Russia’s Olympic future is looking bleak as the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) announced that the country has been effectively banned from competing at international events for the next four years. Russian athletes will not be able to compete under their flag at events including the upcoming Summer Olympics in Tokyo or the 2022 World Cup and Winter Olympics because Russia’s Anti-Doping Agency was declared noncompliant with WADA’s rules.
The ban applies not only to the athletes but also to Russian officials and agencies in its sports apparatus, though Russian athletes may yet compete if they can prove that they are “clean.” This decision is the latest in a scandal that started over five years ago before the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. The officials had devised a scheme in which their athletes were allowed to dope without being caught by substituting urine samples taken after competition with clean ones stored from earlier.
The loophole allowing clean athletes to compete requires them to prove that they aren’t implicated in cheating and to show that they have no drug-positive findings in their record. During the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea, clean athletes were forced to abandon their national colors and celebrated victories without their national flag or anthem. According to WADA, Russian athletes will face similar circumstances in upcoming sporting events. The decision prompted an angry response from Travis Tygart, CEO of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, who said in a statement, “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.”
Under the four-year ban, the Russian flag cannot be flown at any major sporting events, and Russian government officials are prohibited from attending any of those events. Russia will be unable to host any landmark sports events during that time in addition to being forbidden from bidding to host future events. So far, the country is barred from bidding to host the 2032 Olympic and Paralympic games.
WADA’s imposed punishment is very similar to previous sanctions, which has drawn criticism. Critics of the decision say that the agency hasn’t gone far enough to tackle Russia’s systemic cheating, and those same critics have long called for a total ban on Russian athletes to ensure that the country’s leaders get a clear message.