The International Olympic Committee's executive board, led by president Thomas Bach, will announce Tuesday what penalties Russia will face after three years of investigations into organized doping in that country. Evidence of corruption and sabotage leading up to and during the Sochi 2014 Games implicates every segment of Russia's Olympic sports industry: athletes, team officials, scientists, anti-doping administrators and government authorities.
With the Pyeongchang Winter Games less than 10 weeks away, the IOC is only now dealing with the question of which, if any, Russian athletes should be eligible. It's a partial replay of the events preceding Rio de Janeiro's 2016 Summer Games, when the IOC also faced pressure to exclude Russia, but there is far stronger and more comprehensive evidence on the table now that makes the last-minute nature of the decision even more glaring.
Anti-doping agencies from 37 countries, including the United States, have called for a blanket ban on the Russian Olympic Committee. They cite the scope and detail of the conspiracy and the odds that few prominent actors in Russian sport could have been unaware of it. Reform has stumbled, as signaled by the World Anti-Doping Agency's recent decision not to reinstate the Russian Anti-Doping Agency, whose testing competency is still a work in progress.
Officials have refused to turn over key data and samples. And Russian athletes and politicians alike continue to dispute the investigative conclusions and potential sanctions.
Here's a look at what's at stake and the possible outcomes of Tuesday's decision:
What is the gist of the new evidence?
The oldest "new" evidence that has emerged since Rio dates back to December 2016, when Canadian law professor Richard McLaren released the second and far more extensive portion of his independent report commissioned by WADA. McLaren Part II concluded that an "institutional conspiracy" encompassed 1,000 athletes across summer and winter sports, anti-doping and scientific personnel and government officials. Much of McLaren's work relied on forensic analysis that corroborated statements and evidence provided by former Moscow lab director Grigory Rodchenkov, who designed the doping and test evasion strategy for Russia's Olympic athletes under an umbrella "Sochi Plan." Rodchenkov fled to the United States in late 2015 and is under the protection of federal authorities.
Two IOC commissions formed in the summer of 2016 followed up on McLaren's work: the Oswald Commission, which is investigating cases and determining sanctions against individual athletes, and the Schmid Commission, charged with determining what roles were played by Russian officials and institutions. However, cybersecurity issues stalled the Schmid Commission's cooperation with McLaren, and neither commission asked for formal testimony from Rodchenkov until the early fall of 2017. Nevertheless the Oswald Commission made strong statements supporting Rodchenkov's credibility as a witness in a published ruling explaining its rationale for stripping cross-country skier Alexander Legkov of his Sochi medals and banning him from future Games for doping.
The Legkov decision included the first public disclosure that Rodchenkov had kept detailed handwritten diaries before and during the Sochi Games. Continuous notes from that time are considered among the most unassailable evidence by legal experts, and they fleshed out Rodchenkov's previous statements to McLaren, The New York Times and in the independent documentary "Icarus."
Finally, after months during which the Russian authorities refused to turn over the Moscow lab's electronic database, WADA received it from an unidentified whistleblower in October. Records from the Laboratory Information Management System cover the period from 2012 to 2015. WADA chief investigator Gunter Younger told the German ARD network last week that the database had been authenticated. The agency is currently identifying potential doping violations in the data and will turn that information over to the international winter sports federations by the end of December, several sources told ESPN.
What are the IOC's options?
Suspend the entire Russian delegation on the basis of its recent doping history, an unprecedented decision that would be appealed but which appears to be within the IOC's jurisdiction under language in the Olympic Charter. Whistleblower and former RUSADA staff member Vitaly Stepanov maintains that is the only sanction that will make an impact. "Russia's powerbrokers think that they can ride out this storm with only minimal harm and without changing their doping system. It is likely that the only way to convince them to change is to deny their entry into the Olympic Games and other international competitions until true changes are made," Stepanov wrote in testimony to the Schmid Commission first reported by the BBC and later obtained by ESPN.
Impose a sizeable monetary fine. That idea was floated earlier this year and immediately blasted by critics who say it would amount to a mere payoff if it is levied in a vacuum.
Punt to the international federations again. Most of the Russian team wound up competing in Rio after the IOC controversially instructed international sports federations to determine whether athletes had undergone sufficient testing outside Russia. Many athletes and anti-doping organizations viewed that delegation of responsibility as an abdication.
Pressure international federations whose sports are most compromised by the evidence -- biathlon, cross-country skiing, bobsled and skeleton -- to suspend the Russian teams in those events. Some nations are agitating for that action within the federations as well, several sources told ESPN.
Compel Russian athletes to compete under a neutral flag and bar their national anthem from being played in medal ceremonies, an approach taken by international track and field officials in this year's world championships. In Russia, where athletics is a crucial flagship for national pride, the prospect has prompted outrage and boycott threats. Bach, who was unable to defend his 1976 Olympic fencing gold medal when West Germany joined the U.S.-led boycott of the Moscow Games four years later, has previously expressed his distaste for the effect boycotts have on athletes.
Some combination of the above measures that falls short of a blanket ban and allows individual athletes to make the case that they are clean to their international federations. Rodchenkov himself told ESPN there should be some means for "innocent" athletes to compete. However, IOC member and former WADA president Richard Pound told ESPN, "If they do compete behind the Russian flag, then the IOC's credibility is shot."
What is Russia saying?
The more evidence comes into the public realm, the more defiant the statements out of Russia. One of them is a fashion statement. Photographs of the Russian national team's officially branded casual apparel debuted last week showing men's and women's sweatshirts emblazoned with the slogans "Russians Did It!" and "I Don't Do Doping."
Officials up to and including deputy prime minister Vitaly Mutko, the country's sports minister during the Sochi Games, continue to deny that there was systemic, government-enabled doping despite testimony to the contrary. Stepanov's statement to the Schmid Commission includes his methodical historical overview of the consolidation of Olympic sport administration and anti-doping functions under Mutko's control.
Athletes sanctioned by the Oswald Commission -- there are 25 thus far -- also have made vehement declarations of innocence, including skeleton racer Elena Nikitina, who posted an open letter on her Instagram feed asking Russian President Vladimir Putin to support them. Some of the sanctioned athletes say they will appeal and refuse to return their medals. The TASS news agency reported that Mikhail Prokhorov, the former president of the Russian Biathlon Union and majority owner of the NBA's Brooklyn Nets, said he would provide financial and legal support for a lawsuit against Rodchenkov.
The invective directed toward Rodchenkov, whom Russian officials have painted as a dishonest traitor who acted unilaterally, has risen in volume as well. Russian law enforcement authorities have issued a warrant for his arrest and indicated they want him extradited, though the U.S. and Russia do not have an extradition agreement. Last month, honorary Russian Olympic Committee president Leonid Tyagachev told a radio reporter that "Rodchenkov should be shot for lying, like Stalin would have done," according to The Guardian.
IOC spokesman Mark Adams told ESPN in an email last week that the IOC "has written to the Russian Olympic Committee and has expressed its dismay with such inappropriate comments."
A Russian delegation will speak to the IOC board members Tuesday, including figure skater Evgenia Medvedeva, who will be a medal favorite in Pyeongchang if she recovers from a recent foot injury. Medvedeva's inclusion is strategic. Russian absence would affect the Pyeongchang figure skating competition deeply, and 2014 gold medalist Adelina Sotnikova is the only Russian athlete thus far whose case was dropped by the Oswald Commission.
Regardless of Tuesday's decision, what is the chief takeaway from the process?
Three years have elapsed, and thousands of pages of investigative documents have been generated, costing millions of dollars, since Stepanov and his wife, middle distance runner Yulia Stepanova, first exposed organized doping in Russian track and field via an ARD-produced documentary. Yet twice in less than 18 months, the bureaucratic process has come down to the wire before the Olympics, guaranteeing legal challenges that will spill into the Games. Athletes sanctioned for doping in Sochi were allowed to compete in World Cup events this season. Major events are still scheduled to take place in Russia, including the 2018 FIFA World Cup. Conflicts of interest are still rife between the IOC, WADA and the international federations.
WADA has armed itself -- with relative speed -- by adopting changes to its global code that go into effect in April and will allow for sanctioning of national Olympic committees and other signatories, after due process. Up to this point, athletes had to adhere to a strict liability standard while officials many levels above them escaped formal scrutiny. Athletes also have the least input of anyone in a system where they are the ones with the most to gain and lose.
The most striking thing about the juncture at which the IOC finds itself: how many opportunities were lost to act sooner. Whistleblowers and journalists repeatedly cracked open doors only to have the bureaucracies hang back. It turns out that the most important ingredient in anti-doping efforts is will.