Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Banned From The Party

The image to the left of the Russian players celebrating a win over Germany during the preliminary round of the 2014 Sochi Olympics will have six less players if they happen to win a game at the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics. The International Olympic Committee announced today that six players of the Russian women's hockey team have been banned for life for being involved in the state-wide doping scandal at the 2014 Olympics. It's a significant blow to any team when it loses a quarter of the team, but a few of the players who were officially banned for life are key members of the Russian team.

The six players who were banned by the IOC today includes captain, leading scorer, and four-time Olympian Yekaterina Smolentseva, Inna Dyubanok, Yekaterina Lebedeva, Yekaterina Pashkevich, Anna Shibanova, and Galina Skiba. Further to the ban of the six players, a statement on the IOC website reads, "The Russian Team is disqualified from the Women's Ice Hockey Event and the International Ice Hockey Federation is requested to modify the results of the event accordingly."

Wow. The IOC is finally showing some teeth! So it's time to ask what this all means.

First, the statement, "The six athletes are declared ineligible to be accredited in any capacity for all editions of the Games of the Olympiad and the Olympic Winter Games subsequent to the Olympic Winter Games Sochi 2014" is pretty clear in stating that the six athletes are no longer welcome at any and all future Olympiads in any capacity that requires accreditation. That includes coaching had any of these women had the aspiration to move into that role once their playing days ended, as any part of the delegation of the Russian women's hockey team, or as any part of the Russian Olympic Committee. Ouch.

Second, the "Russian Team" that was disqualified was the 2014 Sochi Olympic team, and any points or standings improvement they received under the IIHF's watch would be removed. This could have major effects on the Russian team as the IIHF qualified the Russian squad for the Olympics based on their 2016 World Ranking which is calculated from their finishes at the 2014 Winter Olympic Games and the 2013 to 2016 World Championships. Russia finished in sixth-place at the 2014 Winter Olympics so I suspect there shouldn't be too much upheaval in the world rankings, but the IIHF will have to recalculate and see what happens. As you can see to the upper-right, Russia jumped up two spots to surpass Sweden. Would there be enough movement to bump Sweden into the top pool at the Olympics and push Russia down to Group B?

We'll have to wait and see what the IIHF figures out regarding the calculation of the rankings as this could potentially change the fortunes of both the Russian and Swedish teams. According to the IIHF website, the calculations for the world rankings are made as per the following rules,
The team that wins the IIHF World Championship gold medal or the Olympic gold medal receives 1200 points. In general, there is a 20-point interval between two ranked positions (for example, 880 points for the 13th place and 860 points for the 14th place). As an exception to this principle there is a 40-point interval between gold and silver, silver and bronze, the 4th and 5th position and between the 8th and 9th position in the top division. The reason for the larger intervals for these positions is to give teams a bonus for reaching the quarter-finals, the semi-finals, the final and for winning the gold medal. (The bonus formula can be changed with any alterations to the playing format).

To enable the ranking to accurately reflect current form, the greatest importance is given to results of the last year's competition. To a lesser degree, attention is also paid to results from previous years. The system uses a four-year cycle as the points earned in one year decline linearly within the next 3 years and in the 5th year results are dropped from the calculation altogether.

Example: Value of the gold medal
Year 1: 100% value = 1200 points
Year 2: 75% value = 900 points
Year 3: 50% value = 600 points
Year 4: 25% value = 300 points
Year 5: 0% value = 0 points
Where this will get foggy in terms of the algebra and calculus that the IIHF uses is that the Russians lost in the quarterfinals in Sochi whereas the Swedes lost in the semifinals. However, as the rules state above, there's a bonus for making the various levels of the medal round that the Russians will now forfeit entirely by being disqualified from the tournament. Will it be a 55-point swing? We'll find out soon as the IIHF makes its adjustments based on the findings of the IOC today. What will matter is that if the changes result in the Russians losing more than 55 points in the world rankings, Sweden would join Canada, the US, and Finland in Group A while Russia - er, the Olympic Athletes from Russia - would drop to Group B and have to finish in the top-two of that pool to advance to the medal round. Ouch.

In any event, doping is not only affecting the six cheaters listed above, but it could affect the entire Russian women's hockey program if they lose standing in the world rankings and get bumped down to Group B. That's a harsh reality for these women to face, but it's what they deserve after Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov told The New York Times in 2016 that "[t]he entire women's hockey team was doping throughout the Games."

Cheaters never win, folks. Don't be a dope by doping at the Olympics.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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