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Russian athletes will not appear under their national flag at the next two Olympic Games, and the nation’s soccer team will be ineligible for the 2022 World Cup, after a court halved but upheld a sweeping ban on Russian participation in international sport.
The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) sought to bar Russia from all world championships, in all sports, for a years-long state-sponsored doping scheme. Dozens of Russian athletes used performance-enhancing drugs and, with extensive government help, dodged punishment.
WADA had originally recommended a four-year ban. The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) on Thursday slashed the length to two years. Some critics saw it as a “watered-down outcome.” Travis Tygart, CEO of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, called the decision “devastating.”
But others see it as a victory for WADA and clean sport advocates, who worried that a forceful Russian legal challenge could get the ban wiped away entirely.
A CAS panel “unanimously determined the [Russian Anti-Doping Agency] to be non-compliant with the World Anti-Doping Code,” the court said in outlining its decision.
Can Russian athletes still compete?
The suspension will last two years from the day of the decision, through Dec. 16, 2022. It therefore applies to the rescheduled 2021 Summer Olympics and Paralympics, the 2022 Winter Olympics and Paralympics, and the 2022 men’s World Cup, which begins Nov. 21, 2022.
The ruling also applies to many other sport-specific world championships, such as those in track-and-field and swimming.
It does not, however, bar Russian athletes from competition altogether. Many will still be allowed to participate under a neutral flag. They’ll even be allowed to have the word “Russia” on uniforms. CAS wrote:
The panel’s orders include ... the possibility during the two-year period for any athlete or athlete support personnel from Russia to participate in or attend the Olympic and Paralympic Games (winter or summer) and any world championships organized or sanctioned by a WADA signatory, on the condition that they are not subject to a suspension imposed by a competent authority, that the uniform worn does not contain the flag of the Russian Federation and contains the words “neutral athlete”, and that the Russian national anthem is not played or sung at any official event venue.
The conditions for Russian athlete participation outlined by CAS are slightly more lenient than those previously proposed by WADA, and significantly more lenient than clean athletes and others had hoped for.
Russian athletes whose doping test data was manipulated by the Russian government, for example, will be able to compete, provided they aren’t convicted cheaters. The CAS ruling shifts the burden of proof from athletes – who could have had to prove they are in fact clean – back to the anti-doping authorities – who will have to prove that athletes aren’t clean.
CAS wrote that Russian athletes “may only participate in or attend” Olympics and world championships on the following conditions:
“The [athlete] shall not be subject to suspension, restriction, condition or exclusion imposed by a competent authority in any past or future proceedings which remains in force at the time of the specified event.
“[The athlete] shall participate in a uniform to be approved by the relevant [sport governing body] which shall not contain the flag of the Russian Federation (current or historical), or any national emblem or other national symbol of the Russian Federation. If the uniform contains or displays the name “Russia” (in any language or format), the words “neutral athlete” (or an equivalent) must be displayed in English in a position and size that is no less prominent than the name “Russia”. For the avoidance of doubt, the uniform may contain the colors of the flag of the Russian Federation (current or historical) (collectively or in combination).
“[The athlete] shall not display publicly the flag of the Russian Federation (current or historical), the name “Russia” (in any language or format), or any national emblem or other national symbol of the Russian Federation, including without limitation, on their clothes, equipment or other personal items or in a publicly visible manner at any official venues or other areas controlled by the [organizers].
“The Russian national anthem (or any anthem linked to Russia) shall not be officially played or sung at any official event venue or other area controlled by the Signatory or its appointed event organizer (including, without limitation, at medal ceremonies and opening/closing ceremonies).”
Can Russian teams still compete?
It’s unclear whether a group of Russian soccer players or hockey players, for example, could compete as an “unaffiliated” team at the World Cup or Olympics.
Russia’s hockey federation said Thursday that both its men’s and women’s teams “will compete” at world championships and the Olympics in 2021 and 2022. “The players’ jerseys can be designed in the colors of the flag and the word ‘Russia’ can be on the jerseys,” it said.
The ruling, therefore, seems to mostly apply to dignitaries. It bars all Russian government officials from being named to international sports boards and committees – though it doesn’t mention the Russia Olympic Committee.
And it prevents Russia from hosting or bidding for a sanctioned international competition. But the shortening of the ban, from four years to two, will allow St. Petersburg to host the 2023 men’s hockey world championships.
The court’s decision likely closes the book on a Russian doping saga that clouded at least three Olympics, including the Games that Russia hosted in Sochi in 2014. It was exposed by Grigory Rodchenkov, who oversaw the Moscow doping lab chiefly responsible for engineering the scheme. Rodchenkov became the chief whistleblower, fled the country, and is now in hiding in the United States.
Rodchenkov, in the end, paid a much steeper price for outing the scheme than many Russian athletes will for participating in it.
“For years, athletes have pleaded with WADA for reform and to hold Russia accountable for carrying out the most egregious doping fraud in the history of sport,” Tygart, the USADA CEO, said in a statement. “Throughout the investigation and now with this weak outcome, it’s clear that WADA – even with new leadership and promises of change – has told athletes that it did not hear them and that they don’t matter. Russia has claimed victory today and, for them and their ability to corrupt global sport, deceive the world, and cheat the global anti-doping system, they are right.”
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