Olympics·CBC Explains

'Groundhog Day of Russian corruption': Examining latest ban of Russia from Olympics

What's the difference between a Russian Olympic athlete and an Olympic athlete from Russia? Despite another World Anti-Doping Agency ruling banning the country from major sporting events for four years, it could prove to be just semantics.

WADA ruling reminiscent of past doping decisions despite insistence from organization

Members of the gold medal-winning OAR men's ice hockey team at the 2018 Winter Olympics sang the banned Russian anthem after their victory, despite the Olympic anthem playing at the arena. (Harry How/Getty Images)

What's the difference between a Russian Olympic athlete and an Olympic athlete from Russia?

Despite another World Anti-Doping Agency ruling banning the country from major sporting events for four years, it could prove to be just semantics.

Here's a look at how Russian athletes can still compete for medals on the global stage, what benchmarks the athletes must meet and how effective previous doping rulings have been in deterring the country from doping.

What happened today?

On Monday, the Russian flag and national anthem were banned from the  2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo and other major sporting events — including the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar — for the next four years.

Athletes will be allowed to compete in major events only if they are not implicated in positive doping tests or their data were not manipulated, according to the WADA ruling.

Watch as WADA president Craig Reedie discusses the latest ban:

World Anti-Doping Agency deals new blow against Russian sport

2 years ago
WADA president Craig Reedie points to Russian belligerence in cleaning up its approach to sport. 0:34

WADA has said the ban will not affect Russia's hosting of four Euro 2020 soccer championships matches, including a quarter-final, as well as the Champions League final in 2021 set to be held in St. Petersburg.

When did all of this begin?

Months after the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, during which host nation Russia dominated the medal total, German television channel ARD reported on allegations of corruption and systematic doping throughout Russia. The following year, WADA declared Russia's anti-doping agency non-compliant, and shut down the national drug-testing laboratory.

In July 2016, WADA issued a report conducted independently by Richard McLaren of London's University of Western Ontario in July 2016 that confirmed evidence of state-sponsored cheating, claiming laboratories in Moscow and Sochi helped protect Russian athletes from positive doping tests from 2011 to 2015.

Last September, WADA restored the working status of the country's anti-doping agency despite pleas from athletes and anti-doping officials. But last month, WADA investigators and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) said evidence showed Russian authorities tampered with a Moscow laboratory database to hide hundreds of potential doping cases and falsely shift the blame onto whistleblowers.

Haven't we seen this before?

Yes. The IOC banned Russia from competing at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. However, it allowed for individual Russian athletes "under strict conditions" to compete without their national flag or anthem — provided they could prove they weren't implicated in doping.

Two years earlier, the IOC rejected calls from WADA and other anti-doping bodies to exclude the entire Russian team from the Rio 2016 Olympics following allegations of state-sponsored cheating. Instead, it let individual global sports federations decide which athletes should be cleared to compete at the Summer Games. Previously, Russia's track and field athletes were banned by the IAAF, the sport's governing body.

What happened with Russian athletes at the 2018 Winter Olympics?

Any Russian athlete who met the IOC's criteria competed as an Olympic Athlete from Russia. The plain logo featured Olympic Athlete from Russia fully spelled out, and uniforms were limited to a maximum of two colours to avoid creating the tricolour of the Russian flag. Even the exact red, white and blue on the country's flag could not be used.

More than 160 Olympic Athletes from Russia competed at the Games under the Olympic banner. They won 17 total medals, including two gold, a significant drop from the 29 won at the 2014 Games in Sochi (the original total was 33, but four were stripped due to doping).

The OAR golds were won by women's figure skater Alina Zagitova and the men's hockey team. Although the Olympic anthem played following both medal ceremonies, as per the IOC's ruling, the hockey team and Russian fans in attendance defiantly sang the banned Russian anthem. Two Olympic Athletes from Russia were later disqualified for doping, more than any other country.

Russian President Vladimir Putin later honoured all the OAR medallists at the Kremlin with the country's Order of Friendship. The IOC lifted its ban on Russia shortly after the 2018 Winter Games concluded.

Figure skater Alina Zagitova, right, was awarded the Order of Friendship by Russian President Vladimir Putin shortly after the 2018 Winter Olympics. Despite winning gold as an Olympic Athlete from Russia, Zagitova wore a jacket with a Russian emblem to the ceremony at the Kremlin. (Grigory Dukor/AFP via Getty Images)

What about Russian Paralympic athletes?

The International Paralympic Committee (IPC) has consistently taken a tougher stance on Russia, banning the country outright from the Rio and Pyeongchang Paralympics.

Russia's Paralympic ban was lifted earlier this year, but the athletes face extra doping tests ahead of the Summer Games in Tokyo.

The IPC also put Russia on probation through 2022. Conditions include extra drug testing before competitions — with Russia footing the bill — and a ban on government officials serving on the Russian Paralympic Committee.

What happens next?

Russia's anti-doping agency can appeal Monday's decision to the Court of Arbitration for Sport within 21 days. Russian media reported the agency will hold a meeting later this month and is expected to appeal.

Should the ban be upheld, WADA's compliance review committee chair, Jonathan Taylor, said any Russian athletes who compete at the Tokyo Games would be "true neutrals" as opposed to another OAR-style setup, according to CBC's Stephanie Jenzer.

The IOC announced its support for Monday's WADA decision, but it has shown in the past it can be malleable when it comes to Russian participation. Russian athletes will still likely be feted at home as athletic heroes regardless of their uniform during competition, and doping in sports remains a global issue.

Even today's WADA ruling was criticized by some in the athletic community, including U.S. Anti-Doping Agency CEO Travis Tygart, who said "clean athletes, sports fans and sponsors are having to suffer through another horrendous Groundhog Day of Russian corruption and domination."

With files from Benjamin Blum, Stephanie Jenzer and The Associated Press


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