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Russia banned from 2018 Olympics following doping allegations

Thomas Bach, President of the International Olympic Committee, attends a news conference after an Executive Board meeting on sanctions for Russian athletes, in Lausanne, Switzerland, December 5, 2017. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

The International Olympic Committee banned the Russian Federation from the upcoming Winter Olympics on Tuesday but left the door open for individual Russian athletes to compete. In a historic act of punishment, Russia's flag and anthem will be absent from February's Pyeongchang Games in South Korea as consequence for widespread doping that Olympic officials believe was supported by the country's government.

Russia's doping program "represents an unprecedented attack on the integrity of the Olympic Games," IOC President Thomas Bach said following Tuesday's announcement.

Bach was joined Tuesday by Samuel Schmid, the former president of Switzerland, who led a commission investigating the allegations against Russia. Schmid's report confirmed "the systemic manipulation of the anti-doping rules and system in Russia."

Russian athletes who can prove their innocence of drug cheating will be permitted to compete under the designation of an "Olympic Athlete from Russia (OAR)," the IOC announced in a news release. The Olympic Anthem will be played in any ceremony for medals won by these athletes.

Russian lawmakers and other officials quickly rejected the IOC decision, saying it was influenced by politics.

"We won't apologize," Pyotr Tolstoy, a leading member of the Russian State Duma, Russia's lower house of legislature, said in remarks broadcast on Channel One, a state-funded television station. "We won't apologize to Bach, to the former president of Switzerland, who prepared this report so sweetly. We have nothing to apologize for and neither do our athletes."

Mikhail Fedotov, an official whose portfolio covers human rights abuses, responded similarly.

"I very much regret that the IOC made such a strange decision," Mikhail Fedotov, chairman of the Presidential Council on Human Rights, told Interfax on Tuesday. "The decision that Russian athletes should compete under the Olympic flag as opposed to others is a clear show of discrimination."

The absence of Russian athletes would sap many events of top competitors. In the 2014 Winter Games in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, Russia led the medal count, with 33 overall and 13 golds. But Russia's success at those Olympics, according to former Moscow antidoping lab director Grigory Rodchenkov, came with some assistance behind the scenes.

Rodchenkov has said he oversaw a state-run doping system that provided hundreds of top athletes with banned performance-enhancing substances for years. When the Olympics came to Russian soil, according to Rodchenkov, he ran a clandestine effort, with the assistance of government agents, to replace tainted urine samples taken from cheating Russian athletes during the Sochi Games with clean urine samples he collected months before.

Rodchenkov's testimony, bolstered by two other Russian whistleblowers, has been supported by a series of investigations by the World Anti-Doping Agency since late 2015. Those probes have concluded that more than 1,000 Russian athletes across at least 30 sports, including both summer and winter events, had been involved in doping that dated from at least 2011.

Tuesday's punishment will invite criticism from some anti-doping organizations that had called for a blanket ban of all Russian athletes. Russia's anti-doping agency has been suspended since 2015, calling into question how the IOC will verify athletes who have trained in Russia have done so without the assistance of banned substances.

Russian Sports Ministry officials have apologized for widespread doping among their athletes, but forcefully have denied allegations of government involvement and painted Rodchenkov as a rogue actor. Last month, a Russian court issued an arrest warrant for Rodchenkov, who fled the country for the United States in 2015 after two colleagues at Russia's anti-doping agency died suddenly.

Rodchenkov, who was the subject of the Netflix documentary "Icarus" earlier this year, is living somewhere in the United States under the protection of federal authorities.

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