The World Anti-Doping Agency’s executive committee voted Monday at its meeting in Lausanne, Switzerland, to bar Russia from any formal involvement in the 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo and the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.
On Nov. 22, WADA’s Compliance Review Committee recommended that the executive committee find the Russian Anti-Doping Agency in violation of the World Anti-Doping Code because of “an extremely serious case of noncompliance with the requirement to provide an authentic copy of the Moscow data, with several aggravating features.”
This is what to know about Monday’s decision:
Q: Who made the decision?
A: The 12-member executive committee is considered WADA’s most important policymaking body and is headed by Craig Reedie, a former badminton player from the United Kingdom and longtime sports administrator. The other members come from 11 countries and have a wide range of athletic and political backgrounds. None of the 12 is from Russia or the United States.
Q: How will Russia’s presence in Tokyo be affected?
A: Russia will have no formal presence. Its flag won’t fly; its anthem won’t play. No officials from the Russian Olympic Committee or any of its sport governing bodies can attend the Olympics or any other major international competitions for the next four years. This includes government officials such as President Vladimir Putin.
But Russian athletes can still compete, as long as they haven’t been implicated in doping. Russia faced similar restrictions during the 2018 Winter Games in PyeongChang, where 168 Russian athletes competed as “Olympic Athletes from Russia.” According to WADA, Russians can compete if “they are able to demonstrate that they are not implicated in any way by the noncompliance (i.e., they are not mentioned in incriminating circumstances in the McLaren reports, there are no positive findings reported for them in the database, and no data relating to their samples has been manipulated).”
Q: Does Russia have any recourse?
A: The Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA) will have 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.
The IOC must honor the executive committee’s decision. “IOC has in the Olympic Charter accepted the World Anti-Doping Code, and if there is a decision being issued ... it is mandatory,” IOC President Thomas Bach said at a news conference last week in Lausanne, according to the Associated Press.
Q: Wasn’t Russia already punished for doping infractions?
A: Yes, on multiple occasions. Its track and field athletes were barred from the Rio Games in 2016, for example, and it had no formal presence at the PyeongChang Olympics last year. RUSADA was reinstated in September 2018 and appeared to be on track for full inclusion on the international stage. But as a condition of reinstatement, RUSADA was required to share some of its testing data from its Moscow laboratory by Dec. 31, 2018, which triggered a new round of infractions and punishment.
Q: What exactly did Russia do wrong?
A: RUSADA drew the ire of many in December 2018, when it missed that deadline to turn over the data. The Russians were granted a reprieve and finally shared the information in January. But when investigators compared what they had been given by the Russians with data that was shared in 2017 by a whistleblower, they noticed discrepancies.
According to WADA, “hundreds of presumptive adverse analytical findings” supplied by the whistleblower had been removed, and “the related underlying raw data and PDF files have been deleted or altered.” Making matters worse, the investigators said this data manipulation was done after RUSADA had been reinstated and informed it needed to share the information with WADA.
“These activities were concealed by backdating 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,” WADA said.
Investigators also say the Russians “planted fabricated evidence” in an attempt to implicate whistleblower Grigory Rodchenkov, the former head of the Moscow lab, in a purported scheme that sought to extort money from athletes.
Q: Will everyone be satisfied with Monday’s decision?
A: Not likely. Russians, for starters, feel they’ve been unfairly targeted. And many in the anti-doping community feel WADA and the IOC have been too soft on Russia. Travis Tygart, the chief executive of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, said ahead of Monday’s decision that he felt no Russian athletes should be allowed to compete in Tokyo.
“WADA must get tougher and impose the full restriction on Russian athlete participation in the Olympics that the rules allow,” he said. “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. It is sad when a country’s athletes suffer for the fraud of the governmental and sport system they represent. However, the failure to stand up to Russia’s five-year flaunting of the rules would cause even more harm to athletes in and outside of Russia. The time for the toughest penalty available is now.”
Q: What does this mean moving forward?
A: Russia probably would be eligible to return to international competition in early 2024.
The CRC did not recommend any interim monitoring of Russia’s anti-doping operation, saying “that RUSADA’s work is effective in contributing to the fight against doping in Russian sport, and that it is working productively in cooperation with other Anti-Doping Organizations, including in investigations within Russia.”
It did say that any reinstatement is conditioned on WADA remaining satisfied “that RUSADA’s independence is being respected and there is no improper outside interference with its operations.”
Q: How will this affect competition in Tokyo?
A: It’s not known how many Russian athletes might compete, but Russia is traditionally a regular visitor to the medal podium. At the 2016 Summer Games, the country’s track and field athletes were barred from competing because of doping concerns, but they still sent 282 athletes to Rio de Janeiro and brought home 56 medals, the fourth most of any nation. At the 2012 London Games, the Russian contingent included 436 athletes, the third-largest team, and won 68 medals.
Russia is usually most competitive in track and field, boxing, fencing, judo, gymnastics and wrestling.