Russia has been handed a four-year ban from international sporting competition for a doping cover-up that means the country will not feature at the Tokyo Olympics next summer or the 2022 football World Cup in Qatar.
An emergency meeting of the World Anti-Doping Agency on Monday unanimously voted to exclude Russia and also prevent it from hosting or bidding to host any global tournaments. The ban was imposed by Wada’s executive committee after Russia was found to have tampered with laboratory data handed over to Wada as a condition for ending a previous three-year ban for state-sponsored doping.
While the decision was hailed by Wada as the “strongest possible” response, it was criticised by some campaigners for failing to go far enough. The Russian national anthem and flag will be absent from both Tokyo and Qatar, but under the terms of the sanction Russian athletes can still compete at international events under a ‘neutral banner’ if they are able to prove themselves to be clean.
This includes the possibility that a team which does not actually represent a nation competes at the football World Cup for the first time. Russia now has 21 days to appeal the verdict.
Announcing the sanction, the chief executive of Wada, Sir Craig Reedie, said: “For too long, Russian doping has detracted from clean sport. Russia was afforded every opportunity to get its house in order and rejoin 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. As a result, the Wada ExCo has responded in the strongest possible terms, while protecting the rights of Russian athletes that can prove that they were not involved and did not benefit from these fraudulent acts.”
(November 1, 2015) Wada accuse Russia of state-sponsored doping
An in-depth review ordered by Wada, and carried out by an independent commission, uncovers a "deeply rooted culture of cheating", and recommends Russia is banned from the 2016 Olympics
(July 1, 2016) McLaren report on Sochi Olympics
With Russian track and field athletes banned from Rio, attention turns to other sports. Richard McLaren's report alleges widespread doping by Russian athletes at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, as part of a programme covering over 1,000 athletes and 30 sports
(December 1, 2017) Russia suspended from Olympics
After Russian athletes won 19 gold medals in Rio, the IOC bans Russia from the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang – although vetted Russian athletes are allowed to compete as neutrals
(February 1, 2018) Russia reinstated by IOC
After 168 Russian athletes competed in South Korea, with only two failing drug tests (one of which was overturned by Cas), Russia is reinstated by the IOC
(September 1, 2018) Wada reinstates Rusada, takes data from Moscow lab
Two months after Russia hosts the World Cup, Wada agrees to reinstate the nation's anti-doping agency, Rusada, if it provides them with data from its Moscow laboratory. Wada gains access to the data in January 2019
(September 10, 2019) Wada announce 'inconsistencies' in doping data
Wada announces a new suspension for Rusada after uncovering evidence of possible tampering and inconsistencies in the Moscow lab's doping data. The IAAF uphold their ban, meaning athletes cannot run at the world championships under the Russian flag
(December 9, 2019) Russia handed new four-year doping ban
Under new powers introduced since the scandal first broke, Wada votes unanimously to ban Russia from international sport for four years. This includes the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo and 2022 World Cup in Qatar, although the football team is free to compete at Euro 2020. Russia has 21 days to appeal against the sentence. Reuters
Criticisms of the decision came from inside Wada itself, with the organisation’s vice-president and a vocal critic of Russian doping, Linda Helleland, saying it fell short of the ultimate sanction of a blanket ban for Russia and its athletes.
“I’m not happy with the decision we made today. But this is as far as we could go,” Helleland said. “This is the biggest sports scandal the world has ever seen. I would expect now a full admission from the Russians and for them to apologise [for] all the pain athletes and sports fans have experienced.”
Travis Tygart, the chief executive of the United States Anti-Doping Agency, who had previously said anything but a ban on participation for any Russian athletes would be inadequate, said Wada’s decision proved the system was flawed. “To allow Russia to escape a complete ban is yet another devastating blow to clean athletes, the integrity of sport and the rule of law,” Tygart said. “And, in turn, the reaction by all those who value sport should be nothing short of a revolt against this broken system to force reform.”
Russia, for its part, also denounced the verdict. “The decisions from Wada repeat themselves and often they concern athletes who had already been penalised, let alone other issues”, said the prime minister, Dmitry Medvedev. “It certainly brings us back to the theme of this anti-Russian hysteria which is turning into a chronic disease. I think that organisations responsible for this – and I mean Russian organisations – for which this is their area of expertise, they need to think of a way to carefully insert an appeal a result of this kind of decision.”
An appeal, which will be heard by the Court of Arbitration for Sport and whose verdict will be final, was at the forefront of thinking for UK Anti-Doping. “This was the only possible outcome that the Wada ExCo could take to reassure athletes and the public and continue the task of seeking justice for those cheated by Russian athletes”, said UKad’s chief executive Nicole Sapstead.
“We know however that this is not necessarily the end of the matter. If Rusada choose to appeal this decision to Cas, this must be carried out with minimal delay, especially in light of the upcoming Olympic and Paralympic Games in Tokyo.”
Evidence of widespread Russian doping was first revealed by Wada four years ago with a report claiming that at least 643 positive tests had been hidden by authorities. That resulted in the suspension of the Russian Athletics Federation (Rusaf) and 111 individual athletes being banned from the 2016 games in Rio.
Last year Wada made the controversial decision to reinstate the Russian anti-doping agency on the condition that it complied with requests to share its laboratory results. Those results were subsequently found to have been tampered with, and led to renewed calls for punishment. “Flagrant manipulation” of the Moscow lab data was “an insult to the sporting movement worldwide”, the International Olympic Committee said last month.
The specific terms of Wada’s new sanction include a provision against Russia hosting or applying to host international sporting events. St Petersburg’s role as host city in next summer’s European football championships is not included in the ban as Uefa is not considered a ‘major event organisation’. A planned bid to host the 2027 Rugby World Cup, however, would likely be scrapped. As for the football World Cup, Fifa said it was in discussions with Wada “to clarify the extent of the decision”.