MOSCOW (AFP) – Confused and dejected, Russian sports fans expressed their disappointment Tuesday over the International Olympic Committee’s decision to ban the country from the 2018 Winter Games.
The move, punishing Russia for its state-orchestrated doping programme, will allow clean athletes to compete under an Olympic flag – but few are likely to accept, according to drinkers at Dark Patrick’s pub, a sports bar in central Moscow.
“There has been doping. Everyone does it and it has always happened, that’s clear. But it’s important to know whether this was a doping system organised by the state. In my opinion, it hasn’t been proven,” said one retired patron who gave his name as Nikolai.
News of the sanction – the toughest ever levelled by the IOC for drug cheating – came just 65 days ahead of the Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
“Only a small number of athletes will accept competing under a neutral flag,” said Nikolai. “If they do it, they won’t use the state’s money, so they will have to find a sponsor,” the 67-year-old added, before describing another possible problem posed by the decision: “How does a hockey team play under a neutral flag? What will be written on their bibs?”
His friend Mikhail said he was “sad” about the ban, which followed an explosive report confirming that Russian athletes took part in an elaborate drug cheating programme that peaked during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.
“The situation should not have taken this turn,” he said.
However, living in a country where winter sports are highly popular, especially ice hockey and biathlon – a combination of cross-country skiing and rifle shooting – Mikhail does not intend to forgo watching the games, even without the Russians.
“I watched the Sochi games non-stop. Of course I’m going to watch these ones,” he said.
The report by WADA and two subsequent IOC investigations came amid mounting evidence indicating that the doping scheme involved senior government officials, with help from secret agents.
Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Vitaly Mutko, who was sports minister during the Sochi Games, has also been banned for life by the IOC.
Aliona Formichova, who works in a construction company, said the IOC had made a “bad” decision.
“I don’t know if I will watch. It’s less interesting,” she said.