The IOC’s decision to ban leading Russian athletes from the upcoming Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang has been good news for many of their rivals whose chances of winning medals have notably improved, an Italian journalist has said.

In an interview with Sputnik, Lorenzo Vendemiale, a sports-affairs reporter with the Rome-based daily newspaper Il Fatto Quotidiano, said that after the publication of the McLaren Report and of documents made public as part of the long-running probe into alleged state-sponsored doping in Russia, it was no longer possible to pretend that nothing has happened.

“An outsider will find it hard to see if this whole story stems from some illegal and inadmissible actions by the Russian team, or it is mostly a lot of hot air aimed at hurting Russia,” he said.

Speaking about the Italian media’s response to the scandal, Vendemiale said that the national media remains divided into those who welcome the Russians’ ban and those who believe their guilt has been blown out of proportion in a bid to exclude the Russian squad from the Olympics.

When asked if the ban was meant to prevent Team Russia from coming to the Games and leave it without medals in events that it was most likely to excel in, Lorenzo Vendemiale said that the list of events barring Russian athletes includes skiing, the biathlon and,  particularly, ice hockey where Russia has traditionally taken top honors.

“Without 111 athletes, Russia will certainly have less chances of winning medals. I still believe, however, that the very idea that ‘clean’ Russian athletes are allowed to participate in the Games means that sportsmen and sports still matter,” he noted.

Lorenzo Vendemiale added that Canada, Germany, Norway and the Netherlands would be the first to benefit from the Russian ban.

“It’s no secret that the elimination of [Sergei] Ustyugov, the main rival of Italy’s hopeful Federico Pellegrino, is good news for the Italian team. With Ustyugov out Pellegrino is very likely to come out on top in the classic sprint event. Our biathletes are far from their top form, but without Russia’s [Anton] Shipulin in the race, they will have better chances of winning medals,” he concluded.

On Thursday, 28 Russian athletes had their Olympic doping bans overturned by the Court of Arbitration for Sport, which also reinstated nine Olympic medals effectively allowing Russia to reclaim its first place in the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.

The 28 athletes who had their bans lifted could now seek late entry into the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, scheduled to run from February 9 through 25.

Meanwhile, the first group of Russian athletes has already arrived in South Korea.

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