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World

After Doping Scandal, Russia's Winter Olympics Fate To Be Decided

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And we are expecting a big decision today about whether Russia will be allowed to compete in the Winter Olympics in February. The International Olympic Committee is expected to punish Russia for a state-run doping program for Olympic athletes, including at the last Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia. NPR's Lucian Kim is on the line from Moscow.

Hey, Lucian.

LUCIAN KIM, BYLINE: Good morning.

GREENE: So what exactly is this meeting today? What's the background?

KIM: Well, the executive board of the International Olympic Committee, also known as the IOC, is meeting today. And they're going to review the findings of two commissions that were studying the extent of Russian doping. One of those commissions looked at individual cases of Russian athletes, and they've already disqualified 25 Russian athletes retroactively from the Sochi Games. And the second commission will look into whether it was an institutional conspiracy, this - whether, in other words, if it was a state-sponsored doping program in Russia.

GREENE: And that is the thing that makes this story different. I mean, doping is a global problem. Russia's being singled out because this might be a doping program that was run by the government.

KIM: Exactly. And - I mean, what the Russian government has been saying all along is there was never any state sponsorship of doping. Yes, there were bad apples. There were cases of doping. Those cases have been dealt with, and now let's move on. All this talk of banning Russia - that these are political decisions and that only individuals should actually be held responsible for that.

GREENE: Lucian, broadly, I mean, winter sports in Russia are so important - I mean, so central going back, I mean, decades in terms of Soviet pride. Right? I mean, so how are Russians reacting to this?

KIM: Well, as you know, David, I mean, winter (laughter) in Russia last for more than half the year.

GREENE: Yeah.

KIM: And all the winter sports are huge here - cross-country skiing, ice skating, of course hockey. And kids start at a very early age. So on the weekend, I wanted to look for some winter sports fans. And I went to a skating rink at probably Moscow's most famous park, Gorky Park. I think we can listen to some of that.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing in foreign language).

KIM: Here in Gorky Park, winter has finally arrived, and youngsters are zipping around a special kids rink. For beginners, there are special skating aids they can push around that look like penguins. One of the grown-ups on the rink is Alexei Yagudin. He's a former Olympic gold medalist in figure skating who's giving classes to the kids. At first, Yagudin doesn't want to answer my questions about the IOC decision. Then suddenly, he changes his mind.

ALEXEI YAGUDIN: (Speaking Russian).

KIM: "Unfortunately, there's been way too much politics in sports recently," he says, "and doping will always be a problem. But why is Russia always being picked on?"

That's the main feeling I get talking to parents standing at the side of the rink. One dad defiantly tells me the Olympics can't exist without Russia. And if there's a ban, the Winter Games will just become some kind of European championships. But then I speak to Yekaterina Nogerova, who has a 6-year-old daughter who's out on the ice.

YEKATERINA NOGEROVA: (Speaking Russian).

KIM: She says a negative decision by the IOC would be a catastrophe for her.

NOGEROVA: (Speaking Russian).

KIM: Nogerova says she wishes the regime, as she puts it, would be punished. She's angry there are no consequences for people in the government but only for athletes and the fans.

GREENE: Reporting there, Lucian Kim, and Lucian is still with us. Lucian, what are the options here? Is this ban or no ban? Or could Russia be punished in some other way?

KIM: Well, officials in Russia have, you know, tried not to make any big predictions. But President Vladimir Putin himself recently said he really only saw two options, either an outright ban or individual athletes competing under a neutral flag. But he's made clear that he thinks either option is a humiliation for Russia.

GREENE: NPR's Lucian Kim in Moscow.

Lucian, thanks.

KIM: Thanks, David. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.