The World Anti-Doping Agency’s unanimous decision, if upheld, would exclude Russia from the 2020 Olympics, and the Winter Games and World Cup in 2022.

December 9, 2019
Tariq Panja
The New York Times

LAUSANNE, Switzerland — Global antidoping leaders agreed unanimously on Monday to banish Russia from international sports—including next summer’s Olympic Games in Tokyo—for four years, the latest and severest punishment yet connected to a yearslong cheating scheme that has tarnished global sport.

The World Anti-Doping Agency’s punishment means that Russia’s flag, name and anthem will not be allowed at the Tokyo Games, though athletes not implicated in doping could compete under a neutral flag. The agency also barred Russian sports and government officials from the Games and prohibited the country from hosting international events.

The move, which comes four years after the first details of the scheme that peaked at the 2014 Sochi Olympics were made public, was hailed by WADA as a tough step, though some antidoping leaders questioned that.

“For too long, Russian doping has detracted from clean sport,” WADA president Craig Reedie said at news conference. “Russia was afforded every opportunity to get its house in order and rejoin the global antidoping 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.”

To some, including many athlete groups and national antidoping agencies, the punishment does not go far enough, because it leaves open the possibility that hundreds of Russian athletes can appear in Tokyo, just as they did at the Winter Olympics in South Korea last year.

The decision is unlikely to surprise many given the scale of Russia’s attempt to conceal, obfuscate and frustrate attempts to unmask the beneficiaries of a state-powered doping program, remarkable for its sophistication and scope.

Still, Russia is almost certain to contest the decision. It continues to steadfastly deny many of the allegations, even after several independent investigations that have revealed a welter of evidence against it.

Russian officials have 21 days to lodge an appeal with the Swiss-based Court of Arbitration for Sport after the announcement from the antidoping agency, which convened for a special meeting near the International Olympic Committee’s headquarters in Lausanne.

The Russian prime minister, Dmitri Medvedev, encouraged an appeal, saying that the antidoping agency’s decision looked to him like a “continuation of anti-Russian hysteria.”

But he offered a concession. “The Russian side, too,—by that I mean our sports community—still has significant problems with doping,” he said. “This is undeniable.”

The WADA board agreed to a suite of punishments detailed in a report from a committee led by the British lawyer Jonathan Taylor that it received late last month. The penalties include forcing Russian athletes who have not been implicated in doping to compete at a second consecutive Olympic Games in neutral uniforms and to collect any medals they win without the raising of the nation’s flag or the playing of its anthem.

They also bar Russian government officials and representatives from attending major events or from serving on the board of any organization that has signed the global antidoping code, prevent Russia from bidding on new championships, and require moving any international events the country was set to host during the four-year period.

Linda Helleland, a Norwegian who is the outgoing vice president of the antidoping agency, expressed frustration at the decision, saying she wanted the punishment to ensure that Russian athletes would not be able to compete independently, as they did in South Korea, during the ban.

But Helleland said that was not an option for what she called “the biggest sports scandal the world has ever seen,” because the board was limited to two choices: Agree with the punishments recommended by Taylor’s committee, or reject them.

“I am not happy with the decision we made today,” Helleland told reporters at the conclusion of the hourlong meeting. “This was as far as we could go.”

Travis T. Tygart, the chief executive of the United States Anti-Doping Agency, said: “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. 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.”

WADA officials said the practicalities of Russia’s ban still needed to be worked out with individual sports federations. For example, Russia would be allowed to compete in the qualification matches for the 2022 World Cup, though should it progress to the tournament the team would be allowed to participate only as a neutral, without any insignia that would identify the team as being Russian.

If Russia is unable to have the ruling overturned, the country’s ouster from the world of international sport would stretch to events well beyond the Olympics, including soccer’s World Cup.

What has angered many is Russia’s mendacity in the face of efforts to rehabilitate the country after whistle-blower evidence helped unravel a meticulously planned—and ultimately successful—scheme in which Russian antidoping experts and members of the country’s intelligence service surreptitiously replaced urine samples tainted by performance-enhancing drugs with clean urine at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

As part of the resolution of that case, Russia agreed to provide a set of testing results to doping regulators from its Moscow laboratory. It is that database, which Russia was found to have manipulated, that is at the heart of a crisis that threatens its sporting future.

Taylor, who will be stepping down from his role at WADA at the end of the year, told The New York Times that he could understand why some people would think the penalties did not go far enough, but he insisted that the measures meted out in Switzerland on Monday amounted to a humiliation for the Russian authorities.

“Don’t tell me that doesn’t affect them,” he said. “There’s national pride; what happens if this neutral team wins the World Cup and Putin’s not there? Don’t tell me it doesn’t mean anything.”

While the pressure has been ratcheting up on Russia from the outside, inside the country there has been a propaganda campaign that has attempted to discredit the findings as just another Western plot.

One Russian talk show described the revelations as an attempt by Russia’s rivals to eliminate a potential medal-winning opponent, while a documentary tried to lay the blame on the whistle-blower, Grigory Rodchenkov, who helped mastermind the scheme from his position as the head of the Moscow laboratory. The claims mirror those of Russian officials who were proved by WADA investigators to frame Rodchenkov and hide the identity of the true culprits.

Russia’s denials and manipulations of data continued well after WADA had gone public in September with confirmation that thousands of crucial Russian files had been deleted or manipulated, and that the data that was provided did not match a database on Russian athletes that it received in 2017.

In a follow-up meeting in October to help explain the discrepancies, Russia’s sports minister provided WADA with fresh data, which when studied revealed yet more manipulation.

Taylor used an expletive to describe Russia’s efforts to frame Rodchenkov, which involved fabricating messages between the former laboratory director and his staff, to suggest they were plotting to extort Russian athletes by falsely accusing them of failing drugs tests. Details of that scheme and other manipulated evidence were brought to WADA’s attention by the sports minister, Pavel Kolobkov. “I don’t know if he is corrupt or incompetent,” Taylor said of Kolobkov, a former fencer who was appointed to his post after revelations of Russia’s vast doping scheme.

“After all of this, who can say whether there are any clean athletes in Russia if the crucial data is lost?” Rodchenkov said in a statement. “Russia dug its own grave and has ruined the chances for any clean Russian athlete to compete. If the files were deleted, how can any athlete credibly prove its innocence?”

A rare voice of dissent in Russia has come from the current head of its antidoping agency, Yuri Ganus. For months, as the crisis has grown, Ganus has spoken out against his country’s handling of the scheme, telling the world that he believed thousands of athlete files had likely been deleted to save the reputations of some of Russia’s most significant figures.

He told The New York Times that the punishment was logical, but he would back an appeal he went on to describe a “mission impossible” to prevent a generation of clean athletes from being punished for a scheme they had no part in. Ganus called on Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin, to personally become involved. “I think there is only one person who can change the situation,” Ganus said.

Margarita Pakhnotskaya, the deputy head of Russia’s antidoping agency, said that the ban should prompt action by officials in her country who have suggested that Russia was being unfairly targeted.

“This is another reason for sports executives to think about whether we are moving in the right direction,” the Interfax news agency quoted her as saying. “I’m hearing presidents of federations and experts proudly trumpet their activities—‘We have given all the answers, we’re surrounded only by enemies who are attacking our athletes.’ This all shows that there has been no change in our antidoping culture.”

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Questions Using Close Reading and Critical Thinking

  1. The first section of an article should answer the questions “Who?”, “What?”, “When?”, and “Where?” Identify the four Ws of this article. (Note: The rest of the news article provides details on the why and/or how.)
  2. Does this article have any bias? Why or why not?
  3. When did the first details of this scheme go public? How has Russia already been punished for those first allegations?
  4. Although Russia is banned from the Olympics in 2020, how will Russian athletes still be able to compete? Should the ban extend to all athletes in the country? Explain your reasoning.
  5. How has Russia reacted to the ban on their country from international sporting events?
  6. Why will it be difficult now to punish individual athletes and ban them from competing under a neutral flag in future events? Do you think there is any solution to remedy this issue?
  7. Do you agree with how the International Olympic Committee and WADA have handled the anti-doping scandal in Russia? Why or why not?

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1 comment

  1. This was very well written. JK hah

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