The court ruling means that Russia won’t have any formal presence — no flag, no anthem — at the Tokyo Olympics next summer or the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing. It also will be barred from most major international competitions through 2022, including the FIFA World Cup, the Youth Olympic Games, Paralympics and world championships. Many of its athletes will still be eligible to compete, though not under the Russian flag.
“This Panel has imposed consequences to reflect the nature and seriousness of the noncompliance and to ensure that the integrity of sport against the scourge of doping is maintained,” the arbitrators wrote in their decision. “The consequences which the Panel has decided to impose are not as extensive as those sought by WADA. This should not, however, be read as any validation of the conduct of RUSADA or the Russian authorities.”
While the panel reduced the punishment, it agreed with WADA in allowing Russian athletes who have not been implicated in the country’s state-sponsored doping scheme to compete in Tokyo and Beijing as unaffiliated athletes. They can wear Russian colors, but if their uniforms bear the name of their country, it also must say “neutral athlete.” At the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics, 168 Russians competed as “Olympic Athletes from Russia.”
In addition to the ban on international competition, the panel agreed with WADA’s recommendation that Russian officials be barred from sitting on any 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. The two-year punishment is expected to go into effect this month and will run through 2022.
The court ruling also states that no Russian government representatives, including President Vladimir Putin, may attend any major international events for two years, including the Olympics. The panel also laid out terms for reinstatement, requiring Russia to pay $1.27 million to WADA to cover the organization’s investigative costs.
Thursday’s decision marks the latest and possibly one of the final twists in the years-long doping saga. Russia has spent most of the year fighting the WADA punishment, appealing it to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, which has final say on the matter.
The WADA executive committee issued the four-year ban last December, punishing Russia for failing to comply with measures put in place in response to a previous punishment in the state-sponsored scandal. Russia was barred from the 2018 PyeongChang Games, but the country and its anti-doping agency (RUSADA) were conditionally reinstated in September 2018.
As part of its reinstatement, Russia agreed to turn over data from its Moscow laboratory. WADA investigators began collecting that data in January 2019 but noticed it didn’t align with information that had been shared by a whistleblower in October 2017.
WADA’s Compliance Review Committee found that the data was “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 after RUSADA had been reinstated and ordered to turn over the data.
In a statement, WADA President Witold Banka expressed disappointment the panel reduced the ban and didn’t adopt all of the organization’s recommendations, “but ultimately WADA is not the judge but the prosecutor and we must respect the decision of the Panel.”
“WADA is pleased to have won this landmark case,” he said. “We left no stone unturned in investigating this very complex matter and in presenting our case before CAS. The Panel has clearly upheld our findings that the Russian authorities brazenly and illegally manipulated the Moscow Laboratory data in an effort to cover up an institutionalized doping scheme. In the face of continual resistance and denial from Russia, we clearly proved our case, in accordance with due process.”
While WADA officials were quick to declare victory Thursday, not everyone agreed. Travis Tygart, chief executive of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency and an outspoken WADA critic, said the court decision amounted to a “significant loss” for WADA and clean athletes, calling the decision a “weak, watered-down outcome.”
“To once again escape a meaningful consequence proportional to the crimes, much less a real ban, is a catastrophic blow to clean athletes, the integrity of sport, and the rule of law,” he said.
In a statement, a RUSADA official said the organization is “not fully satisfied” with the court’s decision.
“It appears that not all the arguments set out by our lawyers were heard,” said RUSADA’s acting general director, Mikhail Bukhanov, “but we fully welcome the arbiters’ responsible and sensible approach to ‘clean’ Russian athletes and the ‘collective responsibility’ principle WADA is imposing on all Russian sports.”
WADA’s investigation last year also found that someone attempted to incriminate whistleblower Grigory Rodchenkov, the former director of the Moscow lab, by planting fabricated evidence in the data, falsely indicating that he was involved in a scheme to extort money from athletes.
“The decision by CAS to effectively ‘split the baby’ is nonsensical and undeserved,” Jim Walden, Rodchenkov’s attorney, said in an emailed statement Thursday. “Despite overwhelming proof of corruption, doping fraud and obstruction of justice, including a brazen attempt to falsely incriminate Dr. Rodchenkov through fabricated evidence, CAS has once again proven itself unwilling and unable to meaningfully deal with systematic and long-standing criminality by Russia.”
Under WADA’s supervision, RUSADA also must investigate the tampered 2019 data, “including doing everything possible to locate the complete and authentic data from the Moscow Laboratory relating to those cases, so as to rectify in full the tampering that has impacted those cases,” according to a summary of the panel’s findings, issued by the court. WADA also will be closely monitoring RUSADA for the two-year period, and RUSADA must issue quarterly reports “confirming that RUSADA’s independence has been fully respected by the Russian authorities and no attempt has been made to interfere in any of its operations,” according to the court.
The panel’s ruling is 186 pages, but just a five-page summary was issued Thursday by the court.
According to the panel, Russian athletes will be permitted to compete in Tokyo and at other major events provided they’ve not been “subject to suspension, restriction, condition or exclusion imposed by a competent authority in any past or future proceedings.”
After Thursday’s decision, figure skating coach Tatiana Tarasova told Russian state news agency RIA Novosti, “The people who were to blame for this simply moved on to something else. They live well, and their health is in order. And athletes and coaches who have their whole life in this, no one cares about. I’m very scared. How can we not go to the Olympic Games again with our Russian team? … Everyone will recognize us anyway. We will try and win everything.”
Isabelle Khurshudyan in Moscow contributed to this report.