The World Anti-Doping Agency has banned Russia from international competitions, including the Olympics and World Cup, for four years over its failure to comply with an investigation into its doping violations.
Russian athletes will still be able to compete on a case-by-case basis, provided they are able to prove they were not involved with Russia’s far-reaching doping conspiracy.
WADA’s Executive Committee unanimously agreed to harsh recommendations advocated by a compliance review committee because Russia’s own anti-doping agency (RUSADA) failed to cooperate during investigations into the nation’s doping violations.
Russia’s long history of doping violations
Doping in Russia has been a systematic, highly organized, state-sponsored practice. Russia has had 43 Olympic medals stripped for doping violations, the most of any nation and almost a third of all medals stripped in Olympic history.
Major investigations into Russia’s doping included a comprehensive 2015 WADA report that alleged widespread corruption within both the country’s anti-doping agency and high levels of government. Another report alleged that more than a thousand Russian athletes were involved in state-sponsored doping programs.
The doping program was both sophisticated and absurd. During the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, for instance, Russian labs swapped dirty samples for clean urine via a hole in a laboratory wall. Further reports charged that Russia failed to comply with multiple investigations by failing to make athletes available and intimidating investigators, among other actions.
In late 2017, Russia was suspended as a nation from the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang. Russian athletes could participate, but they were not permitted to compete under the Russian flag, nor was the Russian anthem played for medalists.
Violations continued even after 2018 suspension
Russia’s failure to comply with an ongoing WADA investigation, even after being granted conditional reinstatement, triggered the four-year ban. According to WADA officials, a comprehensive investigation into Russia’s doping background was necessary to both permit the country to move forward in international competition and clear the names of Russian athletes who had no connection to the doping program.
However, according to WADA officials, Russia’s lab data was both incomplete and, in some cases, altered. “Some data were removed, others altered and, in some cases, system messages were fabricated in an effort to hamper the work of WADA investigators,” WADA said in its statement announcing the ban. “In addition, measures were taken to conceal these manipulations by back-dating of computer systems and data files in an attempt to make it appear that the Moscow data had been in their current state since 2015.”
That was deemed severe enough to trigger the four-year ban. The four-year clock will begin ticking at the completion of all appeals.
As part of the ban:
Russian athletes can compete in international competition only if they can prove they were not involved in the ongoing doping conspiracy (i.e. no positive tests at any time, no manipulation of data related to their testing).
Russian officials may not sit on any international athletic boards, Russia may not host any international athletic competitions, and Russia may not bid for any future competitions that open up in the four-year period. Russia cannot bid for the 2032 Olympics, regardless of when that bidding opens.
The Russian flag will not be flown at any international competitions.
“For too long, Russian doping has detracted from clean sport,” WADA president Sir Craig Reedie said in a statement. “The blatant breach by the Russian authorities of RUSADA’s reinstatement conditions, approved by the (executive committee) in September 2018, demanded a robust response. That is exactly what has been delivered today. Russia was afforded every opportunity to get its house in order and re-join the global anti-doping community for the good of its athletes and of the integrity of sport, but it chose instead to continue in its stance of deception and denial.”
Russia’s absence from the world stage will have a ripple effect on the entire Olympics. Post-Soviet Russia has been one of the most successful nations in Olympic history, averaging more than 45 medals per Games. (The United States averages more than 56.) The nation’s FIFA World Cup record is not as distinguished; Russia’s best post-Soviet performance came last year when the nation, which hosted the World Cup, reached the quarterfinals.
Russia now has 21 days to decide whether to appeal the ruling to the international Court of Arbitration for Sport. If Russia consents to the ruling, or if it is upheld on appeal, Russia will be unable to participate in next year’s Olympic Games in Tokyo, the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, or the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar.
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