Russia’s four-year ban from global sporting events has been halved, in a move that will affect athletes competing at the next two Olympic Games, but could end the long-running fallout from its state-sponsored doping scandal.
The Court of Arbitration for Sport, a Swiss body considered the ultimate arbiter for global sports disputes, ruled on Thursday that wide-ranging sanctions applied on Russia by the World Anti-Doping Agency should be upheld. However, CAS also decided to reduce the original four-year ban to two years.
This decision means that, although some Russian athletes will be allowed to compete at big sporting events, they are able to do so only as “neutral athletes”, while the country’s flag and anthem are barred.
The ruling covers the next two Olympics — the summer games in Tokyo scheduled to take place next year, and the 2022 Winter games in Beijing — as well as other big sporting events such as the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. Russia will also be prevented from bidding to host global sporting events for the duration of the ban.
Rusada, Russia’s anti-doping body, had sought to overturn the ban completely and can still appeal against the decision in Swiss courts.
But if the reduced sanction remains in place, it could also mark the end the dispute between Russia and global sports bodies that has followed revelations in 2015 that the country actively participated in a drugs-cheating programme. Limited curbs were previously imposed on Russian athletes at the past two Olympics.
Wada’s latest sanction is based on allegations that Russian authorities tampered with a database from its Moscow testing laboratory before handing it over to anti-doping investigators last year.
The Kremlin has denied involvement in any state-sponsored doping scheme, arguing that information provided by Grigory Rodchenkov, the former director of Moscow’s anti-doping laboratory who has since turned whistleblower, is false and part of a Western plot to tarnish the country’s global prestige.
Many international bodies, including the International Olympic Committee, the games organisers, have independently corroborated Mr Rodchenkov’s evidence.
In its ruling on Thursday, CAS said: “This panel has imposed consequences to reflect the nature and seriousness of the non-compliance [to doping controls] and to ensure that the integrity of sport against the scourge of doping is maintained.
“The consequences which the panel has decided to impose are not as extensive as those sought by Wada. This should not, however, be read as any validation of the conduct of Rusada or the Russian authorities.”
Wada president Witold Bańka said: “The Russian flag will not fly nor its anthem played. This sends a clear message that institutionalised cheating and concerted efforts to subvert the global anti-doping system will not be tolerated.”
Rusada acting director Mikhail Bukhanov said it welcomed the court’s decision to make exceptions for “clean” Russian athletes.
“It would be unjust and completely unfair to take every driver’s licence away just because some of them were caught driving drunk. Just as in this case ‘clean’ athletes should not bear responsibility for the actions of a few crooked athletes who broke doping rules,” Mr Bukhanov said in a statement.
“Wada’s failure to convince the CAS to punish ‘clean’ athletes from Russia and Russian sporting organisations and federations is a victory for common sense that gives ‘clean’ athletes from other countries the chance to defend themselves as well,” he added.
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