The International Olympic Committee announced today that Russia will be banned from the upcoming winter Olympics in Pyeong Chang, South Korea as a result of the doping scandal surrounding the country. Individual athletes who have a proven record of being clean, however, will have the opportunity to compete as an “Olympic Athlete from Russia (OAR).”
These clean athletes would essentially be competing for Team Olympics as the Olympic flag and anthem would be used during all ceremonies. It’s also worth noting that if enough clean athletes could be found, an OAR team could compete in the team competitions such as hockey.
This could have a huge impact on the hockey tournament because Russia would have entered the Olympics as the favorites, but it doesn’t just stop there. With the NHL already preventing its players from going to the games, a large portion of Russian players (and those from team Canada and USA) are current players for KHL teams. Canada’s roster, for instance, could have as many as 15 players from the KHL and the USA could have as many as seven.
As it stands now, the KHL has a break scheduled from January 29 to February 26 in order to allow its players to leave for the Olympics. The league, however, has threatened on several occasions to rearrange their schedule and prevent players from playing in the games if Russia wouldn’t be participating. Now there’s a very real chance that might happen as there’s speculation that Russian athletes won’t compete even under a neutral flag. There’s even a bill in the Russian parliament that would prevent KHL players from leaving.
On top of that, Svetlana Zhurova, a former Olympian and current member of Russia’s parliament, has made it clear she doesn’t think Russians will compete if they can’t do so under the Russian flag. It was reported earlier this month that she said “if the International Olympic Committee (I.O.C.) decides to ban the playing of Russia’s anthem at the 2018 Olympic Games in PyeongChang or the participation of our athletes in the opening ceremony, our country is unlikely to go to the Olympics.”
If the KHL does prevent its players from traveling to the games in Pyeong Chang, it would mean the world’s top two leagues won’t be sending their players. In other words, the players that most casual fans know won’t be making their way to the Olympics. This could drastically decrease the interest in the hockey tournament.
Of course, all of this comes down to whether or not Russia decides to completely boycott the games. The Kremlin had announced before the decision came down that they hadn’t considered boycotting the games and wouldn’t do so unless the IOC decided to ban the country. It was relatively late in Russia when the announcement came down, so there hasn’t been an updated official response but one will likely come within the next few days.