Sochi loses right to host 2017 Worlds

By BBC

The Russian city of Sochi will not host the 2017 bobsleigh and skeleton World Championships.

The International Bobsleigh and Skeleton Federation (IBSF) said it would not be “prudent” to hold the championships in Russia, a country accused of state-sponsored doping.

A report on 9 December claimed more than 1,000 Russians benefited from a doping cover-up between 2011 and 2015.

A new host city will be named for the February event in the forthcoming days.

According to Russia’s RIA news agency, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the decision to strip Sochi of the championships was “politicised and without grounds”.

The executive committee of the IBSF said it had made the decision because it wanted to focus on sport rather than accusations.

It is understood a number of German venues have offered to host the event, along with the Swiss town of St Moritz.

Decision follows boycott threats

On Monday, Latvia became the first nation to say they would boycott the World Championships, citing that “the Olympic spirit was stolen in 2014”.

High-profile American bobsledder Lolo Jones had also urged the IBSF to move its flagship event, saying she wanted to compete in a competition that was “drug free and safe”, adding Sochi was “not an option”.

In November, British Olympic skeleton champion Lizzy Yarnold had said she may boycott the championships because of concerns over doping.

Following Tuesday’s decision, Yarnold tweeted: “So glad our voices are being heard and our sport is joining the fight against doping in sport #CleanSport.”

In July, an investigation commissioned by the World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada) said Russia’s sports ministry “directed, controlled and oversaw” manipulation of urine samples provided by its athletes.

A second Wada report from Canadian law professor and sports lawyer Dr Richard McLaren said the London 2012 Olympics was “corrupted on an unprecedented scale”.

According to McLaren’s report, salt and coffee were used to manipulate Russian samples and the system was refined over the course of the London 2012 Olympics, 2013 Worlds in Moscow and the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi to protect likely Russian medal winners.

Russia won 72 medals at the London Games, 21 of which were gold, and 33 medals at Sochi, 13 of which were gold.

Athletes had safety concerns

One senior figure inside the sport told the BBC that teams had worried about the safety of officials and athletes, and about the impact of competing in a country that was not compliant with Wada regulations.

“On a practical level, many teams were worried about the evidence that Russian laboratories had been opening tamper-proof bottles,” said the figure, who did not want to be named.

“If they have opened these bottles to help their athletes, what is to stop them also opening them to tamper with samples from any athlete in the competition?”

The BBC has been told that a number of members of the British team had already said they were unwilling to take part in the Sochi Games, while team sponsors were also reluctant to have their name associated with the event.

What the IBSF said – the full statement

The IBSF executive committee felt that during this difficult time it is prudent not to organise such an event in Russia. This decision was made for two primary reasons:

  • To allow athletes and coaches from all nations to participate in a competition that focuses on sport rather than accusations and discussions – whether justified or not.
  • The Russian Bobsleigh Federation has put a great effort in the preparation of the World Championships, but the current climate would make it nearly impossible to appreciate the efforts of the organising committee to host a great event or the quality of the Sanki Sliding Center as one of the best tracks in the world.

“Having stated that, the IBSF asks all members and athletes for fair play and respect, which also includes the assumption of innocence for any athlete, regardless of national affiliation, until proven guilty.”

What Russia have said

Vitaly Smirnov, head of Russia’s anti-doping commission, told the R-Sport news agency that other sports could now choose to move competitions away from the country.

“It’s probably a consequence of the McLaren report. In principle there could be decisions on a whole range of sports,” Smirnov reportedly said.

Russia is scheduled to host the Fifa World Cup in 2018.

In response to McLaren’s second report, Russia’s sports ministry had said it would examine the findings but insisted on “the absence of a state programme of support for doping sport”.

Russian MP Dmitry Svishchev, who is also the head of Russia’s Curling Federation, was quoted by RIA news agency describing the second report as “empty allegations against all of us”.

The British Bobsleigh and Skeleton Association welcomes the decision

“We believe the decision is in the best interests of clean sport and we are pleased that the IBSF have acted quickly following the publication of the second McLaren report on Friday,” its statement read.

“We look forward to learning more about the new location for the World Championships and to seeing our athletes represent the nation with pride at the showpiece event of our season.”

Britain’s bobsleigh performance director Gary Anderson said it was a “great relief” for winter sport athletes around the world.

“It was becoming a distraction to athletes and coaches and this removes the confusion,” Anderson told BBC Sport. “They (IBSF) were under huge pressure, but we’re pleased they acted swiftly.”

  

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