Russia’s national ban from Olympics, world championships now two years

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Russia’s national (but not athlete) ban from the Olympics and world championships has been cut from four years to two years after a Russian appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).

Russian athletes can still be approved to compete as neutrals “on the condition that they are not subject to a suspension imposed by a competent authority, that the uniform worn does not contain the flag of the Russian Federation and contains the words ‘neutral athlete,’ and that the Russian national anthem is not played or sung at any official event venue,” according to CAS.

The ban, first dealt by the World Anti-Doping Agency last December, runs from today through Dec. 16, 2022.

“Russia” can still appear on Olympian uniforms as long as “neutral athlete” or an equivalent is displayed in a position and size no less prominent than “Russia,” harkening back to the 2018 “Olympic Athlete from Russia” uniforms.

The IOC said it “will now carefully evaluate the award and its consequences” for the Tokyo Olympics in 2021 and Beijing Winter Games in 2022.

A CAS panel wrote that the punishments imposed “are not as extensive as those sought by WADA. This should not, however, be read as any validation of the conduct of RUSADA [Russian Anti-Doping Agency] or the Russian authorities. In making its orders, the panel is limited by the powers granted under the applicable law. … It has considered matters of proportionality and, in particular, the need to effect cultural change and encourage the next generation of Russian athletes to participate in clean international sport.”

WADA president Witold Banka said the organization was “pleased to have won this landmark case.”

“We are, however, disappointed that the CAS panel did not endorse each and every one of our recommended consequences for the four-year period we requested,” Banka said in a press release. “These are still the strongest set of consequences ever imposed on any country for doping-related offences.”

Last December, WADA banned the Russia name and flag for four years from major sports competitions, including Olympics and world championships, pending the CAS decision on Russia’s appeal.

WADA deemed that Russian athletes could still compete without representing the country if cleared by anti-doping authorities, similar to the PyeongChang Winter Games. WADA left open the possibility of Russians to field a team at soccer’s 2022 World Cup, if the nation qualified, but without “Russia” in the team name.

On Thursday, CAS did not rule on whether teams of Russian athletes can compete in Olympic team events, such as gymnastics or ice hockey. “This point would have to be confirmed by the competent body,” a communications officer wrote. However, Russia’s ice hockey federation wrote that its men’s and women’s teams will compete at the Beijing Winter Games.

The 2019 punishment came after evidence was found that Russian authorities tampered with a Moscow laboratory database to hide hundreds of potential doping cases and falsely shift the blame onto whistleblowers, according to WADA and the IOC last year.

Russia was also barred from bidding for and hosting world championships in Olympic sports, pending the CAS decision. Russia has been scheduled to host the 2023 World Men’s Ice Hockey Championship.

On Thursday, CAS halving the ban to two years left open Russia’s ability to host those worlds in one of its top Olympic sports.

Russia avoided blanket bans for the Rio and PyeongChang Olympics after a state-run doping program was exposed by media and WADA investigations after Russia hosted the 2014 Sochi Winter Games.

For the Tokyo Olympics next summer, Russia can have no more than 10 track and field athletes, competing as neutrals, World Athletics announced in March. That was punishment in a separate case of Russia’s track and field federation’s doping rule-breaking.

Russia has been barred from track and field since 2015 for its well-publicized doping problems.

Vetted Russian track and field athletes have been allowed to compete as neutrals — not under the Russian flag — at major competitions dating to the Rio Olympics.

One Russian track and field athlete was approved to compete as a neutral in Rio — long jumper Darya Klishina, who had been based in Florida for years and met a requirement of being subject to adequate anti-doping systems outside Russia.

USADA CEO Travis Tygart called Thursday’s decision a “weak, watered-down outcome.”

“To once again escape a meaningful consequence proportional to the crimes, much less a real ban, is a catastrophic blow to clean athletes, the integrity of sport, and the rule of law,” he said in a release.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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