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Russia could be banned from next two Olympics over doping if WADA follows recommendation

A Russian flag is held above the Olympic rings at Adler Arena Skating Center during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. (David J. Phillip/AP)

The World Anti-Doping Agency executive committee will vote next month on a recommendation that could ban Russia from international competition for the next four years, a span that would include the next two Olympics.

The punishment, recommended by WADA’s Compliance Review Committee, would be the most severe in the wake of revelations of a years-long state-sponsored doping scheme that rocked the international sports world and kept Russia from official participation at the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea. If WADA’s executive committee approves the recommendations, Russia will have no formal presence as a nation or an Olympic committee at next summer’s Tokyo Olympics or the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing. Russian athletes would be permitted to compete as unaffiliated athletes.

The recommendations, which follow an investigation into alleged tampering with data from a Moscow laboratory, would have huge implications on major sporting events around the globe, barring Russian teams not just from the Olympics but also from international soccer competitions, such as the 2022 World Cup, as well as world championships that operate in accordance with the World Anti-Doping Code. The months-long process began with a report from the organization’s Intelligence and Investigations Department and was then reviewed by the Compliance Review Committee, which recommended the Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA) be declared noncompliant with the WADA Code.

The committee formally submitted its recommendations Friday, and they were intended to remain confidential until the 12-member executive committee votes at its Dec. 9 meeting in Paris. But WADA reversed course Monday and announced the recommendations after news began to circulate in media reports, including the New York Times. WADA did not release the committee’s full 26-page report.

If the executive committee accepts the recommendations, RUSADA will have three weeks to decide whether it will appeal its case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport. Barring a successful appeal, the WADA ruling would be binding, and the International Olympic Committee would have to abide by the decision. Thomas Bach, the IOC president, has said he is not in favor of Russia being completely barred from Olympic competition.

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The committee’s recommendations make clear that Russian athletes can still compete as long as they haven’t been implicated in Russia’s doping scheme. In PyeongChang, 168 Russian athletes competed as an “Olympic Athlete from Russia,” accounting for 17 medals.

RUSADA was initially suspended in November 2015 for its role in the widespread, state-sponsored scandal. It was reinstated in September 2018 but was required to turn over data from its Moscow laboratory. When WADA’s investigators received that data in January, they noticed irregularities between data submitted by Moscow’s laboratory and information shared by a whistleblower in October 2017. WADA launched a “formal compliance procedure” over concerns that the data had been tampered with or altered, and Russian officials were given three weeks to answer questions about the suspect data.

According to a WADA statement Monday, the “Moscow data are neither complete nor fully authentic.” The organization noted that while some of the data matched information shared by the whistleblower in 2017, “hundreds of presumptive adverse analytical findings” weren’t included in Russia’s 2019 submission, and “the related underlying raw data and PDF files have been deleted or altered.”

The investigators were able to determine that the deletions and alterations were made in December and January — more than three months after RUSADA had been reinstated and ordered to turn over the data.

“These activities were concealed by backdating of computer systems and data files in an attempt to make it appear that the Moscow data had been in their current state since 2015,” according to WADA. “Furthermore, the commands issued to execute the manipulations, deletions and backdating were also deleted, in an attempt to avoid detection of what had been done.”

The investigators also found that, in the weeks before RUSADA turned over its data, someone “planted fabricated evidence” intended to implicate whistleblower Grigory Rodchenkov, the former director of the Moscow lab who helped reveal Russia’s state-sponsored doping scheme. According to WADA, an unidentified person created “purported messages between laboratory staff members” that indicated Rodchenkov and two co-conspirators had falsified entries in the laboratory database “as part of a scheme to extort money from athletes.”

“Dr. Rodchenkov predicted that the Russians were delaying disclosure of the data so they could manipulate the results,” Rodchenkov’s attorney, Jim Walden, said Monday. “This is a time-honored tradition in the Russian gangster state: Lie, lie, and lie again until everyone believes it.”

Anti-doping officials worldwide have been monitoring the situation to see how WADA will handle the allegations against Russia.

“It’s great the CRC has recognized the egregious conduct of Russia toward clean athletes, and now 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,” U.S. Anti-Doping Agency chief executive Travis Tygart said.

In addition to the ban on international competition — which also includes Youth Olympic Games, Paralympics, world championships and other major sporting events subject to WADA Code — the committee also recommends that Russian officials be barred from sitting on boards and committees related to international sports governance. Russia also will not be permitted to host any major sporting event or even apply for hosting duties, and the Russian flag would not be allowed to fly at any major event.