Olympics chief Thomas Bach defended his handling of the Russian doping scandal today as legal bids by 47 Russians to join the Pyeongchang Winter Games looked set to go down to the wire.
Bach refused to be drawn on the cases before the Court of Arbitration for Sport, which has already lifted life bans imposed on 28 Russians by the International Olympic Committee.
Fifteen of the Russians are appealing against the IOC’s decision to refuse them invitations for the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, which will start with a gala opening ceremony on Friday.
Another 32, including Korean-born speed skater Victor An, launched a similar appeal on Tuesday. The cases have been adjourned until Thursday.
After revelations of a state-sponsored doping conspiracy, the IOC suspended Russia in December but allowed a large group of “clean” Russian athletes to compete under a neutral flag.
The late wrangling to join this group has proved a distraction before Pyeongchang and echoes the confusion at Rio 2016, when the IOC stopped short of banning Russia and instead let sports federations decide whether to admit Russian athletes.
Bach, asked whether he had presided over a “fiasco”, said this week’s IOC session had overwhelmingly backed a vote of confidence in the handling of the crisis.
“This was a very clear message after all the arguments had been addressed,” said Bach, adding that the “timing (of Russia’s suspension) was not in our hands”.
“Studies had to be done . . . evidence had to be provided and fair hearings for Russian athletes had to be offered,” he said, describing the work of the IOC’s disciplinary commission.
Former world anti-doping president Dick Pound on Tuesday slammed the IOC’s response to Russia, insisting the body’s credibility had been badly affected. Along with Britain’s Adam Pengilly, he was the only delegate to abstain from the vote of confidence.
The ongoing fall-out of the Russia doping scandal, which culminated as it hosted the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, has overshadowed other aspects of Pyeongchang, including the participation of North Korea.
Bach, who was an Olympic fencer for West Germany in the 1970s, before reunification with East Germany, said it would be poignant when the two Koreas march together at the opening ceremony.
“For sure this joint march will be the most emotional moment,” he said.