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Russia, ROC, officially barred from Tokyo Olympics, but punishment is effectively in name only

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TOKYO — Coronavirus might be the story of these Olympics, but the years-long Russian doping scandal has remained at the forefront for a third consecutive Games.

With the opening ceremony set for later Friday, World Anti-Doping Agency officials again revisited the Court of Arbitration for Sport case against Russia that they largely won on the facts but lost on the sanction.

Yes, Russia had done everything multiple investigations and WADA’s case determined it did. Nevertheless, the CAS panel reduced the country’s sanction from four to two years in late 2020. Individual athletes not tied to the doping program can compete as neutrals.

What that means for these Games is that Russia is not here – officially, at least. Oh, there will still be 335 Russians competing.

They won’t get their flag or national anthem. But they will wear uniforms in the country’s colors, against WADA’s recommendation for neutral colors, and with the acronym ROC – short for Russian Olympic Committee, the body that fields Russia’s teams in every other Games.

Russia's Alsu Minazova trains at the Kasai Canoe Slalom Centre on July 22. The "ROC" acronym is visible on his kayak.
Russia's Alsu Minazova trains at the Kasai Canoe Slalom Centre on July 22. The "ROC" acronym is visible on his kayak.

“We at WADA remain disappointed that CAS has decreased the level of the sanctions from four years to two years and that CAS allows them to compete Russian athletes with the colors of the flag in the uniforms,” WADA President Witold Bańka said when asked about the case.

In the years since revelations of widespread doping in track and field came to light in late 2014, multiple WADA investigations revealed state-sponsored doping programs that ran from 2011 to 2015 and involved more than 1,000 athletes in at least 30 sports. It involved the subversion of anti-doping protocols in two Olympics, including swapping out dirty urine for clean samples through a hole in the wall during the Sochi Games.

WADA suspended the Russian Anti-Doping Agency for three years on the condition that the Russian agency release data from its Moscow lab. When it finally did, after the deadline, WADA found Russia had tampered with the data.

It declared RUSADA non-compliant and banned Russia from international competition for four years.

In scaling back sanctions, CAS said it “considered matters of proportionality.”

“This should not, however, be read as any validation of the conduct of RUSADA or the Russian authorities,” it said.

Russia Olympic Committee head Stanislav Pozdnyakov during an AFP interview in June 2021.
Russia Olympic Committee head Stanislav Pozdnyakov during an AFP interview in June 2021.

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Yet it has effectively left Russia with a sanction in name only.

The country competed in Pyeongchang three years ago as “Olympic Athletes from Russia” under an International Olympic Committee ban that ended after those Games were over.

Now it will compete here using the acronym for the committee in charge of Olympic sport in the country, leaving no doubt about who they represent and the limits on the power of anti-doping organizations to police rogue countries.

“If you look what we asked for, it’s clearly not what we got, especially when you talk about the uniform,” said WADA director general Olivier Niggli. “What you have now here is in line with the CAS decision, and that’s the reality.”

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: What is ROC at Olympics?: Russia barred from Tokyo Games in name only