Russia was banned from the Olympics and world championships in a range of sport for four years on Monday after the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) ruled to punish it for manipulating laboratory data, a WADA spokesman said.
The punishment, however, leaves the door open for clean Russian athletes to compete at major international sporting events without their flag or anthem, for four years, as was the case during the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics.
WADA’s executive committee took the decision after it concluded that Moscow had tampered with laboratory data by planting fake evidence and deleting files linked to positive doping tests that could have helped identify drug cheats.
The former head of Russia’s anti-doping agency, who fled Moscow after turning whistleblower, welcomed the ban.
“Finally, fraud, lies and falsifications of unspeakable proportions have been punished in full swing,” said Grigory Rodchenkov in a statement.
Rodchenkov, who lives in the US under a witness protection programme, said those involved in the doping of athletes “should be punished retroactively”.
“Doped athletes do not work alone,” he said. “There are medical doctors, coaches and managers who provided substances, advised and protected them. In Russia’s state-sponsored doping scheme, there is also a state-sponsored defence of many cheaters including state officials, witnesses and apparatchiks who are lying under oath and have falsified evidence. These individuals are clearly criminals.”
The WADA committee’s decision to punish Russia with a ban was unanimous, its spokesman said.
But the president of Russia’s Olympic Committee, Stanislav Pozdnyakov, said the ban was inappropriate.
“The position of Russia’s Olympic Committee remains unchanged – sanctions are inadequate, illogical and excessive,” Pozdnyakov said.
“Of course, we are disappointed, but we initially assumed that the recommendations of the WADA Executive Committee would be approved without change, especially after the main points were made public.”
Al Jazeera sports correspondent Lee Wellings said: “It’s significant, important and covers all sporting events, however it doesn’t change that much about the situation we’ve been in for the past five years after Russia effectively poisoned its own Winter Olympics in Sochi, when wide-scale state-sponsored corruption was uncovered.
“From that position onward, it’s been about the politics of the situation. There are very few who believe that Russia isn’t doping. The question is, what are people going to do about it?
“In this instance, it’s a perceived four-year ban, it’s a ban really on the flag of Russia .. There will be neutral athletes from Russia that are effectively a Russian team – that will continue.”
Wellings said Russia would have to launch appeals in order to host planned sports events, in light of the ban.
“Big figures in sport want to keep Russia in the game, rather than push them away from it,” he said.
Russia, which has tried to showcase itself as a global sport power, has been embroiled in doping scandals since a 2015 report commissioned by WADA found evidence of mass doping in Russian athletics.
Its doping woes have grown since, with many of its athletes sidelined from the past two Olympics and the country stripped of its flag altogether at last year’s Pyeongchang Winter Games as punishment for state-sponsored doping cover-ups at the 2014 Sochi Games.
Russia’s Formula One Grand Prix in Sochi will not be affected, race promoters said on Monday.
The sport’s governing body, the International Automobile Federation (FIA) is International Olympic Committee-recognised and classified by WADA as a code signatory.
“The contract for holding the Russian round of the Formula One World Championship was signed in 2010, long before the events investigated by WADA, and runs until 2025,” promoters ROSGONKI said in a statement.
They pointed out that the race was entered on next year’s calendar and said it would be “legally and technically impossible” to re-assign it elsewhere.
“We are confident that the Formula One Russian Grand Prix will be held in 2020 and in the following years and invite everyone to Sochi – the ticket sales are in full swing,” the statement added.
The race has been held since 2014 against a backdrop of Sochi’s Winter Olympic facilities – games now notorious for state-sponsored doping cover-ups.
While the sanctions are clear-cut in some sports, there has been confusion in others.
Russia could yet play at the 2022 football World Cup in Qatar, as long as they played “on a neutral basis”.
“If they qualify [for the World Cup], a team representing Russia cannot participate. But if there is a mechanism put in place, then they can apply to participate on a neutral basis, not as representatives of Russia,” Jonathan Taylor, chair of WADA’s compliance review committee, told a news conference.
FIFA’s statutes make clear the World Cup is a tournament for its national member associations and teams play on that basis.
There is no known precedent for a team competing at the World Cup which does not represent a national FIFA member association or feature the name of their country.
Monday’s sanctions had been recommended by WADA’s compliance review committee in response to the doctored laboratory data provided by Moscow earlier this year.
One of the conditions for the reinstatement of Russian anti-doping agency RUSADA, which was suspended in 2015 in the wake of the athletics doping scandal but reinstated last year, had been that Moscow provide an authentic copy of the laboratory data.
The sanctions effectively strip the agency of its accreditation.
Sports Minister Pavel Kolobkov last month attributed the discrepancies in the laboratory data to technical issues.
If RUSADA appeals the sanctions endorsed by WADA’s executive committee, the case will be referred to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), WADA has said.
Sports analysts have been gazig into their crystal balls to estimate what impact the ban on Russia competing might have at next year’s Olympic Games, to be held in Tokyo.
The biggest beneficiaries are likely to be the United States, China and Japan, who should claim 10 of the banned nation’s projected gold medals between them, according to data analysts Gracenote.
Gracenote’s “Virtual Medal Table” had originally projected that Russia, a powerhouse in many sports, would leave the July 24 – August 9 Tokyo Olympics with 68 medals, including 24 gold.
But without Russia in the mix, Gracenote said the United States should win four more gold medals while China and Japan are each projected to win an additional three gold medals.
The United States, who were already expected to dominate the medal table, should win two more gold medals each in men’s swimming and men’s freestyle wrestling, according to Gracenote.
China’s additional golds could feature two in men’s artistic gymnastics and one in men’s shooting while Japan should see additional gold in artistic swimming, rhythmic gymasntics and men’s swimming.