Contrition and acceptance are in short supply in the office of Russian President Vladimir Putin at this usually high-spirited time of year.
As large parts of the world prepare to celebrate Christmas Day tomorrow, Putin gave his annual major news conference and used it to deride the findings of Richard McLaren’s report into allegations of state-sponsored doping in the country he controls.
Of course, Russia mark Christmas in January rather than December, but the festive cheer has seemingly not found its way to the Kremlin.
“Russia never had such a system, this is simply impossible and we will be doing everything possible to prevent,” Putin said during his annual news conference yesterday.
“There must never be such thing as state system for doping support.”
While his view was a repetition of the opinion expressed by several officials in the wake of the doping scandal in the nation, which has tainted a year in which a number of incredible sporting achievements have regularly been overshadowed by the drugs cloud hanging over the Olympic Movement, the fact that it came from the man himself represented arguably the most important example of Russian denial.
After all, everyone always wants to hear what he has to say. His words echo not just across the vast span of Russia, but also across the world.
If Putin simply cannot accept the evidence uncovered in the McLaren Report, which contained a number of alarming statistics, how can the rest of the country begin to do so? If he is setting that example, surely others will follow?
His power and influence over the entire nation is well-documented, but it has often entered into the world of sport. International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) President René Fasel perhaps offered the clearest proof of this when he confirmed the Under-18 World Championship in 2018 will remain in Chelyabinsk.
While other International Federations (IFs) are beginning to slowly enhance Russia’s status as a sporting pariah by taking events away from the country, Fasel was unequivocal in his stance. The event was going nowhere.
“They will go to Chelyabinsk with the U18,” Fasel, a former member of the IOC Executive Board and one of Russia’s closest allies, told news agency TASS last week.
“Sport is here to bring people together and not to divide them.
"So I will do everything possible to use sport to bring people together."
Currently, one of the main things bringing people together in sport is the condemnation of a state-sponsored doping programme in Russia, described as “a cover-up that evolved over the years from uncontrolled chaos to an institutionalised and disciplined medal-winning strategy and conspiracy” by McLaren and which cheated numerous athletes out of Olympic medals and international glory.
Even IOC President Thomas Bach, who has faced a stream of criticism from those who believe he did not take the toughest possible stance on Russia – banning the entire team from the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro – due to his supposedly close relationship with Putin, has begun to lose patience with Russia. Recent quotes from the German suggest he has had enough.
“If, for instance, you would have an athlete being part of such a manipulation and benefiting in the Olympic Games, my consequences would not differ from the ones we took under my chair in the Disciplinary Commission concerning the Austrian athletes in the time of Turin," he said at the Executive Board meeting earlier this month.
"If an athlete or an official would be part of such a system, I would not like to see the person again at any Olympic Games in whatever function."
As Bach’s view has gradually turned towards Russia, and therefore in direct conflict with a man who was the first to congratulate him on his election as IOC President back in 2013, the IFs are finally starting to punish them for their blatant wrongdoing by stripping the country of major events, denting Russia’s pride as well as their pockets.
The International Bobsleigh and Skeleton Federation (IBSF) decision to remove their World Championships, scheduled for February, from Sochi has proved to be the catalyst for other winter IFs to follow suit. Since their announcement on December 13, governing bodies in biathlon, skating and skiing have all opted to seek alternative hosts for some of their major competitions.
In the case of biathlon and skiing, it appears Russia has tried to cut its nose of to save its face in “handing back” the hosting rights of events such as the 2017 World Junior Championships and a World Cup event in the former and the World Cup Finals in the latter to the International Biathlon Union and International Ski Federation (FIS) respectively.
According to the FIS, “the Russian Cross-Country Ski Association has communicated to FIS their determination to build its credibility in the cross-country skiing community and commitment to clean sport” by voluntarily relieving themselves of the events. The wording of the IBU’s communication following an emergency Executive Board meeting yesterday was slightly different but the message remains the same.
What is evident is that Russian federations are, unlike their President, realising they must show at least a little remorse for the actions of some of their athletes, the “magicians” in the anti-doping laboratories and their own Sports Ministry if they are to be eventually welcomed back into the international sporting arena.
On the surface at least, it appears a step, however small, in the right direction. For in the current climate, Russia simply does not deserve the prestige of staging sports events.
But they are once again doing this for selfish reasons. They are not doing it to respect the athletes who have been wronged by the state-sponsored system, in operation at a host of major events from 2011 to 2015. They are not doing it to prove they are clean. They are doing it so they can compete at Pyeongchang 2018.
A blanket ban from the next edition of the Winter Olympics may not hurt as much as a complete suspension from the summer equivalent, but it would still deal a significant blow to Putin and to Russia as a whole. The country is, therefore, doing everything in its power to ensure this does not happen.
It would also be greeted with applause from a large amount of athletes from across the globe, many of whom have sparked the IFs into taking the correct course of action as were it not for the boycott threats from the likes of Britain’s Olympic skeleton champion Lizzy Yarnold, Latvian Martins Dukurs and the entire Czech biathlon team, the IFs would perhaps still be comfortable with Russia staging their prized competitions.
Those who have been the main victims of the Russian manipulation have formed a united front and informed their respective IFs of their viewpoints in no uncertain terms. Take it away from Russia or we will not go.
It is this stance that we should remember going into 2017, rather than the dismissive and defiant words of the Russian President.