WADA bans Russia from major global competitions for four years

RUSADA can appeal decision to CAS, but Russian athletes could compete under neutral banner as at the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympics

By Rory Jiwani

Russia has been banned from major global sporting competitions for four years by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).

The WADA Executive Committee meeting in Lausanne on Monday (9 December) agreed unanimously to uphold recommendations issued last month that the Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA) be declared non-compliant with the WADA Code.

Those recommendations were made after inconsistencies were found in data obtained from RUSADA's Moscow Laboratory including "significant deletions and/or alterations" made in December 2018 and January 2019 regarding presumptive positive tests.

WADA President Craig Reedie said, "For too long, Russian doping has detracted from clean sport. 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.

"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.

"As a result, the WADA ExCo has responded in the strongest possible terms, while protecting the rights of Russian athletes that can prove that they were not involved and did not benefit from these fraudulent acts."

RUSADA has 21 days to appeal the decision to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), but the path has been left open for Russian athletes to compete at World Championships and Olympic Games including Tokyo 2020 under a neutral banner as they did at the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympics.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC), responding to the WADA ExCo decision, said in a short statement: "The representatives of the Olympic Movement today supported this unanimous decision by the WADA Executive Committee, which is in line with the statement made by the IOC Executive Board last week and endorsed by the Olympic Summit.

"You can find the IOC statement from 26 November 2019 here."

Why was Russia banned from the Olympics?

The former head of Russia's national anti-doping laboratory, Grigory Rodchenko, went into hiding in the United States in 2016 after revealing how he had been involved in covering up doping at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics.

That led to WADA commissioning Richard McLaren's investigation with Part 1 of the McLaren report released in July 2016.

It backed up Rodchenko's allegations and concluded "beyond a reasonable doubt" that the Russian Ministry for Sport "directed, controlled and oversaw" the swapping of urine samples and manipulation of athlete data at the Moscow and Sochi laboratories.

Noting that the Russian Olympic Committeee (ROC) had not been implicated, the IOC opted not to follow WADA's recommendation that Russia be banned entirely from the Rio 2016 Olympics.

Instead, the IOC left it up to the International Federation of each sport to decide which Russian athletes could take part.

Athletics' governing body, then known as the IAAF, suspended Russia from all international competition with only long jumper Darya Klishina granted special permission to compete at the Games.

The IOC established two Disciplinary Commissions - one to investigate alleged doping violations by individual Russian athletes, the other to look into violations of the Olympic Charter and the WADA Code by "officials within the Russian Ministry of Sports and other persons".

Both released their findings in December 2017 with the latter, detailed in the Schmid Report, confirming "systemic manipulation of the anti-doping rules and system" and recommending strong sanctions.

The IOC Executive Board approved the report and suspended ROC with immediate effect, but invited individual athletes who passed strict criteria to compete at the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympics under the name "Olympic Athlete from Russia (OAR)".

As a result, 168 athletes - down on the 232 who represented Russia in Sochi - competed under the OAR banner in PyeongChang.

Members of the Russian sports ministry and ROC were barred with no Russian anthem or flags permitted at the Games.

The IOC had left the door open for a lifting of Russia's Olympic ban in time for the closing ceremony.

Two positive tests saw Bach decide not to follow that course of action, but the IOC did reinstate ROC days later after confirmation of no further doping violations during the Games.

What has happened to RUSADA?

Even with the reinstatement of ROC, WADA demanded RUSADA's full compliance before allowing it back into the fold.

WADA's Executive Committee eventually lifted the suspension in September last year.

But 12 months later, WADA announced they had opened a formal compliance procedure against RUSADA after finding inconsistencies in data retrieved from the Moscow Laboratory in January.

Two weeks ago, WADA's Compliance Review Committee recommended that RUSADA again be banned for "an extremely serious case of non-compliance with the requirement to provide an authentic copy of the Moscow data, with several aggravating features".

Among the detailed misdemeanours were the removal of "hundreds of presumptive adverse analytical findings", "the back-dating of computer systems and data files", and the deletion of "important evidence" from the Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS) database concerning a laboratory staff member.

Technicians Natalia Bochkaryova and Ilya Podolsky work at the Russian anti-doping laboratory in Moscow in May 2016

What sanctions did WADA recommend against Russia?

As well as its recommendations for RUSADA, WADA's Compliance Review Committee also proposed a number of consequences for Russia in the sporting arena which would remain in force for four years. These include:

  • Russia not being allowed to host any editions of Major Events (including global championships and Olympic Games)
  • a ban on Russia's flag being flown at any Major Event
  • Russian Government officials and ROC members being barred from attending any Major Event

But it did leave the way open for Russian athletes who "are able to demonstrate that they are not implicated in any way by the non-compliance in accordance with strict conditions to be defined by WADA" to compete under a neutral flag.

That means Russian athletes would again compete under the Olympic flag at Tokyo 2020, the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics and the 2022 Summer Youth Olympics in Dakar, Senegal.

Russia is due to host the ice hockey World Junior Championship and World Championship in 2023, but International Ice Hockey Federation President Rene Fasel told TASS it may not be possible to move the events with venue construction underway.

Fasel said, "I cannot see legally how we have to change that and I don’t think it will be changed. This is legally binding. We have contracts, we have the sponsors and I think it will be not possible to change that."

Before WADA's initial recommendations, athletics' governing body World Athletics announced that it would suspend its process to end its suspension of the Russian Athletics Federation which came into force in November 2015.

The move came after the Athletics Integrity Unit brought charges against senior officials, including president Dmitry Shlyakhtin, for their role in allegedly obstructing an investigation into 'whereabouts' violations committed by Danil Lysenko.

High jumper Lysenko, who won silver at the 2017 World Championships, had been competing as an Authorised Neutral Athlete.

RUSADA director general Yuri Ganus last week called for the dismissal of all national team athletics coaches and requested intervention at "presidential level".

He told Reuters, "We can't live like this anymore. We need to change and simply remove these people.

"The main problem is our culture, the culture inside the sports world. Judging by the reaction of the current sports authorities, I don't see any prospect of resolving these issues."