Russia could miss out on 2020 Olympic Games due to doping ban


The proposed punishment, made public Monday, comes after Russia received serious penalties, and widespread scorn, for flagrantly circumventing rules designed to ensure fairness in sports.

Russia’s flouting of anti-doping rules is so severe that the country should be barred from global sporting events, including the Olympics, for four years, according to a recommendation sent to the world’s top anti-doping regulator.

The proposed punishment, made public Monday, comes after Russia received serious penalties, and widespread scorn, for flagrantly circumventing rules designed to ensure fairness in sports.

If the recommendation, which was sent to the regulator, the World Anti-Doping Agency, by one of its key committees, is approved by the organization’s board next month, Russian athletes and teams would be barred from next year’s Tokyo Olympics and from major events like soccer’s World Cup and the world championships for archery, wrestling and other sports.

Next month’s board vote also will serve as a crucial test of the antidoping agency’s ability to enforce its rules. The brazen nature of Russia’s latest rules violations — which include allegations of manipulating a database to delete some test results and fabricate other data — contravened the spirit as well as the letter of global anti-doping law.

Three years ago, Russia was caught running one of the most sophisticated doping programs in sports history. It was a meticulously planned — and ultimately successful — scheme in which Russian antidoping experts and members of the country’s intelligence service surreptitiously replaced urine samples tainted by performance-enhancing drugs with clean urine at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. As part of the resolution of that case, Russia agreed to provide a set of testing results to doping regulators from its Moscow laboratory. It is that database, which Russia now stands accused of manipulating to cover up continued violations, that has the country facing a yearslong sporting exile.

The new allegations, and proposed punishments, were included in a report from a committee led by British lawyer Jonathan Taylor and sent to members of the organization’s board last week. A final ruling is expected Dec. 9, when the World Anti-Doping Agency’s board meets in Paris. While the agency is expected to support the recommendation, any decision would be subject to appeal at the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Among the proposed penalties: Forcing Russian athletes to compete at a second straight Olympic Games in neutral uniforms and collect any medals they win without the raising of the nation’s flag or the playing of its anthem; barring Russian government officials and representatives from attending major events or from serving on the board of any organization that has signed the global anti-doping code; and preventing Russia from bidding on new championships and moving any the country was set to host during the four-year period.

The committee has spent several years investigating Russian compliance with global antidoping rules after the earlier scandal, which stemmed from revelations of a state-sponsored doping program that was remarkable for its scale and sophistication. The committee concluded that Russia had deliberately manipulated a database of test results to conceal failed drug tests by Russian athletes and that it had fabricated evidence in an attempt to shift blame for those changes to former Russian antidoping officials.

The proposed penalties would affect Russia most prominently at next summer’s Tokyo Olympics, but the consequences would go well beyond the Games. The recommendation calls for Russian athletes tainted by doping questions to be barred from all international competitions for four years by governing bodies that are signatories to the WADA code. That group includes FIFA, soccer’s governing body and the organizer of the World Cup, and organizations that oversee track and field, swimming, gymnastics, basketball and boxing.

Travis Tygart, chief executive of the U.S. Antidoping Agency, praised the compliance committee for recognizing the “egregious conduct of Russia toward clean athletes.”

“Now,” he added, “let’s all hope the WADA executive committee uses the same resolve to ensure clean athletes are not again sold down the river and actually supports this unfortunate but necessary outcome.”

Still, the prospect of hundreds of Russian athletes participating in Tokyo — even if they have been cleared to compete — is likely to be criticized by other athletes and national antidoping agencies. Some of them remain angry over what they see as insufficient punishment for Russia’s running a huge doping program that called into question results at several Olympics and dozens of other competitions.

Case-by-case judgments on athletes would, however, conform with the views of the International Olympic Committee’s president, Thomas Bach, who opposes anything resembling a blanket ban.

“Our principle is that the guilty ones must be punished as hard as possible and the innocent ones must be protected,” Bach said last week.

Under regulations adopted in 2018, WADA has complete authority to punish Russia, which was not the case when the scandal first emerged after the Sochi Olympics. At the time, individual sports federations were allowed to deal with Russia’s cheating on their own. The results were mixed, though, with several federations failing to act decisively and the Olympic Committee welcoming Russia back into the fold almost immediately after the 2018 Winter Games in South Korea, even though it had yet to be cleared by anti-doping regulators.

WADA finally reinstated Russia’s anti-doping agency last year but reserved the right to revoke that clearance and issue stronger punishments if Russia did not provide athletes’ testing data from the Moscow laboratory at the heart of the earlier cheating scandal. In September, investigators discovered that the data submitted appeared to have been altered, and WADA told Russia that it needed to provide a compelling justification for the changes or face grave punishment.

The severity of the recommended punishment, which will almost certainly be appealed, immediately created uncertainty for other major sporting events, including next summer’s European soccer championships. Russia has qualified for that tournament and is providing one of the host cities.

The penalties are in line with recent comments from Yuri Ganus, the head of Russia’s anti-doping agency, who has been vocal in his criticism of Russia’s handling of the doping crisis and who predicted a multiyear ban.

Ganus said that by deleting the data, Russian officials had created the “biggest crisis” yet for sports in the country. Russia remains under the shadow of the cheating program that was directed by its former anti-doping head Grigory Rodchenkov, with support from the country’s intelligence services, according to an independent investigation. Rodchenkov moved to the United States after he revealed the scheme he had created.

It is unclear how many Russian athletes could be barred from competing if the new recommendation leads to a series of eligibility reviews. But WADA said it had identified the Russians whose information was missing from the manipulated database provided to the organisation.

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