Some of the current top Russian athletes seem unlikely to have been involved in the doping scheme at the 2014 Winter Games in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, Russia.
Evgenia Medvedeva, a teenager who is heavily favored to win the women’s figure skating competition at the 2018 Games if she recovers from a foot injury, was only 14 at the time of the Sochi Games and did not participate in them.
“I don’t want younger athletes that have nothing to do with this to be penalized,” Bruno Marcotte, a prominent Canadian figure skating coach, said in a recent interview. “But I want the truth to be exposed.”
Still, by permitting compliant athletes to wear Olympic uniforms identifying them as Russians at the 2018 Games, the I.O.C. went to great lengths in an attempt to avoid any call for a boycott, which presumably would come from Russian President Vladimir V. Putin.
A spokesman for Putin, Dmitry Peskov, told reporters before Tuesday’s decision that a boycott was not being considered, despite some news media reports floating the possibility. Leonid Tygachev, the honorary president of the Russian Olympic Committee, urged the country to permit its athletes to compete at the 2018 Winter Games, telling Russian state television on Tuesday that, for athletes who did not compete in Sochi, “let them compete clean and show that we’re from Russia and we’re not pariahs.”
Alexander Zhukov, the president of Russia’s Olympic Committee, speaking to reporters in Lausanne, Switzerland, after the decision, said Russia would discuss its participation but that the I.O.C.’s willingness to identify athletes as Russians and not neutrals was “very important.”
How these athletes react, and how to determine which of them would go, will ultimately help determine just how sweeping the I.O.C. move really is.
Medvedeva, the figure skater who also traveled to Lausanne to help plead Russia’s case, declined to say whether she would compete at the Games under conditions prescribed by the I.O.C.
“It will be discussed more and it’s very early to ask questions like that,” she told reporters.
The I.O.C. said a specialized panel will screen Russian athletes seeking to compete in South Korea. The criteria include not having any previous doping violations, agreeing to undergo pre-Games testing and complying with any other testing the panel imposes.
Yet even with this panel, the I.O.C. will face an uncomfortable truth: It is almost impossible to know whether an athlete is truly “clean” of using banned substances.
Given the sophistication of drug use, with micro-dosing techniques that go undetected, those athletes who are doping often remain one step ahead of experts policing them.
It will mean almost nothing that a particular athlete from Russia — or any other country — has passed a series of drug screenings, as we have learned in past scandals, including those involving the cyclist Lance Armstrong and the sprinter Marion Jones.
These days, the I.O.C. has often been reduced to embarrassing retrospection, taking medals away from athletes and rewarding them to others years after a particular Olympics ends, when urine samples are retested for prohibited substances by more sophisticated technology (there will be a ceremony in South Korea to award such medals).
Revelations about the state-sponsored East German system of the 1970s and 1980s did not deter widespread use of banned substances. Neither did a gold medal stripped from Ben Johnson, the Canadian sprinter who tested positive for steroids after winning the 100 meters at the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea. Nor did the discrediting of Jones, who won five medals at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.
The I.O.C. has been widely criticized for indifference toward doping through the years. And few experts expect the Russian scandal to be much of a deterrent, either.
“It’s difficult to assume that one major punishment will stop this age-old practice from continuing,” said Scott Minto, the director of the sports master’s in business program at San Diego State University.