The International Olympic Committee (IOC) made a stunning announcement on Tuesday, declaring the suspension of the Russian Olympic Committee and the banning of Russia from the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea.
The action was taken due to the findings of the Schmid Report, led by the former president of Switzerland, Samuel Schmid.
The report confirmed “the systemic manipulation of the anti-doping rules and system in Russia, through the Disappearing Positive Methodology and during the Olympic Winter Games Sochi 2014, as well as the various levels of administrative, legal and contractual responsibility, resulting from the failure to respect the respective obligations of the various entities involved.”
The IOC did create a path for clean Russian athletes to participate in PyeongChang, but they will compete under the name of “Olympic Athlete from Russia” with a uniform bearing that name and under the Olympic flag. The Olympic Anthem would be played in place of the Russian anthem in any ceremony.
The decision will have far-reaching consequence for every sport, but particularly in hockey. Given that the NHL already decided not to participate in the 2018 Olympics, the KHL looked to be the premier league from which athletes could be taken.
When it was clear an Olympic ban was a real possibility, however, the KHL began discussing the possibility of not participating either. Most players in the KHL are Russian and — as the second best hockey league in the world — an Olympic tournament without NHL players would have made Russia the clear favorites to win.
With Russia now banned, the KHL has no incentive to allow athletes from other countries to participate.
Russia could still compete in the hockey tournament as a neutral team, but it is unclear whether they will go that route.
There is real doubt in international hockey circles that Russia will consent to play as neutral. No word yet from Russian federation/KHL.— Chris Johnston (@reporterchris) December 5, 2017
For the U.S. and Canada, a KHL ban would further limit the players in which they could choose for their teams.
There are still minor leagues like the AHL, though players in the AHL with NHL contracts are also barred from participating, as well as junior leagues and the NCAA. There are also several other European hockey leagues such as those in Sweden and Switzerland.
Alex Ovechkin was an outspoken critic of the NHL’s decision not to participate in the Olympics and even went so far as to declare he would participate for his native Russia regardless, though he later backed down from that declaration.
The IOC’s ban means now that he won’t be missing out on the opportunity to represent his home country, though it is doubtful he will find any consolation from Tuesday’s stunning news.