? Or, as the BBC phrases it, "When is a Russian not a Russian?" Or as I might phrase it, "When is a ban not a ban?"
The International Olympic Commitee (IOC) ruled a theoretical blanket ban on the Russian national team due to its systemic state-sponsored doping program, much to the satisfaction of most people around the world. The country has already been stripped of 13 of its medals at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, although more appeals are still underway, and there is still a chance that some of these medals could be reinstated (a thoroughly confusing situation - when is a decision not a decision?)
The fine print behind the IOC ban, though, allows a team called Olympic Athletes from Russia to attend the Games at PyeongChang. As though this is somehow not the same as Team Russia. This team has 169 members, the third largest after the USA and Canada, and although some key athletes are still missing due to continuing doping bans, the OAR team is still expected to appear high in the medals table. Russia? Olympic Athletes from Russia? The Team Formerly Known As Russia? Sementics, schmemantics.
So, is this the IOC weaselling out of controversial decision, or just a reasonable accommodation to allow clean Russian athletes to participate in the ultimate elite competition for their respective sports? Depends on your point of view, really. There will be no Russian flags on display, and the Olympic anthem will be played in place of the Russian anthem at any medal ceremonies. But the Russian fans do not seem unduly perturbed by this, even if the athletes are, and in practice it seems to be pretty much business as usual.
Ban? What ban?

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