Investigators at the International Olympic Committee expect to have "a number" of doping cases involving Russians at the Sochi Olympics resolved by the end of November, but they have no plans to dictate the eligibility of these athletes for next year's Winter Games in Pyeongchang.
The leader of an IOC delegation in charge of reviewing 28 cases involving athletes at Sochi wrote this week to Angela Ruggiero, the head of the IOC Athletes Commission, to update the timeline of cases stemming from a report detailing a Russian doping scheme at the 2014 Olympics and beforehand.
Denis Oswald said of the cases his committee is reviewing, priority has been given to those involving athletes looking to compete in Pyeongchang. Top priority goes to six cross-country skiers whose provisional suspensions expire Oct. 31.
Oswald also said his committee would rule on these athletes' results for Sochi, but will not determine their eligibility for Pyeongchang, instead handing over evidence to their respective sports federations to decide. The IOC made a similar decision before the Rio de Janeiro Olympics last year, which led to last-minute decisions on complex cases; ultimately, nearly 300 Russians competed.
This decision is a disappointment to the many anti-doping leaders who have called on the IOC to ban Russia from Pyeongchang.
"The IOC should not once again off-load the final decision-making on eligibility (and the pressure and risk of error) to International Federations, and at the last minute," said Joseph de Pencier, the CEO of the Institute of National Doping Organizations, 37 of which have called for the Russian ban.
A separate IOC task force is looking at the Russian doping scandal as a whole, and the results from that probe could have wider repercussions on the country's eligibility. In a separate letter sent to worldwide sports leaders, IOC President Thomas Bach said only that the task force, the Schmid Commission, is continuing its evaluation and that "I hope that the IOC Executive Board will still be able to take a decision this year because none of us want this serious issue to overshadow" the upcoming Olympics.
Both IOC commissions are operating off information from the McLaren Report, the first part of which was released in July 2016.
In explaining the timeline, Oswald wrote that because the Russian scheme involved exchanging drug-tainted urine samples with clean ones, it took time to adopt methods to verify that samples had been tampered with — in part by finding evidence of scratch marks on collection bottles that had been opened and re-sealed.
"The task has not been easy in both establishing a methodology in an area in which there are no established protocols," he wrote, "and then moving through the necessary scientific analysis of each individual sample in a way which would withstand legal challenge."
De Pencier said he appreciated the complexity of the cases and the need to get them right, but argued "it is, of course, concerning that the outcomes of the Oswald Commission cannot be available until very close to the start of the Pyeongchang Games."