GENEVA (AFP) - All Russian athletes left off the eligibility list for next month's Winter Games had "serious indications" of doping in their history, the head of the International Olympic Committee said on Wednesday (Jan 24).
The comments from IOC chief Thomas Bach came after three top Russian Olympians - including speed skating star Victor An - were banned from Pyeongchang 2018, despite having no publicly disclosed doping violations.
On a conference call with reporters, Bach was asked why An, along with Olympic champion biathlete Anton Shipulin and world champion skier Sergei Ustyugov, were not on a list of clean Russian athletes approved to compete in the Pyeongchang Games, which open on Feb 9.
Bach said that an IOC review panel tasked with producing the eligibility list took "many different sources into consideration", including any available DNA analysis, salt analysis and the biological passports of individual athletes, in addition to previous drug tests.
"If such an athlete is not on the list then this independent panel has serious indications", of a doping past, Bach said.
"There could be suspicion, there could be maybe even an ongoing procedure, there could be many factors which did not lead to the satisfaction of the panel," he further said.
The IOC boss conceded that excluding an athlete from the list did not mean that the review panel had definitive evidence of doping.
"Suspicion is not proof", he said, adding that the IOC experts may not have "the final evidence for an anti-doping violations.
But he stressed that the review panel's mandate was to ensure that "there was not the slightest doubt or suspicion against any of those athletes who will be invited" to Pyeongchang, South Korea.
The IOC has banned Russia from the 2018 Games after confirming evidence of a massive state-backed doping programme that peaked during the 2014 Games in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi.
Russians who want to compete in South Korea next month have to clear rigorous and extraordinary scrutiny by the IOC review panel.
Those deemed clean will be allowed to appear under a neutral flag and will be identified as an "Olympic Athlete from Russia".
Russian Olympic Committee vice president Stanislav Pozdnyakov on Tuesday blasted the IOC's decision to exclude An, Shipulin and Ustyugov.
The three have "never been implicated in any type of doping affair and the numerous tests they have passed in their careers show that they are clean athletes", Pozdnyakov had said in a statement, adding that Moscow would demand an explanation from the IOC.
Russian figure skaters Ksenia Stolbova and Ivan Bukin were also banned from the Games.
That decision prompted Russian figure skating union chief Alexei Kravtsov to brand the IOC "a tyrant".
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters Wednesday that Russia would talk to the IOC "to defend (the country's) rights", but downplayed speculation that Moscow would push its nationals to fully boycott Pyeongchang.
Bach insisted that the stringent measures put in place to keep Russian dopers away from the Games were in everyone's best interest.
The IOC is trying to give "a young and new generation of clean Russian athletes the opportunity to be at the Olympic Games and to be ambassadors for a new and clean Russian sport", he said.