Russia has been banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) from participating in all major sporting events such as the Tokyo 2020 Games and the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022. The ban extends to prohibiting Russia from hosting 'major events' during the four-year period. However, Russian athletes may still participate in such events if:

  1. they can prove they were not part of the anti-doping scheme; and
  2. they compete under a 'neutral' flag.

Why are Russian Athletes are Being Banned?

In 2015, the Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA) was initially declared non-compliant with anti-doping procedures in a report prepared by WADA's Independent Commission. A subsequent WADA report in 2016 accused Russia of running a state-supported doping programme whereby the Ministry of Sport "directed, controlled and oversaw the manipulation of athlete’s analytical results or sample swapping" over a four-year period across a wide range of sports, and during both the London 2012 Olympics and the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics.

RUSADA's compliant status was reinstated in 2018 subject to it providing authentic data from its laboratory for the period January 2012 to August 2015.

In 2016 and 2017, information provided by whistle-blower, Grigory Rodchenkov, a former Russian anti-doping official, showed that positive test results were omitted from the data provided to WADA. As a result, RUSADA was found to have breached the conditions of its compliant status by intentionally altering the data both before and during the period it was being forensically examined by WADA.

On 5 December 2019, WADA unanimously decided to impose the ban on Russia. WADA will issue a formal notice of non-compliance to RUSADA and compel it to provide an authentic copy of the data.

Consequences for Russian Athletes

WADA proposed a series of consequences to be in effect for four years following the date the decision becomes final. These include:

  1. prohibiting Russian government officials / representatives from attending or participating in the summer and winter Olympic Games and the Paralympic Games;
  2. bidding or hosting any major events including the 2032 Olympic and Paralympic Games; and
  3. payment of WADA's costs since January 2019, a fine of 10% of its 2019 income or US$100,000 (whichever is lower).

The governing body for soccer, UEFA, is not considered a 'major event organisation' for the purposes of anti-doping proceedings and therefore Russia will be free to participate in Euro 2020.

Russian Athletes to Compete Under a 'Neutral Flag'

Russian athletes who can prove they were not part of the anti-doping scheme will be able to compete under a 'neutral flag' which effectively allows the athlete to compete without association to any state. An authorised neutral athlete competes without their flag or national anthem.

This is not the first time Russian athletes have had to avail of the neutral flag. 168 Russian athletes competed under a neutral flag at the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics as Russia had received a ban after its participation in the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics where Russian athletes won 33 medals.

Prospect of Appeal

President Vladimir Putin has publicly said Russia will appeal the WADA decision to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS). Under Article 10.4.1 of the WADA International Standard Code Compliance by Signatories (ISCCS), RUSADA has 21 days from 5 December 2019 to notify WADA of its intention to appeal. WADA will then file a formal notice of dispute with CAS which will, in turn, issue a binding decision.

Public Hearing Before CAS

The CAS has recently revised its procedural rules to allow for public hearings at the request of the applicant following a decision of the European Court of Human Rights in the Pechstein case, which we covered here. In November 2019, following the decision in Pechstein, the CAS heard the second ever public hearing in the case of Chinese swimmer Sun Yan. It will be interesting to see whether Russia will seek its appeal to the CAS to be heard in public considering the gravity of the allegations against it.