The 2018 Winter Olympics will feel incomplete without Russia

“Sports spirit.”
“Sports spirit.”
Image: Reuters/Michael Dalder
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Yesterday (Dec. 5) the International Olympic Committee (IOC) banned Russia from participating in the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, over a doping scandal. Opinions vary on whether the punishment fits the crime, but, sports-wise, there’s little doubt the competition will feel incomplete without one of the world’s main powerhouses in winter sports.

Michael McFaul, a former US ambassador to Russia, responded to the news on Twitter:

Russia, without a doubt, has many of the world’s top athletes in winter sports. Before the ban, sports data firm Gracenote Sports predicted that the country would win 21 medals in Pyeongchang, including six golds. It also speculated on which countries would benefit most should Russia be banned from competing:

If Russia were to face a ban, those 21 medals would be distributed to 11 different countries with Germany (+4) and the Netherlands (+3) being the largest beneficiaries of those medals. Russia’s six gold medals would go to the Netherlands (+2), Canada (+1), Germany (+1), Japan (+1) and Norway (+1).

Among those disappointed in the IOC’s decision were the local organizers of the Pyeongchang Winter Games, who already must contend with lackluster ticket sales and safety concerns over North Korea tensions. Lee Hee-beom, head of the Pyeongchang Organizing Committee, told a radio interviewer yesterday he hadn’t expected the IOC to go so far: “We plan to meet with the chairman of the IOC and deliver our message, the message that it’s better to allow as many nations, as many athletes to compete.”

The IOC in its announcement did say that certain “clean” Russian athletes will, under strict conditions, be able to compete, but as a neutral “Olympic Athlete from Russia.” There’s debate in Russia over whether individual athletes should do so.

Alexander Tikhonov, a former champion Soviet biathlete, believes they should still go. Championat, a Russian sports website, quoted him as saying (paywall): “We have to prove to everyone that we’re the best. Competing without the anthem and the flag is not a treachery. We have to go and to give hell to everyone: to the Americans, to the whole world.”

But then there’s the question of whether an athlete’s heart will be fully into the competition as a “neutral.”

Irina Avvakumova, a member of the ski jumping team, thinks competing that way lacks “sports spirit.”

“I do not know how other athletes will react,” she was quoted by Russia Today as saying, “but I did not prepare for so many years to just go and compete without representing my country.”