No North Korea at the Olympics, and….No Russia?!
Decision pending on Russia’s participating in the upcoming Games in wake of doping scandal; North Korea fails to claim their pairs berth, the only spot in any event they had.
Next week, the International Olympic Committee will make a decision that, one way or another, will likely shape the character of the 2018 Olympic Winter Games. Even now, it’s hard to believe it’s actually come to this, the possibility, and even probability, that Russia as a participating country might be banned, and their athletes, even if technically not banned, might then withdraw entirely.
But now they’re not the only country who looks like they might be out. And both of these countries having no one in PyeongChang in February is particularly terrifying, because of what could happen as a result.
IOC May Ban Russia
It was before even the 2016 Summer Games in Rio that it came out that Russia, after struggling at the 2010 Olympics, had put together a state-sponsored doping program to help their athletes cheat and avoid getting caught. There were calls to ban them from that Olympics, but in the end the IOC left the decision up to the individual sports federations. Two federations banned them; the rest did nothing. Were the decision about 2018 left to the International Skating Union, they likely would also do nothing. Figure skating does not lend itself to doping as much as some sports, and in the current investigations, the only figure skater to come under suspicions has now been cleared by the word of doping program runner and whistleblower Grigory Rodchenko himself.
But three weeks after she was cleared, Adelina Sotnikova’s the only one. Twenty-five more cases from the same investigation have gotten their rulings, and twenty-five athletes have been sanctioned, with the penalties including not only the stripped of medals and results but even lifelong Olympic bans. The athletes involved include skiers, bobsleigh and skeleton competitors, biathletes, and speed skaters.
Meanwhile, Russia is still denying everything, claiming Rodchenko acted on his own and making accusations of an American-led conspiracy, allegations that are less than plausible. They’re also refusing to cooperate with the World Anti-Doping Agency’s investigation, withholding athletes’ samples from them. The lack of an admission of guilt alone means the World Anti-Doping Agency won’t lift the ban on their Anti-Doping agency.
All in all, it’s gone far enough the IOC is considering actually doing something at the top level. They might not even necessarily ban the athletes themselves, but just the country. That means the Russian flag would not fly in PyeongChang, and any Russian athletes that compete would have to do so under the Olympic flag instead, as neutral athletes not representing any country. But Russian Olympic Committee head Alexander Zhukov has already declared if such a ruling is made, they will prevent their athletes from competing at all.
This is not something the people in charge of the Olympics at all want. Russia is one of the biggest countries in the Games as well as the world, and Vladimir Putin is known to have a lot of clout in the Olympic movement. But he’s now unpopular enough they’re a little reluctant to admit that, which not banning Russia would do. Meanwhile, Putin himself could make good use of a ban to convince his people the world is against them and make them forget about how much misery his rule has caused in his own country. He’s got an election coming up in March, not a fair one, but he still doesn’t want too much anger from the populace going into it.
So there’s a serious chance we will see no Russian athletes and no Russian figure skaters at the Olympic Games. In some sports, that might be for the best, since it looks like they were all doping. But in skating’s case, that would honestly be a tragedy, because their figure skaters, who are more likely clean, would be deprived of their life’s goal for the sins of their countrymen. It would also weaken all of the competitions, especially the team event and the ladies. Most Olympic athletes don’t want their competition taken out like this; they want to win when competing against the best. If Evgenia Medvedeva is not at the Games, whoever wins the gold in her place will have to know they probably only won because she was barred for crimes she herself likely did not commit.
The Russian berths would be handed down to the alternates in accordance with the Nebelhorn Trophy results. That means the Philippines and Switzerland would get entries into the men’s competition, Armenia, Singapore, and Chinese Taipei would each send a lady, and the ice dance berths would go to Lithuania and Armenia. Normally, it would also means pairs berths to Japan, Belarus, and Spain. That means the last might be eligible for the team event. Or they might absurdly miss it if things don’t become official before the countries qualify following the Grand Prix Final last week. No one’s even sure how any of that’s supposed to work.
Except now, Great Britain would inherit Russia’s final pairs berth, because Japan has already inherited another one given up…
North Korea Fails to Claim Their Pairs Berth
When Tae-Ok Ryom & Ju-Sik Kim qualified for the Olympics in Obertsdorf back in September, the world in general breathed a sigh of relief. North Korea has failed to qualify in any other event, and their having someone in PyeongChang would greatly reduce the chances of the country choosing to drop any bombs. There was just one caveat; they didn’t know if the country would then go through with sending them. Though there were obviously people somewhere in North Korea with some power who wanted them to go, since not only were they sent to Nebelhorn, they were even allowed to seek better training outside the country beforehand, something that had never happened before.
But it seems that the unknown politics within the heavily closed-off country ultimately went the other way. When it came time for the countries allocated their Olympic berths at Worlds and Nebelhorn to confirm to the ISU they’d be using them, North Korea didn’t. It was thought even after they missed the October 30th deadline they could still do it, before the berth officially got reallocated later this month. But while that process wasn’t supposed to start until the thirteenth, it seems they started it early and closed the door on North Korea, because the report is now out the spot’s already been given to Japan. They have until the 21st to confirm it, which they will almost certainly do.
Most of the world wants North Korea in the games, if only because it makes them safer, and the IOC has not given up hope yet. Although all chances to qualify are passed, North Korean athletes can still receive wild card invites, if the country could be persuaded to allow them to accept them. Ryom & Kim could even compete after all, under one of those invites. While ISU rules don’t have provisions for wild cards, they did once in 2010 waive one of their rules, citing some “extraordinary circumstances.” If the IOC pushed them to, they could do so again. But when North Korea’s speed skaters actually pulled out of the recent events that could’ve qualified them, it doesn’t look like the country wants it.
Which raises the ominous question of why. It could just be the general enmity between the two halves of Korea. But one can’t help but wonder if it’s because they are planning to attack the Games. The possible loss of Russia makes that situation even more dangerous, since they’re a country actually on good terms with the isolated North Korea. South Korea’s president even plans to approach the president of China, the other big country North Korea’s on good terms with, to ask for him to use his influence to prevent an attack. The danger could even cause other countries to pull out.
We are currently living in a world where nothing is safe, and nothing is certain, and it’s getting worse all the time. The Olympics were never exempt, and they have always been tangled up with politics, no matter what the movement’s believers may claim. But recent days have made things much darker, and right now, a safe way out looks hard to see.