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What does the doping ban mean for Russia?

Why has the World Anti-Doping Agency barred the country from global sporting competitions?

December 15, 2019 12:02 am | Updated 11:49 am IST

The story so far: On December 9, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) announced a decision to ban Russia from global sporting competitions for a period of four years. The 12-member WADA executive committee voted unanimously to declare the Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA) “non-compliant” with global anti-doping rules. The move was a ratification of the findings by the independent Compliance Review Committee (CRC) which had recommended that Russia be banned. The anti-doping watchdog’s decision is expected to affect Russia the most at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games and the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics where the nation’s flag, name and anthem will not be allowed.

What triggered the ban?

It dates back to the lead up to the 2016 Rio Olympic Games when an independent commission set up by WADA found a “deeply rooted culture of cheating” in Russian athletics. Barely weeks before the Games, whistle-blower reports alleged that Russia ran one of the most sophisticated doping programmes in the world in which the Russian sports ministry, the intelligence service and the country’s anti-doping experts colluded to hide large-scale violations. The 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi — in which Russia topped the medals tally — was under the scanner, where it was alleged that dope-tainted urine samples were replaced with clean ones. It led to a series of sanctions; the IAAF (now called World Athletics), the world athletics’ governing body, suspended Russia’s athletics federation (a ban that continues till date) before the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and WADA followed suit by de-recognising the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) and RUSADA respectively. Last September, as part of the resolution of the case, WADA threw a lifeline by asking Russia to turn over raw data stored in its Moscow laboratory in order to corroborate the findings in the whistle-blower reports. Russia reluctantly agreed, only for WADA to now rule that Russia had tampered with this evidence too, leading to the latest reprimand.

How far does the ban go?

Apart from the Olympics, the ban can extend to the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar, provided Russia qualifies. Sports and government officials from Russia will not be able to attend competitions, and Russia cannot host international events during the four-year period. It does not however apply to Euro 2020 which is considered a continental (and not global) football competition and Russia will remain a co-host. WADA’s very own Athlete Committee, though, is dissatisfied and has termed the sanctions piecemeal. Even as Russia, the nation, stands barred, individual Russian athletes deemed untainted can still participate as neutrals, like they had at Rio and the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Games (South Korea). In the latter, Russia’s men’s hockey team played as the “Olympic Athletes from Russia” and even won the gold medal. The only meaningful action, according to the Athlete Committee, is a complete ban on Russian participation. The legendary Edwin Moses, the current chairman of the United States Anti-Doping Agency and a two-time Olympic gold medallist, said anti-doping leaders and the IOC have prioritised Russian sentiments over those of clean athletes from elsewhere. Moses told The New York Times recently: “The Russians are asserting their athletes that may be clean deserve the opportunity to compete. They destroyed all the evidence that could have exonerated them.”

What is the International Olympic Committee’s stand?

The IOC, under its president Thomas Bach, has always opposed a blanket ban. He has maintained that he favours “individual justice over collective punishment”. An athlete whose views have played a significant role in shaping the IOC’s thinking is Penelope (Penny) Heyns, a South African gold-medallist in the 100-and 200m breaststroke events at the 1996 Olympics. In an interview to The New York Times , she said it would be wrong to penalise an entire generation of Russian athletes for the misdeeds of their predecessors. “They were 10 or 11 when all of this was going down; they are not part of the system,” Heyns said, referring to a swimming event where young Russian swimmers participated. “It’s our duty to ensure all clean athletes have the right to compete, including those from Russia who can honestly prove their innocence.” However, unlike during the Rio Olympics, where the IOC Executive Board had left the decision to allow Russian teams to individual sports federations, the orders this time are expected to come from the very top. Immediately after the CRC made its recommendations public, the IOC said that it will support “the toughest sanctions against all those responsible” and urged WADA “to take further action given the seriousness of the manipulation”. Post ratification, the stance has remained unchanged. Seen along with WADA’s standard code on compliance, the governing bodies of different sports are likely to enforce the strictures in a similar manner.

What next for Russia?

Russia has three weeks (from the date of the order) to appeal at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) and the signs are that it will. While Russian President Vladimir Putin said, “we have all the reasons to file an appeal,” ROC’s president, Stanislav Pozdnyakov, dismissed the ruling as “inadequate, illogical and excessive”. According to Michael McCann, Sports Illustrated’s legal analyst, CAS would consider the appeal under “de novo review”. This is a form of appeal in which the court holds a trial as if no prior trial had been held, thus providing a window to produce new evidence and arguments. A line of defence already advanced by Russia is to discredit the whistle-blower, Grigory Rodchenkov, the former head of the Moscow lab who is now under the protection of the US Federal Witness Protection Program. Generally, an arbitration is expected to take six to 12 months, which means that regardless of whether an appeal is filed, Russia will not be present at the Winter Youth Olympic Games that starts in Lausanne, Switzerland from January 9, 2020.


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