Russia banned from Olympics again over doping cover-up

By Patrick Reevell

ABC News – The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) has once again banned Russia from participating in the Olympics, as well as all major international sporting events, over its failure to end the cover-up of doping by its athletes.

The World Anti-Doping Agency has once again banned Russia from participating in the Olympics, as well as all major international sporting events, over its failure to end the cover up of doping by its athletes.

WADA’s executive committee voted unanimously on Monday to accept a recommendation to ban Russia from fielding athletes under its flag and team names at any major international competitions for the next four years, including the Olympics and Paralympics.

In late November, WADA’s compliance board made that recommendation after finding that Russia was still not cooperating with anti-doping authorities and had sought to conceal possible doping violations as recently as last winter.

It means that Russia will officially be absent from the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo and from the 2022 Winter Olympics, as well as world championships.

WADA has said that Russian athletes able to prove they are clean and unconnected to the doping cover up will still be allowed to compete as “neutrals”.

That is the same decision as during the most recent Winter Olympics in South Korea last year, where Russian teams took part wearing a special “neutral” uniform and the flag and anthem were banned from medal ceremonies. Russia’s official medal score at that Olympics was also zero.

Russia will also be banned from hosting any international sporting events for 4 years.

The decision is a huge blow to Russia’s sporting prestige — the second time in two years that it will miss an Olympics over the doping scandal that has wrought chaos on the country’s sports since it began in 2015.

Russia has also already missed 2 Paralympics and virtually its entire track and field team was excluded from the Summer Olympics in Brazil in 2016 — punishments which had been unprecedented for doping.

It is up to the International Olympic Committee how the ban will be handled but the IOC has already said it will be bound by WADA’s recommendations.

WADA made the recommendation to ban Russia after its investigators said it had found evidence Russian anti-doping authorities were still concealing possible doping by its athletes.

The anti-doping body’s president, Sir Craig Reedie, in a statement said the decision showed “determination to act resolutely in the face of the Russian doping crisis.”

“For too long, Russian doping has detracted from clean sport. The blatant breach by the Russian authorities of Rusada’s reinstatement conditions demanded a robust response,” he said.

The doping scandal began in 2015, when athletes first came forward with evidence of a sprawling cover up of doping and that was later shown to take in dozens of athletes over almost a decade, including at the 2014 Winter Olympics that Russia hosted in Sochi.

Russia has always refused to admit that the cover-up was state-sponsored, instead arguing it was conducted by a handful of officials and coaches. It also claimed the allegations are politically motivated.

“Russia was afforded every opportunity to get its house in order and re-join the global anti-doping community for the good of its athletes and of the integrity of sport, but it chose instead to continue in its stance of deception and denial,” Reedie said.

Substantial evidence has emerged over the years showing the scheme was directed by the state. In 2016, the former head of Russia’s anti-doping laboratory in Moscow, Grigory Rodchenkov turned whistleblower and showed how he and the lab, as well as Russia’s FSB security service had worked to hide hundreds of positive doping tests.

The cover up as described by Rodchenkov was confirmed by a commission appointed by WADA, led by Richard McLaren in 2016. Another IOC-commissioned investigation also confirmed the broad outlines of the cover up.

Russia has taken some steps to overhaul its anti-doping system since then, but in November WADA said it had found signs, once again, Russia was still hiding violations.

A WADA compliance report in late November 26 said it had found that hundreds of likely positive doping tests had been deleted from a database of results held by Russia’s anti-doping lab given to WADA in 2019.

Russia has since refused to hand over a full copy without the deletions, the WADA report said. In addition, the investigators found that “fabricated evidence” had been planted in the databased provided to WADA in an effort to discredit the claims made by Rodchenkov. Evidence had also been deleted in an effort to exonerate another doping official, who has been playing a prominent role in Russia’s defense, the report said.

On Monday, the first reactions suggested that Russian officials would again seek to contest the WADA decision as unjust by denouncing it as based on ulterior motives.

“It’s a way to squeeze out Russian competitors from international sport,” Pyotr Tolstoy, vice speaker of Russia’s parliament told the Russian news agency, Interfax.

Dmitry Svishchev, a member of the parliamentary committee on sport said that Russia should now appeal the decision at the Court of Arbitration for Sport, international sports highest arbitration court.

But an official at Russia’s national anti-doping agency, RUSADA on Monday seemed to acknowledge there were grounds for the punishment, saying Russia’s “anti-doping culture has not changed.”

“It is yet another reason for the sporting leadership to think again, are we moving in the right or wrong direction,” Margarita Pakhnotskaya, deputy to RUSADA’s general director told Interfax after the announcement. “I hear the presidents of the federations and experts, who are proudly declaiming about their activity, that they have answered everything, and around them are only enemies who are attacking our athletes. But this all speaks to how our anti-doping culture has not changed, all these years nothing conceptual has been done, except the renewal of RUSADA, for which there aren’t any issues,” she said.

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