Russian Olympic athletes remain banned — but for how long?

CBC Sports' daily newsletter covers the state of Russian and Belarussian athlete bans as various winter Olympic sports begin their seasons.

As winter seasons open, there's no end in sight

Controversial figure skating star Kamila Valieva is among the Russians competing in a shadow Grand Prix series while they're banned from international competition. (Natalia Kolesnikova/AFP via Getty Images)

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Figure skating, skiing and snowboarding opened their 2022-23 international seasons last week; speed skating, bobsleigh and others will soon follow suit; and pro hockey and curling have been underway for a while. It's going to be a busy next few months of global events for winter athletes around the world.

Not for everyone, though. Russian and Belarusian athletes remain banned from international competition in various winter Olympic sports as punishment for Russia's invasion of Ukraine with support from its ally Belarus. Here's a look at where things stand in some of those sports:


The International Ice Hockey Federation announced in February that it was banning Russia and Belarus from international competitions "until further notice." Both countries were kicked out of the men's world championship last May in Finland, and Russia was booted from the women's worlds in late summer in Denmark (Belarus did not qualify). The IIHF also stripped Russia of hosting rights for the upcoming men's world junior championship (now slated for Halifax and Moncton, N.B.) and the 2023 men's world championship (moved to Finland and Latvia) on the grounds of safety concerns. An appeal by Russia and Belarus was rejected in July by the IIHF Disciplinary Board, and the countries were said to be considering taking their case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

The NHL has never seriously explored banning Russians or Belarusians, arguing that players in the league represent their club, not their country. A Russian ban would remove such superstar skaters as Alex Ovechkin, Nikita Kucherov, Artemi Panarin, Kirill Kaprizov, Evgeni Malkin and goalies Igor Shesterkin and Andrei Vasilevskiy.


The World Curling Federation's decision to ban Russia and Belarus in the wake of the invasion resulted in the former's removal from six world championships last year, including the men's, women's and mixed doubles. That affected 2021 women's world championship runner-up Alina Kovaleva, whose team was also taken out of the Grand Slam of Curling's Players' Championship in April.

Last month, the WCF board voted to extend its ban on Russia and Belarus (the latter is not a big player on the world stage) through the end of the calendar year. There are currently no Russians or Belarusians involved in the 2022-23 Grand Slam of Curling season.

Figure skating

Probably no other sport is feeling the impact of a Russian ban more strongly than this one. Figure skating was still reeling from the doping scandal involving Russian women's gold-medal favourite Kamila Valieva at the Beijing Winter Olympics when her country invaded Ukraine a few days after the closing ceremony. The International Skating Union promptly banned Russian and Belarusian athletes, causing them to miss the world championships in late March and badly depleting the competition. Russians at the time held the world title in three of the four disciplines and had won exactly half of the medals at the 2021 worlds.

The ISU decided in June to extend its ban on athletes from Russia and Belarus and to not hold any international competitions in those countries "until further notice." Russia traditionally hosts one of the six regular stops on the Grand Prix circuit, so this year's (in late November) was moved to Finland instead. Meanwhile, Russia is staging its own shadow Grand Prix, which began last week in Moscow alongside the real Grand Prix opener near Boston. Valieva won the women's event.

Other sports

The ISU's indefinite ban on Russian and Belarusian athletes also applies to long and short track speed skating. Russians collected a combined two silver and two bronze medals in those sports at last winter's Olympics, where they competed under the "ROC" (Russian Olympic Committee) banner as part of their punishment from the IOC for running a state-sponsored doping scheme.

Skiing and snowboarding's world governing body, FIS, decided last week to maintain its ban on Russian and Belarusian athletes indefinitely. FIS had seemed to be considering allowing Russians and Belarusians to compete as neutral athletes, kind of like they did at the Olympics, but ultimately chose to follow the IOC's current recommendation and keep them banned outright. Nearly a third of the medals won by Russians at the 2022 Olympics came in cross-country skiing, where it led all teams with 11 medals. The ROC squad also won three Olympic medals in freestyle skiing and one in ski jumping.

Russia's third most productive sport at the 2022 Olympics (behind cross-country skiing and figure skating) was biathlon, where the ROC team collected three medals. Last month, biathlon's world governing body extended its ban on Russians and Belarusians "until further notice."

Russian and Belarusian athletes also remain banned in the sliding sports of bobsleigh, skeleton and luge. The world governing body for luge achieved this by granting itself new powers after its own arbitration court overturned the ban that first took effect last March. In bobsleigh and skeleton, the prohibition on Russia and Belarus hosting events means Sochi will not have its regular stop on the World Cup circuit this season.

What's next?

With no end to the war in sight, it's unclear when, how or even if the bans will be lifted. As long as Vladimir Putin's military is killing Ukrainian soldiers and civilians and illegally occupying territory, it will be difficult for sports' international governing bodies to reopen their doors to Russian and Belarusian athletes. Even allowing them to compete as "neutral" athletes would run the risk of boycotts or other forms of protest by rivals from other countries.

If and when the war does end, that could give the governing bodies an opening to readmit Russians and Belarusians under the pretext that such a move would help "start the healing process" (or something). But how long would it be appropriate to wait until lifting the ban? A month? A year? Longer? And, again, should Russians and Belarusians only be allowed to compete as neutrals? If so, for how long? There are no easy answers to any of these questions. But, at some point, the governing bodies will have to figure them out.

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