The World Anti-Doping Agency executive committee voted Monday to bar Russia from competing at the next two Olympic Games.
The decision means Russia will have no formal presence at next year’s Summer Games or the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing. 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 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 were conditionally reinstated in September 2018, but Russian officials were caught earlier this year manipulating data from its Moscow anti-doping laboratory and misleading WADA investigators, prompting a new chapter in a years-long 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 committee voted to give the Russian Anti-Doping Agency formal notice of its noncompliance with the World Anti-Doping Code, and the Russian agency has 21 days to respond. If it disagrees with the WADA ruling, it can protest the matter to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, which would have final say.
Russian Olympic officials had been bracing themselves for Monday’s decision. Yuri Ganus, the head of the Russian Anti-Doping Agency, told the Associated Press last week the sanctions “were to be expected, and they’re justified.”
Thomas Bach, the president of the International Olympic Committee, has said the Olympic governing body must abide by WADA’s decision. The IOC recently called Russia’s actions “an attack on the credibility of sport itself and is an insult to the sporting movement worldwide.” The organization – and Bach specifically – has been steadfast in its support of including Russian athletes “where they are able to demonstrate that they are not implicated in any way by the noncompliance.”
Not everyone agrees. Travis Tygart, the chief executive of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, has argued that WADA needed to take a tougher approach and bar all Russian athletes, contending that Russia’s Olympic and anti-doping officials have not heeded previous warnings.
“WADA must get tougher and impose the full restriction on Russian athlete participation in the Olympics that the rules allow,” Tygart said last week. “Only such a resolute response has a chance of getting Russia’s attention, changing behavior, and protecting today’s clean athletes who will compete in Tokyo, as well as future generations of athletes in Russia who deserve better than a cynical, weak response to the world’s repeated calls for Russia to clean up its act.”
The recent data manipulation is the latest act by Russian officials to flaunt 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. WADA launched a “formal compliance procedure” in September 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.
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 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.
“Dr. Rodchenkov foresaw that Russia would manipulate laboratory data before disclosing it to authorities,” Rodchenkov’s lawyers Jim Walden and Avni Patel said in a statement last week. “The Russian gangster state continues to deploy a predictable and deplorable policy of deception, evidence-tampering and lying to cover up its crimes. The Kremlin must think the people of the world are idiots to believe this shameless and transparent stunt.”
Russia’s limited presence in Tokyo promises to be a major story line at next year’s Olympics. It’s not known how many Russian athletes might be competing, but Russia is traditionally a regular visitor to the medals podium. 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 68 medals.
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 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.