IOC will allow some Russians to compete under Olympic flag

The International Olympic Committee on Tuesday announced the unprecedented step of suspending the Russian Olympic Committee for "systematic manipulation of the anti-doping rules and system,'' but will permit individual athletes to compete in the upcoming Pyeongchang Winter Games if they meet standards determined by an IOC-convened panel.

Any Russian athletes ultimately allowed to compete would do so under the designation "Olympic Athlete from Russia" (OAR) with a corresponding uniform, and would march behind the Olympic flag at opening ceremonies and hear the OIympic anthem at medal ceremonies.

Officials from the Russian Ministry of Sport, the discredited team that represented Russia at the Sochi 2014 Games and any coach or doctor affiliated with athletes who committed doping violations will be barred from the Games. Current Deputy Prime Minister Vitaly Mutko and his former No. 2 at the Ministry of Sport, Yury Nagornykh, are banned from all future editions of the Games. Mutko only last week presided over the draw for the FIFA World Cup, to be held in Russia next year.

Russia also will be assessed a $15 million fine to cover the costs of the investigation and to "build the capacity and integrity of the global anti-doping system,'' according to an IOC release.

Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman for Russian president Vladimir Putin, said the Kremlin needs to "put emotions aside" and "make a serious analysis" of the IOC's ruling, and that Russia "still needs to answer questions" from the IOC.

Konstantin Kosachev, chairman of the foreign affairs committee at the Russian parliament's upper house, said Wednesday that the ruling is "clearly part of the West's policy to restrain Russia" but insisted that Russian sports officials are to blame and "ought to bear personal responsibility" for letting it happen.

IOC president Thomas Bach said at a news conference that "every effort" would be made to reallocate 2014 medals to rightful winners in Pyeongchang. In the past, athletes who were "upgraded" have often waited years and received their medals in small, low-profile ceremonies.

"At least we did the right thing, although it took far too long. I think [Bach] probably realized that there was no alternative but to do this," IOC member and former WADA president Richard Pound told ESPN.

The decision represented a reversal of the IOC's reluctance to intervene before the Rio 2016 Games, when decisions on individual athletes were left up to the individual international sports federations and no higher-ranking officials were sanctioned. By contrast, the International Paralympic Committee barred Russia from its Summer Games and is expected to keep that sanction in place for Pyeongchang.

"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," Scott Blackmun, CEO of the United States Olympic Committee said.

"WADA believes that the IOC has taken an informed decision to sanction Russia for its involvement in institutionalized manipulation of the doping control process before, during and after the 2014 Sochi Olympic Games," said Sir Craig Reedie, President of the World Anti-Doping Agency. "The Agency also welcomes the decision to establish a panel that will determine criteria for the inclusion of Russian athletes under a neutral flag."

"It must be proven that these athletes have not been implicated in the institutionalized scheme and have been tested as overseen by the panel," Reedie said. "We are eager to collaborate with other stakeholders in this regard."

Reigning biathlon world champion Lowell Bailey of the United States, whose sport has struggled with doping issues for many years, called Tuesday "a tough day, a watershed moment for international sport,'' and said he was gratified to see the IOC respond vigorously. "It's a result that, to be quite honest, I never thought I'd see in my sports career."

"The Sochi plan was very clearly premeditated to hijack the entire Olympic Games, and if that were to continue, if there were not a strong deterrent for future actors, then we should all just go home and do something else with our lives and the Olympics should close up shop,'' said Bailey, 36. "There's no point in having a rigged competition."

FIFA issued a lengthy statement that said in part the IOC's decision would have "no impact on the preparations for the 2018 FIFA World Cup as we continue to work to deliver the best possible event." FIFA said it was working closely with WADA and "should there be enough evidence to demonstrate the violation of any anti-doping rules by any athlete, FIFA would impose the appropriate sanction."

Tuesday's action was based on the findings of the IOC's Schmid Commission, formed in July 2016 to examine the role of Russian officials and institutions in organized doping. The commission, headed by IOC member and former Swiss president Samuel Schmid, relied heavily on the testimony of former Moscow laboratory director Grigory Rodchenkov.

Rodchenkov, who is living in the United States under the protection of federal authorities, had made much of his narrative public already through a May 2016 interview with The New York Times and the Netflix documentary "Icarus.''

The 52-page affidavit he provided to the Schmid Commission -- which requested his testimony two months ago -- was reinforced by the recent inclusion of handwritten diary entries. Those contemporaneous notes, which were first revealed in a published IOC disciplinary ruling on an athlete's case last week, enabled him to attach names, dates and other recollections to the evolution of a conspiracy that played out at the Sochi 2014 onsite laboratory under the noses and oversight of international anti-doping and sports officials.

About the night of Feb. 15, 2014, for example, Rodchenkov wrote, "That night was a heavy night of urine swapping. [Yuri Chizov, Rodchenkov's lab assistant] and [Evgeny Blokhin, an FSB officer who controlled a special team at Sochi] were running back and forth to prepare and execute urine swapping in a timely manner. They had difficulty keeping up the pace. I kept a note of this in the Sochi diary."

Rodchenkov went into detail about the process needed to measure the density of each urine sample with sensitive instruments to make sure the clean samples were the same gravitational weight as the dirty ones. A lab technician would either add sodium chloride or distilled water to get the right measure.

He also wrote that he frequently updated his overseers at the sports ministry, Mutko and Nagornykh, about the success of the scheme. Not one Russian athlete, he pointed out, was recorded as having a positive test during the Games.

"To address when samples were to be sent abroad, Nagornykh worked with the FSB to create a system to intercept the samples at the border," Rodchenkov wrote. "I was not involved in the details of this part of the scheme."

Rodchenkov's testimony -- along with the extensive evidence and forensic analysis in a World Anti-Doping Agency investigation headed by law professor Richard McLaren -- refutes consistent and increasingly strident efforts by Russian government officials to distance themselves and portray Rodchenkov as a rogue actor.

In his sworn statement to the Schmid Commission, Rodchenkov testified that his mandate came directly from then-Minister of Sport Mutko and his deputy, Nagornykh, after the "disaster" of the Vancouver 2010 Games, in which Russia won just three gold medals. He detailed numerous meetings and communications with both in the affidavit.

Rodchenkov wrote that it was clear that the state-sponsored doping program he saw was an unbroken continuation of similar efforts under Soviet Russia. But after Sochi was awarded the 2014 Games, the system became more sophisticated under Rodchenkov's direction. Rodchenkov said it began in 2012, when Mutko told Nagornykh that Russian athletes had to achieve success in Sochi "at any cost."

Over the course of the next few years, the scientist helped develop both a new, more sensitive test for steroid metabolites and a way to beat it. Rodchenkov invented a fast-acting steroid "cocktail" that could be swished orally and would "wash out" of athletes' systems quickly.

Yet the new detection method enabled the IOC to identify close to 200 positive results when retesting samples from the Beijing 2008 and London 2012 Games, mostly in weightlifting, track and field and wrestling. One-third of them are from Russia, an outcome Rodchenkov predicted in 2015 in a memorandum to Mutko.

Notice of testing, corrupt doping control officers, falsification of lab results and substantial financial support through government grants purportedly designated for research also helped keep doping undercover. In the meantime, Russia hosted numerous world-class events, including the 2013 world track and field championships, which Rodchenkov described as "a 'warm-up act' for our doping work at the Sochi Games.''

The system worked with assembly-line precision at the Sochi 2014 Games, where, with the help of the FSB, Russia's federal security agency, supposedly tamper-proof sample bottles were opened and dirty samples were swapped for athletes' previously stored clean urine through a hole in the laboratory wall in the middle of the night. The result: Russia hauled in its highest Winter Games medal total of 33, including 13 golds. That number is destined to shrink considerably. Another IOC commission headed by Denis Oswald is pursuing cases against individual athletes and has sanctioned 25 to date.

Rodchenkov pointed out several opportunities in his affidavit for a "day of reckoning" in which the pervasive scheme might have been discovered, including media reports that were not pursued by international sports authorities and a 2013 accreditation hearing for the Moscow lab itself. "This was another critical moment when the endemic corruption should have been recognized, but we escaped it,'' he wrote in a footnote within the Schmid Commission affidavit.

"It is quite obvious that the severe limitations on the powers of anti-doping authorities -- when coupled with political influence and outright corruption -- emboldened Russia in its efforts to cheat the system,'' Rodchenkov wrote in another part of the statement. "After all, the world has long suspected what was actually happening in Russia.''

Tuesday, Rodchenkov's New York-based attorney, Jim Walden said, "My hope is that the situation improves from here, but the Kremlin has proved to be a very determined and difficult adversary for Grigory. So, I think the future ahead is hard to chart, but for sure, without any doubt in my mind, he knows that he's going to be looking over this shoulder for the rest of his life.''

The IOC's decision came almost exactly three years after the first explosive revelations provided by former Russian Anti-Doping Agency employee Vitaly Stepanov and his wife Yulia Stepanova, a middle-distance runner, who gave evidence of organized doping and corruption within Russian track and field to investigative reporter Hajo Seppelt of the German ARD network.

Stepanov had been in frequent email communication with a World Anti-Doping Agency staff member and spoke in person with its leadership while in North America, starting in 2010, but the agency failed to act on his whistleblowing information until the ARD documentary aired. A WADA-commissioned investigation led by its former president Richard Pound led to the suspension of the Russian track and field federation in late 2015, which is still in effect.

After being fired from his job in November 2015, Rodchenkov feared for his life and fled to the United States, a decision that looked wise in retrospect after two former anti-doping officials died within two weeks of each other in February 2016 -- one under especially murky circumstances.

Russian authorities have issued a warrant for his arrest and assailed his credibility continuously since he went public. Rodchenkov acknowledged the complexity of his story in the conclusion of his Schmid Commission testimony.

"I know I have disappointed many friends and colleagues with my duplicity while serving as director of the Moscow Lab,'' he wrote. "Without excusing my actions, I hope all can understand the system in which I was operating. I hope my cooperation with the Schmid Commission, the Oswald Commission, WADA and Professor McLaren can serve as a form of repentance and absolution.''

The Russian track and field federation, suspended because of anti-doping violations and corruption since late 2015 by the IAAF, its international governing body, was the only Russian team banned wholesale from the Rio Games. The lone athlete who competed was Florida-based long jumper Darya Klishina, who argued that she had been subject to sufficient credible testing outside the Russian system. The IAAF contested her case and her appeal dragged on until the eve of her competition.

Her American attorney, Paul Greene, said he similarly expects a bevy of appeals by individual Russian winter sports athletes to extend up to and into Pyeongchang. "It's a very compressed time period,'' Greene said. "In the end, Darya couldn't focus on being an athlete. She spent the whole time worrying about her appeal, and she was really robbed of that experience. I hope they don't string it out.'' Klishina competed as a neutral athlete at this year's track and field world championships and won a silver medal.

Greene said he thought the process the IOC outlined for Russian athletes to make the case for Pyeongchang eligibility looked enforceable, albeit with some unanswered questions -- with the exception of its dictate that athletes cannot apply if they have a past doping offense. The Court of Arbitration for Sport has consistently ruled that the WADA code does not permit an athlete to be excluded from Olympic competition for one prior offense if he or she has finished serving a prior suspension.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.