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Russia banned from Olympics, world champs for 4 years; athletes could compete as neutrals

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Russia is banned from the next two Olympics and other major sports events for four years, though its athletes could still compete without representing the country if cleared by anti-doping authorities.

Russia’s hosting of world championships in Olympic sports also face being stripped after the World Anti-Doping Agency executive committee approved a full slate of recommended sanctions for tampering with a Moscow laboratory database.

Russian athletes will be allowed to compete in major events — including world championships — only if they are not implicated in positive doping tests or their data was not manipulated, according to the WADA ruling. “In this circumstance, they may not represent the Russian Federation,” according to a WADA release.

“While I understand the calls for a blanket ban on all Russian athletes whether or not they are implicated by the data, it was the unanimous view of the CRC [compliance review committee], which includes an athlete, that in this case, those who could prove their innocence should not be punished, and I am pleased that the WADA ExCo [executive committee] agreed with this,” WADA CRC chairman Jonathan Taylor said.

There are 145 unnamed athletes within WADA’s “target group of most suspicious athletes” from 2012-15 who would not be allowed to compete at the Olympics, Taylor said, adding that it’s possible those names will be made public. About one-third of them are still active.

Russia’s anti-doping agency can appeal the decision within 21 days. Russia previously signaled it would appeal the ruling.

“The decision will come into effect only when it becomes final ie when either RUSADA accepts it or it is upheld by the Court of Arbitration for Sport,” a WADA spokesperson said in an email.

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.

Approved Russian athletes competed as neutrals — “Olympic Athletes from Russia” — including in team sports in PyeongChang. Those Russians combined to earn two gold medals (figure skater Alina Zagitova and men’s hockey) and 17 overall, compared to the leading 33 Russia earned at the Sochi Olympics before medals were stripped for doping.

“Will Russian athletes be accepted as Olympic Athletes from Russia?” during the ban, Taylor said. “No, they are neutral athletes, which means not representatives of any country. Not representatives of Russia.”

Going forward, “they cannot use the name of the country in the name of the team,” WADA president-elect Witold Bańka told The Associated Press.

Two of the 168 Russians who competed in PyeongChang failed drug tests and were punished for doping.

More recent evidence shows that Russian authorities tampered with a Moscow laboratory database to hide hundreds of potential doping cases and falsely shift the blame onto whistleblowers, WADA investigators and the International Olympic Committee said last month. “Flagrant manipulation” of the Moscow lab data was “an insult to the sporting movement worldwide,” the IOC said last month.

“Russia was afforded every opportunity to get its house in order … but it chose instead to continue in its stance of deception and denial,” WADA president Craig Reedie said.

Russia will be allowed to participate in the Youth Olympics in Lausanne, Switzerland, that open Jan. 9.

WADA’s inability to fully expel Russia from the Tokyo Olympics and 2022 Beijing Winter Games frustrated the doping watchdog’s vice president.

“I’m not happy with the decision we made today. But this is as far as we could go,” said Linda Helleland, a Norwegian lawmaker who serves on WADA executive committee and has long pushed for a tougher line against Russia. “This is the biggest sports scandal the world has ever seen. I would expect now a full admission from the Russians and for them to apologize on all the pain all the athletes and sports fans have experienced.”

Although the IOC has called for the strongest possible sanctions, it wants those sanctions directed at Russian state authorities rather than athletes or Olympic officials.

“To allow Russia to escape a complete ban is yet another devastating blow to clean athletes, the integrity of sport and the rule of law,” USADA CEO Travis Tygart said in a statement. “And, in turn, the reaction by all those who value sport should be nothing short of a revolt against this broken system to force reform.”

Russia’s Olympic champion women’s handball team is currently competing at the world championships in Japan. Its next match is Tuesday against Montenegro. Russia has been the scheduled host for the world luge championships in Sochi in mid-February.

The “major sports” events that fall under WADA’s sanctions do not include European Championships or other non-world championships events such as tennis’ upcoming Australian Open.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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TIMELINE: Russia’s recent history of sports doping

Doping report shows depths of Russia cover-up

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The Russians were running out of time. Experts from the World Anti-Doping Agency were heading to Moscow to finally receive the trove of data they’d been seeking for two years.

Instead of getting ready to hand it over, Russian authorities stayed busy in a round-the-clock endeavor to keep changing, deleting and manipulating the data. Granular details of the plot are sprinkled throughout WADA’s previously confidential 89-page report, obtained by The Associated Press.

Among the most brazen projects, the report says, was the rewriting of memos to make it look as though the man who exposed the plot was leveraging the Russian doping scheme to line his own pockets. The rewrites were also designed to eliminate any record that one of Russia’s own key defense witnesses in the case had done anything wrong.

“Treat all the files the same, and you can take your Bonus home,” said one of the doctored messages, purported to have been written by whistleblower Grigory Rodchenkov to another worker, Timofey Sobolevsky, at the now-infamous Moscow antidoping lab.

In fact, the original messages were to Sobolevsky from a key Russian witness and purveyor of the plot, Evgeny Kudryavtsev. Those simply said “OK,” and “Tim, we will soon be giving it.” Kudryavtsev has called Rodchenkov, who lives in hiding in the United States, a liar. Rodchenkov was not part of the original exchange.

The doctored message was one of thousands of manipulations that were concocted long after Russia had agreed to hand over the data in its original form. In fact, Russia was doctoring files as late as Jan. 16, 2019, while WADA’s team was already in the building, one day away from leaving Moscow with the now-sullied data in tow.

The details of the deception, portrayed by WADA investigators as the “smoking gun” in the Russian manipulation case, are included in the report, which spells out the ways Russia reworked data that was supposed to be used to prosecute doping cases stemming from its state-run system to win Olympic medals.

Sprinkled throughout the 89 pages are a number of explanations the Russians gave for the discrepancies — among them, system malfunctions and routine space-clearing operations that occurred at the beginning of every year — each of which is incisively batted down by the WADA team of investigators, who went to painstaking lengths to conduct forensic research on 23 million megabytes of data.

Regarding the forged messages, the investigators drew a forceful conclusion: The Russians were so focused on altering the messages that made them look the worst that they scoured through 11,227 of the exchanges to “identify and delete 25 highly inculpatory messages.”

“They therefore planted fabricated evidence into the 2019 … database that would allow them to blame those discrepancies on Dr Rodchenkov, Dr Sobolevsky” and another worker, the report said. “Such bad faith is indeed stunning, and … it provides a lens through which the explanations offered by the Russian authorities for the following subsequent events should be observed.”

On Tuesday, the day after the release of WADA’s conclusions — along with the recommendation to ban the Russian flag and its dignitaries, but not all of its athletes, from the next two Olympics — the reactions out of Russia were varied.

Foreign minister Sergei Lavrov called it the latest attempt among Western efforts “to put Russia in a defensive position accused of pretty much everything in every sphere of international life.”

But Yuri Ganus, the head of the Russian Anti-Doping Agency, said the sanctions “were to be expected, and they’re justified.”

RUSADA was basically the only Russian actor that came off relatively unscathed in the WADA report, in large part because it has been totally revamped in the wake of the scandal.

But as the report spells out in alarming detail, the government was busy trying to cover its tracks and tell new stories right up until WADA packed up the data and took it away.

WADA’s executive committee is scheduled to review the report on Dec. 9 and decide whether to accept the sanctions recommended by the compliance review committee.

Russia should get 4-year Olympic ban, WADA committee recommends

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MONTREAL (AP) — Russian athletes will have a chance to compete at next year’s Olympics, but their flag would not fly in Tokyo if the World Anti-Doping Agency approves a recommendation it received Monday.

The WADA compliance review committee proposed a four-year ban on Russia hosting major events but stopped short of asking for the blanket ban on Russian athletes that is among the possible sanctions for the most egregious violations.

The WADA executive committee will rule on the recommendations Dec. 9.

The proposal follows a lengthy investigation into lab data handed over by Russia in January. Giving the data to WADA was part of a deal to lift a suspension of the Russian anti-doping agency, and the data was supposed to be used to expose past cover-ups of drug use by Russian athletes.

But in a damning admission, WADA said the Russians were tampering with the data as late as January 2019 — days before they handed over the data that had originally been due on Dec. 31, 2018.

Among the alterations, WADA says, was the planting of evidence in an attempt to implicate the lab’s former director, Grigory Rodchenkov. The planted evidence claimed Rodchenkov, who blew the whistle on the Russian doping plot, did so as part of a scheme to extort money from athletes.

Under the proposal, Russians would operate under a system similar to what was done in 2018, when 168 athletes went to PyeongChang and competed under the banner “Olympic Athlete from Russia.” The system would be in place in Tokyo, at the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing and at world championships in a number of sports.

It would fall in line with what IOC president Thomas Bach has supported since the Russian doping scandal emerged in 2016.

“Our principle is that the guilty ones must be punished as hard as possible and the innocent ones must be protected,” Bach said in London last week.

But the lack of a blanket ban left some incensed, wondering what it might possibly take for WADA to invoke its harshest sanction.

“It’s just, ‘Here we go again,’” said Rob Koehler, a former WADA executive who now leads the athletes’ group Global Athlete. “Russians still compete, their athletes still go home with medals and Russia trumps everyone.”

The data handover was the latest development in a scandal that began with a government-hatched scheme to allow Russian athletes to dope at the Sochi Games without getting caught. As part of the elaborate scheme, authorities at the anti-doping lab used a small hole drilled in the wall to make dark-of-night exchanges of previously stored clean samples from the athletes with the dirty samples they gave after competition.

The WADA recommendations could have serious implications for European soccer body UEFA if accepted in full by the executive committee.

The recommendations include stripping Russia of sports events already awarded “unless it is legally or practically impossible to do so.”

Other major events scheduled in Russia during the four-year period include the 2023 men’s world championship in ice hockey, already awarded to St. Petersburg, and the first World Cup races at the Alpine ski resort of Rosa Khutor since the Sochi Olympics.

But the main focus will be Russia’s presence at the Olympics, where it has not fielded a full team since 2014 — in Sochi, where the scandal began in earnest.

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