Updated at 9:50 a.m.
The World Anti-Doping Agency’s executive committee says Russian athletes can’t compete under their flag at international events for the next four years, declaring Russia’s Anti-Doping Agency to be noncompliant with its rules. The committee says critical data about Russia’s athletics programs was “neither complete nor fully authentic.”
WADA says Russia won’t be able to take part in high-profile events such as the upcoming Summer Olympics in Tokyo or the 2022 World Cup and Winter Olympics in Beijing because it has continued to provide fake information.
The ban applies to Russian officials and agencies in its sports apparatus — but it also offers a pathway for Russian athletes to compete if they can prove they’re “clean.” WADA says it now has a list of all Russian athletes who are suspected of doping — including a core group of 145 athletes it says are the “most suspicious.”
“For too long, Russian doping has detracted from clean sport,” WADA President Sir Craig Reedie said as his agency announced the penalty. He added, “The blatant breach by the Russian authorities of RUSADA’s reinstatement conditions, approved by the ExCo in September 2018, demanded a robust response. That is exactly what has been delivered today.”
The Russian Anti-Doping Agency now has 21 days to accept or dispute the sanction. If it appeals, the case would move to arbitration by the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
The decision prompted an angry response from U.S. Anti-Doping Agency CEO Travis Tygart, who issued a statement saying, “To allow Russia to escape a complete ban is yet another devastating blow to clean athletes, the integrity of sport and the rule of law.”
Calling for “a revolt against this broken system to force reform” at the global level, Tygart accused both WADA and the International Olympic Committee of bowing to Russian pressure. He called WADA’s partial ban a “horrendous Groundhog Day of Russian corruption and domination.”
Russian athletes could still compete in Tokyo’s Summer Olympics next year, WADA says, but they would have to fulfill a number of requirements, from showing they aren’t implicated in cheating to having no drug-positive findings in their records.
Russia’s well-publicized doping program cast a cloud over its trip to the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea, where athletes who were deemed clean were forced to abandon their national colors and celebrate victories without their country’s flag or anthem. Now WADA says Russian athletes will face similar circumstances in upcoming high-profile events, because of the extensive fabrications its investigators found in Russia’s athletics programs.
WADA says that in files that were copied from Russian computer systems, “some data were removed, others altered and, in some cases, system messages were fabricated in an effort to hamper the work of WADA investigators. In addition, measures were taken to conceal these manipulations by back-dating 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.”
In addition to the four-year ban, WADA says Russia must also pay a fine of up to $100,000 — an amount it says is the maximum allowed under its rules.
At last year’s Olympics, Russia sent a diminished team of 168 athletes to South Korea — and despite tighter scrutiny and the International Olympic Committee’s assurances of fair play, two athletes (including a bronze medalist in curling) failed drug tests for banned substances at the games. The country won gold medals in only two disciplines: women’s figure skating and men’s ice hockey.
Similar to the Pyeongchang Olympics, the new WADA ban means Russia’s flag cannot be flown at any major sports event in the next four years. And Russian government officials — including President Vladimir Putin and other leaders — are barred from attending any of those major sports events.
Russia would also be forbidden from both hosting any landmark sports events during the ban — and from bidding to host future events. The country is also barred from bidding to host the 2032 Olympic and Paralympic Games.
The new ban comes one year after WADA took the controversial step of reinstating Russia’s anti-doping regulator, lifting a previous ban on Russia in the face of heavy opposition.
WADA says its executive committee responded “in the strongest possible terms,” short of a blanket ban on all Russian athletes. But the body also chose not to impose “any special monitoring or supervision or takeover of RUSADA’s anti-doping activities” over the four-year period, saying recent audits of the agency have found that it is “effective” in helping to fight doping in Russia.
By imposing a punishment that’s very similar to previous sanctions — with a ban that allows athletes to compete under a neutral flag — WADA is opening itself to criticisms that it still hasn’t gone far enough to address Russia’s systematic cheating. Those critics have long called for a total ban on Russian athletes to ensure the country’s leaders get the message.
“If we don’t have meaningful consequences, I don’t think we’re ever going to see a change,” former WADA official Rob Koehler recently told NPR’s Tom Goldman. Koehler, who now runs the organization Global Athlete, added, “In the long term, athletes will suffer. So we’re looking at the next generation we’re trying to help here.”
For the Russian Anti-Doping Agency to be reinstated, Russia must satisfy the international agency’s requirement that RUSADA’s “independence is being respected and there is no improper outside interference with its operations,” WADA says, implying that the biggest problems in Russian athletics reside in its sports and government agencies, not in its doping agency.