The World Anti-Doping Agency handed down its harshest sentence yet in Russia’s ongoing state-sponsored doping debacle.
For years, Russia’s presence at the Olympics has been marred by controversies surrounding the abuse of performance-enhancing drugs. Russia has had 43 medals stripped for doping abuses, the most of any competitor in the games by far. Now, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) is taking its most serious action yet: placing a four-year ban against Russia competing in any WADA-compliant event, including the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing, and the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. They will be similar suspended from games like the Paralympics and the Youth Olympic Games. Suspension means only that a nation is barred from competing, not individual athletes — so, Russian Olympians are still welcome to compete in the games, but they will not be able to do so under the Russian flag.
The news comes after almost a decade of trouble complying with anti-doping regulation. Many Russian athletes have spoken out about the conditions of training for the Olympics there, describing doping as a practice that is not only common but state-sanctioned. Although Russian doping scandals have spanned almost two decades now, the first controversy to receive major media coverage came to light in 2014. Vitaly Stepanov, an employee at the Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RADA), reported to WADA that they were supplying athletes with performance-enhancing drugs in exchange for a percentage of their earnings, as well as helping them falsify reports and data that would have revealed their drug use. A lengthy investigation proved Russian officials at RADA were involved in supplying drugs to their athletes and over 600 urine samples tested positive for banned substances.
An interesting parallel here is that WADA recommended Russia be banned from the 2016 Olympics in whole, but the ruling was rejected by the Olympic committee for being too harsh. Instead, Russian athletes were approved on a case-by-case basis, resulting in 278 out of the originally submitted 389 athletes being able to compete. Despite getting off easy, WADA officials continued to report for years afterwards that Moscow was destroying urine samples, obfuscating data, and that officials would not answer their questions. This climate led to the harsher ban that was passed down earlier today.
“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,” said WADA president Craig Reedie. “The blatant breach by the Russian authorities of Rusada’s reinstatement conditions, approved by the [executive committee] in September 2018, demanded a robust response. That is exactly what has been delivered today.”
“We owe it to the clean athletes to implement the sanctions as strongly as possible,” added WADA Vice President Linda Helleland.
Russian prime minister Dmitry Medvedev responded harshly to the ban, calling it the natural outcome of “chronic anti-Russian hysteria.” RUSADA has 21 days to appeal the decision to a higher court and is expected to do so.
*Image courtesy of Mike_fleming via the Creative Commons attribution