By Brian Homewood and Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber
LAUSANNE/MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia was banned from the world’s top sporting events for four years on Monday, including the next summer and winter Olympics and the 2022 soccer World Cup, for tampering with doping tests.
The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) executive committee acted after concluding that Moscow had planted fake evidence and deleted files linked to positive doping tests in laboratory data that could have helped identify drug cheats.
The decision was a huge blow to the pride of a nation that has traditionally been a powerhouse in many sports but whose reputation has been tarnished by a series of doping scandals.
“For too long, Russian doping has detracted from clean sport,” WADA president Craig Reedie said.
“The blatant breach by the Russian authorities of RUSADA’s reinstatement conditions…demanded a robust response. That is exactly what has been delivered today,” he said in a statement.
The impact of the unanimous decision was felt immediately, with WADA confirming that the Russian national team could not take part in the 2022 World Cup in Qatar under the Russian flag and could only participate as neutrals.
“If they qualify, a team representing Russia cannot participate, but if there is a mechanism put in place, then they can apply to participate on a neutral basis, not as representatives of Russia,” Jonathan Taylor, chair of WADA’s compliance review committee, told a news conference.
It was not clear how that might work in practice. FIFA, soccer’s world governing body, said it was in contact with WADA to clarify the extent of the decision.
The ban also means that Russian sportsmen and sportswomen will not be able to perform at the Olympics in Tokyo next year under their own flag and national anthem.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC), which has come under attack for not taking a harder line on Russian doping, said it fully backed the ruling by the Swiss-based WADA.
“The representatives of the Olympic Movement today supported this unanimous decision in the WADA Executive Committee, which is in line with the statement made by the IOC Executive Board last week and endorsed by the Olympic Summit,” the IOC said.
The 2020 Tokyo Olympic organizing committee said it would welcome all athletes as long as they were clean. It would also work with relevant organizations to fully implement anti-doping measures, Tokyo 2020 spokesman Masa Takaya said in a statement.
Russia has been embroiled in doping scandals since a 2015 report commissioned by WADA found evidence of mass doping in Russian athletics.
Its woes have only grown since, with many of its athletes sidelined from the past two Olympics and the country stripped of its flag altogether at last year’s Pyeongchang Winter Games as punishment for state-sponsored doping cover-ups at the 2014 Sochi Games.
Monday’s sanctions, which also include a four-year ban on Russia hosting major sporting events, were recommended by WADA’s compliance review committee in response to the doctored laboratory data provided by Moscow earlier this year.
One of the conditions for the reinstatement of Russian anti-doping agency RUSADA, which was suspended in 2015 in the wake of the athletics doping scandal but reinstated last year, had been that Moscow provide an authentic copy of the laboratory data.
The sanctions effectively strip the agency of its accreditation.
The punishment leaves the door open for clean Russian athletes to compete at big international events without their flag or anthem for the next four years, something they did at the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics.
“This protects the rights of Russian athletes by allowing re-entry for those able to demonstrate they are not implicated in any way (in doping),” Reedie told a news conference.
“The decision is designed to punish the guilty parties…it stands strong against those who cheated the system.”
Some Russian officials have tried to cast WADA’s behavior as part of what they say is a broader Western attempt to hold back the country.
Igor Lebedev, a lawmaker and deputy speaker of Russia’s lower house of parliament, said on Monday the move was a serious blow to Russian sport that required a tough response from Russian authorities, the RIA news agency reported.
If RUSADA appeals WADA’s punishment, the case will be referred to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
Some thought the sanctions did not go far enough.
Travis Tygart, head of the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) and long a vocal critic of WADA’s handling of the issue, blasted it for failing to impose a blanket ban.
“To allow Russia to escape a complete ban is yet another devastating blow to clean athletes,” said Tygart in a statement. “WADA promised the world back in 2018 that if Russia failed yet again to live up to its agreements, it would use the toughest sanction under the rules.
“Yet, here we go again; WADA says one thing and does something entirely different.”
(Writing by Steve Keating in Toronto. Editing by Andrew Osborn and Angus MacSwan)