The International Olympic Committee has banned Russia from competing as a nation in next year’s Winter Olympics, a severe punishment for what the IOC has termed a widespread, pervasive, coordinated doping program over the last several years. Russia’s flag won’t be permitted at the Games, and Russia’s anthem won’t be played should any of the Russian athletes — who will compete under the banner “OAR” (Olympic Athletes of Russia) — win a medal.
The removal of national regalia was a particularly harsh slap at Russia, which takes great pride in its own flag and its medal count. But tucked into the IOC’s decision was an escape route for Russia, an opportunity to recover some shreds of its national dignity.
“The IOC may partially or fully lift the suspension of the ROC from the commencement of the Closing Ceremony of the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018,” the IOC wrote in levying its punishment, “provided these decisions are fully respected and implemented by the ROC and by the invited athletes and officials.”
In other words: play ball, Russia, and you get your flag back.
There’s precedent for this; at the 2014 Olympics, India had been banned and its three athletes competed under a similar neutral banner. But the flag was restored for the Closing Ceremony.
Russia, meanwhile, continues to contest the IOC’s decision. Russia won’t block its athletes from competing in the Games, but has indicated that it does not believe the doping operations were nearly as widespread as the IOC charges.