Similar to the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, Russians who have not been implicated in the country’s state-sponsored doping scheme will be allowed to compete in Tokyo and Beijing as unaffiliated athletes. In PyeongChang, 168 Russians competed as “Olympic Athletes from Russia.”
After being banned from the 2018 Games, the country and its Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA) were conditionally reinstated in September 2018, but Russian officials were caught earlier this year manipulating data from their Moscow anti-doping laboratory and misleading WADA investigators, prompting a new chapter in a doping scheme that continues to roil the international sports community.
WADA’s executive committee met Monday in Lausanne, Switzerland, where it considered recommendations from WADA’s Compliance Review Committee. The executive committee voted unanimously to give RUSADA formal notice of its noncompliance with the World Anti-Doping Code.
“For too long, Russian doping has detracted from clean sport,” WADA President Craig Reedie said in a statement. “The blatant breach by the Russian authorities of RUSADA’s reinstatement conditions, approved by the [executive committee] in September 2018, demanded a robust response. That is exactly what has been delivered today.”
Russia has 21 days to respond. It can protest the matter to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, which would have final say. Svetlana Zhurova, a former Olympic speedskater who is now a deputy in Russian parliament’s lower house, said RUSADA’s board would meet Dec. 19 and decide whether to accept the latest sanctions, according to the Tass news agency.
“I am 100 percent sure [Russia will go to court], because we must defend our athletes,” she said.
Russian Olympic officials had been bracing themselves for Monday’s decision. Yuri Ganus, head of RUSADA, has called for replacing officials in the Russian sports world who are still relying on old methods to remain competitive.
“It is critically important to change approaches,” Ganus told reporters in Moscow on Monday. “They are applying unacceptable, old-school approaches, and the people who promote these approaches must be replaced.”
The International Olympic Committee said in a statement Monday it was still evaluating WADA’s sanctions but called Russia’s actions “an attack on the credibility of sport itself and ... an insult to the sporting movement worldwide.”
“The IOC emphasises that any sanctions should follow the rules of natural justice and respect human rights,” the organization said. “Therefore, the IOC stresses that the guilty should be punished in the toughest way possible because of the seriousness of this infringement and thus welcomes the sanctions for the Russian authorities responsible.”
The IOC has been steadfast in its support of allowing Russian athletes “where they are able to demonstrate that they are not implicated in any way by the noncompliance” to compete, but not everyone agrees. Many have called on a more comprehensive measure that would prevent any Russians from competing and go further to safeguard international sport.
On Sunday, nine of the 17 members of WADA’s athlete committee sent a letter to the executive board, urging for a complete ban. “We maintain that the fraud, manipulation and deception revealed to date will only be encouraged and perpetuated with a lesser response,” they wrote.
Linda Hofstad Helleland, WADA’s vice president, voted to approve the Compliance Review Committee’s recommendations Monday but said an even tougher penalty was warranted.
“A blanket ban can make the Russian leadership realize the seriousness of the mess they have created — for themselves, and for their athletes,” the Norwegian lawmaker told the executive committee, according to her prepared remarks. “ … Unless we impose sanctions that really wake Russian leaders up, hold them accountable and make them acknowledge facts — how can we be sure that the system will change?”
Travis Tygart, the chief executive of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, said Russia has failed to heed previous warnings and called Monday’s decision “yet another devastating blow to clean athletes, the integrity of sport and the rule of law.”
“WADA promised the world back in 2018 that if Russia failed yet again to live up to its agreements, it would use the toughest sanction under the rules. Yet, here we go again,” he said. “WADA says one thing and does something entirely different. There is no disputing that Russia has committed the most intentional, deep and broad level of corruption on the entire sports world that has put money over morals, abuse over health and corruption over the Olympic values and all athlete’s dreams.”
World anti-doping officials have been hesitant to embrace any measures that might unwittingly ensnare innocent athletes. Russian athletes who hope to compete in Tokyo and at other major events will have to prove that they have no history of doping and that their test results have never been tampered with by Russia’s anti-doping officials.
The recent data manipulation is the latest act by Russian officials to flout anti-doping rules and international norms. As part of its 2018 reinstatement, Russia was required to turn over data from its Moscow laboratory. WADA investigators received that data in January but noticed it didn’t align with information that was shared by a whistleblower in October 2017.
The Compliance Review Committee ruled last month that the “Moscow data are neither complete nor fully authentic,” and there were “hundreds of presumptive adverse analytical findings” shared by the whistleblower that weren’t included in Russia’s 2019 submission. The investigators determined that 145 cases had been tampered with and found “the related underlying raw data and PDF files have been deleted or altered” after RUSADA had been reinstated and ordered to turn over the data.
Furthermore, the investigators found that someone attempted to implicate whistleblower Grigory Rodchenkov, the former director of the Moscow lab, by planting fabricated evidence in the data that he was involved in a scheme to extort money from athletes.
“Finally, fraud, lies and falsifications of unspeakable proportions have been punished in full swing,” Rodchenkov said in a statement Monday. “ … Russia’s falsifications and cheating continued in 2019 even when Russia was under scrutiny. As usual, Russia has disregarded all of its promises and obligations to clean sport.”
Russia is traditionally a regular visitor to the medal podium at the Olympics. At the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro, the country’s track and field athletes were barred from competing because of doping concerns, but they still sent 282 athletes and brought home 56 medals, the fourth-most of any nation. At the 2012 Games, the Russian contingent included 436 athletes, the third-largest Olympic team in London, and won 82 medals.
While the Russians who were allowed to compete in PyeongChang were recognized as “Olympic Athletes from Russia,” those in Tokyo will apparently be designated differently.
“They are neutral athletes, which means not representative of any country, not representatives of Russia,” said Jonathan Taylor, chair of WADA’s Compliance Review Committee.
In addition to the ban on international competition, the committee also recommended 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.
Natalia Abbakumova in Moscow contributed to this report.