IOC to offer ‘dignified’ medal ceremony

In Photo: If cleared, some athletes could be eligible to compete in South Korea, if approved by an International Olympic Committee-created panel, which is deciding which Russians to invite.

LAUSANNE, Switzerland—Athletes who cheated out of medals by Russian competitors at the 2014 Sochi Olympics will be offered a “dignified” medal ceremony at the next Winter Games in February.

“We are doing from our side everything what we can to speed up this procedure,” International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach said on Wednesday, one day after announcing punishments for Russian doping violations at Sochi.

Hours earlier, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) said it registered appeals by 22 Russians against their disqualifications from the Sochi Games for their part in the state-backed conspiracy.

Bach said any athletes upgraded in their event by the disqualification of a Russian would be invited to the Pyeongchang Olympics, which open on February 9, to “enjoy the games for a couple of days.”

“Then we are planning again, together with the IOC athletes commission, to organize dignified medal ceremonies,” the Olympic president told a news conference.

Bach, a former head of the CAS appeals division, said the IOC was ready to “bundle some of these cases” to speed the process.

The court said the Russian athletes have also requested verdicts before the Pyeongchang Games open on February 9.

If cleared, some athletes could be eligible to compete in South Korea, if approved by an IOC-created panel, which is deciding which Russians to invite.

The IOC created the panel on Tuesday after formally banning the Russian Olympic committee from sending a team to Pyeongchang. Instead, it will invite Russian athletes who were never banned for doping and have undergone stricter testing controls since April.

The 22 athletes are also challenging their life bans from the Olympics. They include Sochi gold medalists Alexander Zubkov, Alexander Legkov and Aleksander Tretiakov, whose victories are among the 11 Sochi medals, so far, stripped from Russia in an ongoing series of disciplinary cases.

Bach said other options for wronged athletes to receive their medals would be ceremonies at the Olympic Museum in Lausanne or at a major sporting event.

Alex Ovechkin, meanwhile, hopes the Russian hockey team participates in the 2018 Winter Olympics even though it would have to wear neutral uniforms.

After the IOC banned Russian athletes from playing under their flag, Ovechkin said he supports the team’s decision and is “pretty sure they’re going.” At the Washington Capitals’s morning skate on Wednesday, Ovechkin and fellow Russian Evgeny Kuznetsov say they will cheer for the Russian athletes who choose to go to South Korea.

Russian President Vladimir Putin says his government will allow Russians to compete as neutral athletes. Ovechkin recently launched a movement in support of Putin.

National Hockey League (NHL) players aren’t going to the Olympics for the first time since 1994, and a team of Russian players would be considered one of the favorites in the men’s hockey tournament. Former NHL star Ilya Kovalchuk, who’s playing in Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League (KHL), says players “definitely have to go to the Olympics.”

The KHL has not yet commented about the Olympics, though President Dmitry Chernyshenko was sanctioned for his role as part of the 2014 Sochi organizing committee. If the KHL decides to opt out of the tournament and not stop its season, it could affect several countries’ rosters.

Ovechkin was vocal about representing Russia at the Olympics even if the NHL didn’t go, though he conceded before the season that it won’t happen and hopes to play in Beijing in 2022. He has played for Russia internationally 30 times, winning three world championship gold medals and called the Olympics a “once in a lifetime” opportunity.

Image Credits: AP