The World Anti-Doping Agency has voted unanimously to ban Russia from international sport for four years for doping offences.
Russia now have 21 days to appeal against the sentence, which would see the country banned from participating at next summer’s Olympics in Tokyo and the Qatar 2022 World Cup.
They will, however, still be able compete in next year’s European football championships, where they will also be one of the host countries. As for the World Cup, Fifa said it was in discussions with Wada “to clarify the extent of the decision”. Individual Russian athletes will furthermore be able to compete under a neutral banner at the Olympics, providing they can prove they are drug free. Under similar conditions, 30 Russians competed at this year’s World Athletics Championships as “Authorized Neutral Athletes”.
The new punishment was agreed by Wada’s executive committee (ExCo) at a special meeting convened at the headquarters of the International Olympic Committee in Lausanne, Switzerland. It is the most severe sanction yet against the country, which has been accused of running a systemic doping programme and deleting crucial laboratory evidence.
Wada’s president Sir Craig Reedie said: “For too long, Russian doping has detracted from clean sport. Russia was afforded every opportunity to get its house in order and re-join the global anti-doping 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.
“As a result, the Wada ExCo has responded in the strongest possible terms, while protecting the rights of Russian athletes that can prove that they were not involved and did not benefit from these fraudulent acts.”
Some within Wada were more critical of the decision, saying it fell short of the ultimate sanction of a blanket ban for Russia and its athletes.
“I’m not happy with the decision we made today. But this is as far as we could go,” said Linda Helleland, a Norwegian politician who is the Wada vice-president and a vocal critic of Russian doping.
”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 apologise [for] all the pain athletes and sports fans have experienced.”
Travis Tygart, the chief executive of Usada who had previously said anything but a blanket ban on all Russia athletes would be “inadequate”, said Wada’s decision proved the system was flawed. “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,” Tygart said. “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.”
Russian authorities have strongly criticised the decision. The country’s ruling party described the ban as “politicised” and the deputy speaker of Russia’s parliament called it “a way of ousting Russian competitors from global sports.”
The head of Russia’s biathlon federation, Vladimir Drachev, called the decision “extremely wrong and biased” during a live interview broadcast on Russian state television. “Much has been done in Russian sport recently, athletes have undergone tests for doping, all the cases [of doping] in Russia are part of the past.”
Evidence of wide-spread Russian doping was first revealed by Wada four years ago with a report claiming that at least 643 positive tests had been hidden by authorities. That resulted in the suspension of the Russian Athletics Federation (Rusaf) and 111 individual athletes being banned from the 2016 games in Rio.
Last year Wada made the controversial decision to reinstate the Russian anti-doping agency (Rusada) on the condition that it complied with requests to share its laboratory results. Those results were subsequently found to have been tampered with, and led to renewed calls for punishment. “Flagrant manipulation” of the Moscow lab data was “an insult to the sporting movement worldwide,” the IOC said last month.
If Russia, as is likely, does choose to appeal the punishment, it will subsequently be referred to the Court of Arbitration for Sport. In a statement, the UK anti-doping body Ukad called for any appeal to be heard as quickly as possible.
“This was the only possible outcome that the WADA ExCo could take to reassure athletes and the public and continue the task of seeking justice for those cheated b Russian athletes”, said Ukad ’s chief executive Nicole Sapstead.
“We know however that this is not necessarily the end of the matter. If RUSADA choose to appeal this decision to CAS, this must be carried out with minimal delay, especially in light of the upcoming Olympic and Paralympic Games in Tokyo.” FIF