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Russia is banned from 2018 Olympics; athletes told to compete under Olympic flag

The International Olympic Committee is expected to punish Russia on Tuesday for a state-run doping program. The decision comes months before the next Winter Olympics, which begin in PyeongChang, South Korea, in February. Ahn Young-joon/AP

The International Olympic Committee has suspended the Russian Olympic Committee "with immediate effect," effectively banning the country from the upcoming Winter Olympics over Russia's system of state-supported cheating by its athletes who used performance-enhancing drugs.

Russian athletes can compete in the 2018 Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea, the IOC said on Tuesday — but the athletes will have to pass strict scrutiny, and instead of wearing their nation's uniform, they will compete under the title "Olympic Athlete from Russia (OAR)."

"They will compete with a uniform bearing this name and under the Olympic Flag," the IOC said. "The Olympic Anthem will be played in any ceremony."

IOC President Thomas Bach and other members of the Olympic governing body pronounced Russia's fate at a news conference.

Bach called Russia's concerted attempts to break the rules "an unprecedented attack on the integrity of the Olympic Games and sport," citing the manipulation of the anti-doping lab at the Sochi Olympics of 2014.

"As an athlete myself, I'm feeling very sorry for all the clean athletes," Bach said.

Of the growing number of athletes who have been stripped of their medals, Bach said the IOC is looking at how to give the clean athletes who are elevated to the podium the recognition they deserve as they are recognized with Olympic medals.

Bach also said the Russian committee must give the IOC $15 million to pay for the doping investigation.

"No official of the Russian Ministry of Sport will be accredited for the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018," Bach said. He added that the ministry's former head, Vitaly Mutko, is barred for life from any Olympic games.

Mutko was Russia's minister of sport from 2008 to 2016; after he left that post last year, President Vladimir Putin appointed him deputy prime minister.

Reacting to the IOC's moves Tuesday, Scott Blackmun, CEO of the U.S. Olympic Committee, said, "The IOC took a strong and principled decision. There were no perfect options, but this decision will clearly make it less likely that this ever happens again. Now it is time to look ahead to PyeongChang."

The decision by the IOC's executive board follows last year's McLaren Report from the World Anti-Doping Agency, which confirmed that Russia's Olympics program had engaged in an "institutional conspiracy" to beat the system that included using a "mouse hole" to swap out athletes' drug-tainted samples for clean ones. The investigation was led by Canadian law professor Richard McLaren.

Russian officials have refused to acknowledge the scope and depth of the findings about the country's Olympic teams, saying that the problems were limited to individual athletes. Russian President Vladimir Putin has called the doping charges against Russia "a dangerous return to this policy of letting politics interfere with sport."

Released in two phases, the McLaren Report concluded that Russia's scheme involved more than 1,000 Russian athletes — and that it also included plans both for manipulating doping controls and for covering up the system.

Ahead of the IOC's decision, NPR's Lucian Kim visited Moscow's famous Gorky Park to hear what Russians are making of the claims against their country in some of its most revered sports.

Speaking to Yekaterina Nogerova, whose 6-year-old daughter was skating out on the ice, Lucian says that she says a decision against Russia would be a "catastrophe" for her. Nogerova also said she's upset that the consequences will likely punish athletes and fans, but not people in the government.

In releasing the McLaren report, WADA recommended that the IOC ban all Russian athletes and government officials from the 2016 Summer Olympics held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Both McLaren and WADA acknowledged that they lack the authority to punish Russia's athletes.

Instead of issuing a blanket ban on Russia from competing in Rio, the IOC left it to the individual sports' governing bodies to decide who got to compete. By the time the report came out, nearly all Russian track and field athletes had been banned by the International Association of Athletics Federations.

To investigate the claims against Russia, the Olympics' governing body has been relying on two groups. A broad investigation is being led by the Inquiry Commission chaired by Samuel Schmid, a former President of Switzerland. Individual cases are being looked at by the Disciplinary Commission, chaired by Denis Oswald, a Swiss lawyer and former IOC executive board member.

Russia's move into wholesale Olympic cheating is often traced to 2010, when the country's athletes fell well short of expectations by winning only 15 medals at the Vancouver Winter Olympics — a bad omen as the country prepared to host the 2014 games in Sochi. Investigators say Russian officials went to elaborate means to ensure a better showing — and it worked, as Russia's athletes more than doubled their medal count by winning 33 medals (13 of them gold), the most of any country.

But athletes' blood and urine samples have been subjected to more analysis since the Sochi games, and in recent weeks, the IOC has been slicing into Russia's medal count, disqualifying athletes from the Russian biathlon, bobsleigh, and cross-country skiing teams who were found to have broken anti-doping Rules.

As of last week, Russia had fallen far behind the U.S. and other countries on the Sochi results list. The American team now leads the way with the 28 medals it won in 2014, with Norway second — and that's without the redistribution of medals that were taken away from Russian athletes.

The IOC has also been declaring sanctioned athletes to be ineligible for future Olympics as it strips them of their victories — an approach that has promised to reshape the field for the upcoming 2018 PyeongChang games in South Korea.

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