By Charles Maynes
The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) unanimously voted Monday to ban Russia from the Olympic Games, the World Cup and other international sporting competitions for the next four years.
WADA officials say the punishment reflects their growing exasperation over a doping scandal that has tainted global sports since 2014.
“For too long, Russian doping has detracted from clean sport,” said WADA president Craig Reedie, during a press conference in which WADA insisted it had no choice but to give a “robust response” to allegations of Russian cheating.”
Russia was afforded every opportunity to get its house in order and rejoin 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.”
Russian “clean” athletes who undergo additional screening will still be allowed to compete as neutral athletes,’ while forgoing their national flag and anthem, according to the ruling.
WADA’s findings also prevent Russia from hosting and/or bidding on major sporting events over the next four years.
The decision to expel Russia from competition was based on an earlier finding by WADA’s Compliance Review Committee, which accused Russia of tampering with hundreds of athlete probes at Moscow’s RUSADA anti-doping testing facility.
“The Moscow data are neither complete nor authentic,” a summary of the WADA report said.
Unfettered access to the RUSADA laboratory was one of the key WADA requirements to Russia’s “road map back to competition” following an earlier 2015 WADA investigation that laid bare a Russian state-sponsored doping program during the Russian-hosted Sochi Winter Games.
The fallout from that investigation led to a depleted Russian presence at the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, as well as limited inclusion of “neutral” Russian athletes without state emblems at the Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, Korea, in 2018.
The partial bans have been contested by other nations’ anti-doping commissions, including the United States, which expressed outrage over what appeared to be continued avenues for Russian neutral athletes to participate in Olympic sports.
“There is no disputing that Russia has committed the most intentional, deep and broad level of corruption on the entire sports world that has put money over morals, abuse over health, and corruption over the Olympic values and all athletes’ dreams,” Travis Tygart, chief executive of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, said in a statement.
“Now, clean athletes, sports fans and sponsors are having to suffer through another horrendous Groundhog Day of Russian corruption and domination,” he said.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC), which has been accused of lacking the will to enforce past Russia doping violations, indicated it would support the WADA ruling in advance of today’s decision.
“It’s obvious there were manipulations in 2018 and in the beginning of 2019,” said IOC Chairman Thomas Bach, referring to the Moscow laboratory probes.
Russia now has 21 days to appeal the decision to the Court of Arbitration in Sport, a move that Russian officials have indicated they will do. Depending on the length of the appeal, a final CAS ruling on the WADA ban may not come until spring or summer 2020.
Politics and sports
In Russia, the WADA decision, while expected, was viewed through a wider lens of politics infecting sports.
Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev acknowledged Russia’s “significant doping problems,” while calling the WADA ruling “part of anti-Russian hysteria that has become chronic” in global affairs.
That view was shared by Russian Minister of Sport Pavel Kolobkov, who said “the idea occurs to me,” when asked if politics was at play in the WADA decision. Kremlin officials from President Vladimir Putin on down have touted Russia’s return as a sporting power as symbolic of its growing global clout.
Andrei Klimov, a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee of Russia’s Upper Federation Council, noted the latest WADA punishments were meted out by a committee made up of citizens of NATO members states. He suggested that sports had merely joined Ukraine, Syria and a host of other issues dividing Russia and the West.
“How much this has to do with sports? I don’t know. I think it has to do with sports least of all,” he said in an interview with the Echo of Moscow radio station.
Independent journalist and commentator Sergei Medvedev disagreed.
“Don’t tell me this is a political decision. Yes, it has huge political implications, but it’s essentially a technical one. Russia (or more precisely, those who cleansed the database) left WADA no choice,” the journalist wrote on his Facebook page. “In world sports, as opposed to world politics, sanctions work effectively, automatically, and painfully.”
For Russian athletes, today’s ruling was seen as the latest move that many argue unfairly punishes them collectively for the sins of a few.
“It’s a nightmare,” champion figure skater Irina Slutskaya wrote on her Instagram account. “Why because of some unprincipled and unclean athletes should all those who worked towards the Olympics their whole lives suffer, those who don’t even know the word — ‘doping.'”
Yet, a growing chorus has also expressed frustration over the inability of Russia’s sports bureaucracy to tackle the doping issue head on — asking why it was risking Russia’s sporting future by protecting past bad actors?
Tina Kandelacki, founder of Russia’s Match TV sports channel, demanded that Russian investigators uncover who had manipulated the RUSADA Moscow laboratory samples.
“In this story, there are concrete guilty parties. People, who wanted to curry favor where no one asked them to. And they easily sacrificed the fates of athletes, and now the sporting future of the whole country,” she in a post to her Telegram channel.
Liberal critics lamented that Russia’s lingering doping crisis would steal the dreams of a generation of athletes and fans.
“The Inquisitors from WADA haven’t changed, but we, it seems, also didn’t want to change after all the mayhem,” Vladimir Mozgovoi wrote in the independent Novaya Gazeta, a frequent critic of the government. “We didn’t wise up. We didn’t repent. We didn’t understand.”