Russia banned from 2018 Winter Olympic Games in South Korea over doping scandal, IOC announces

The Russian Olympic Committee was suspended on Tuesday from the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, over the 2014 Sochi Olympics doping scandal. Russia’s Minister of Sports Vitaly Mutko and his then-Deputy Minister Yuri Nagornykh were banned from all future participation at Olympic Games.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) said Russian athletes will be able to compete in the Olympics as neutrals. 

The IOC, which also suspended the Russian Olympic committee and IOC member Alexander Zhukov, said some competitors will be invited to participate as an "Olympic Athlete from Russia (OAR)" without their national flag or anthem. 

Russia could refuse the offer and boycott the games. 

"An Olympic boycott has never achieved anything," IOC President Thomas Bach said at a news conference. "Secondly, I don't see any reason for a boycott by the Russian athletes because we allow the clean athletes there to participate."

Mutko, who was sports minister at the time of the 2014 Sochi Olympics, remained at the head of the 2018 World Cup organizing committee.

Samuel Schmid, chairman of the IOC's disciplinary commission, said the doping program "was under the authority of the Russian sports ministry. That is why the then sports minister has responsibility for the failure of this system."

Mutko appeared at the Kremlin last week alongside FIFA President Gianni Infantino. There was no immediate comment from FIFA on Mukto's continuing role as head of the Russian soccer federation and the World Cup organizing committee.

PUTIN WELCOMES SOCCER WORLD TO KREMLIN FOR WORLD CUP DRAW

Russian President Vladimir Putin has previously said it would be humiliating for Russia to compete without national symbols.  The IOC also imposed a fine of $15 million on the Russia Olympic committee. 

Russia has repeatedly refused to accept that a state-sponsored doping program existed. Such denials helped ensure bans on its track federation and anti-doping have not been lifted.

Instead, Russia blamed Grigory Rodchenkov, the former director of Moscow and Sochi testing laboratories, as a rogue employee. It wants the scientist extradited from the United States, where he is a protected witness.

Rodchenkov told The New York Times he was ordered by Russian Sports Ministry officials to cover up drug use by leading Russian athletes at the Sochi Olympics and other major sports events.

Rodchenkov detailed the way measures taken by Russian officials to cover up the drug abuse. Following his testimony, the World Anti-Doping Agency and International Olympic Committee investigated.

The former director fled to the U.S. in January 2016 where he remained in the witness protection program. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.