The world’s top sports court on Thursday halved a four-year ban on Russia proposed by the World Anti-Doping Agency, blocking the nation from fielding teams at the next two Olympics and any world championships.
The Court of Arbitration for Sport, or CAS, based in Lausanne, Switzerland, unanimously ruled that the Russian anti-doping agency, RUSADA, was “non-compliant” with the World Anti-Doping Code, which is at the core of the World Anti-Doping Agency’s policies, rules and regulations for sport worldwide.
In 2007, the International Convention against Doping in Sport took effect, becoming the first global accord against doping in sport. Shepherded by UNESCO, the United Nations’ agency responsible for education, science, and culture, the accord has been ratified by 187 nations, including Russia, and requires nations to adopt preventive measures that are aligned with the World Anti-Doping Code.
As a consequence of Russia’s non-compliance, the court said in a statement, the nation cannot enter official teams at the rescheduled 2020 Toyko Summer Games to be held next year or at the 2022 Beijing Winter Games, or allow its athletes to compete under their national flag or anthem at other major sporting competitions. The ruling takes immediate effect and lasts until December 16, 2022.
Russia athletes that are not banned or suspected of doping, however, will still be eligible to compete in Tokyo or Beijing, or at football’s 2022 World Cup in Qatar. They can also dress in their national flag’s red, white and blue colors, but their uniforms must specify that they are “neutral” competitors. Russia still plans to host the 2022 world championships for men’s volleyball and shooting.
“This panel has imposed consequences to reflect the nature and seriousness of the non-compliance and to ensure that the integrity of sport against the scourge of doping is maintained,” court panelists Mark Williams of Australia, Luigi Fumagalli of Italy and Hamid Gharavi of France and Iran said in explaining why they cut in half the four-year ban on Russian athletes that WADA proposed last year.
“The consequences which the panel has decided to impose are not as extensive as those sought by WADA. This should not, however, be read as any validation of the conduct of RUSADA or the Russian authorities,” they said. “It has considered matters of proportionality and, in particular, the need to effect cultural change and encourage the next generation of Russian athletes to participate in clean international sport.”
— WADA (@wada_ama) December 17, 2020
‘Proportionate and reasonable’
Last year, Montréal-based WADA opened a formal compliance procedure against RUSADA, which was handed a three-year ban in 2015 for aiding a massive government-sponsored doping program that was in use during the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic Games. RUSADA was reinstated in 2018 on condition that WADA inspectors gain access to a Moscow laboratory.
But after WADA inspectors were denied access to data from that laboratory as part of their investigation, RUSADA was at risk of being suspended again.
Then in December, WADA’s executive committee banned Russia from competing at international sports events for the next four years but said Russians who did not take part in a government-sponsored doping scheme can still compete at Tokyo as unaffiliated athletes, similar to the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Games, where 168 Russians competed not on an official team but as “Olympic athletes from Russia.”
Russia also was ordered to pay all of WADA’s legal costs for the case since January 2019 and a fine of up to US$100,000. RUSADA appealed the decision to CAS, which upheld it on Thursday.
In that latest ruling, CAS also ordered RUSADA to pay more than US$1.7 million for investigative and legal costs and the fine of up to US$100,000. RUSADA can still appeal to the Federal Supreme Court, Switzerland’s highest judiciary, in Lausanne.
RUSADA’s acting CEO, Mikhail Bukhanov, said he believed “common sense has prevailed” because the CAS ruling did not impose a blanket ban and halved the proposed four-year exclusion of Russian athletes. “The blanket ban undermined the necessity for all athletes to understand they are personally responsible for playing fair, and that their sporting career will be terminated if they use banned substances,” Bukhanov said in a statement.
“Still we are confused that CAS upheld WADA’s ban on RUSADA. WADA’s case against RUSADA is based on alleged manipulation of the Moscow Anti-Doping Laboratory in 2018,” he said. “Yet it is a fact — not disputed by WADA — that the database of the Moscow Anti-Doping Laboratory was never under RUSADA’s control; neither was RUSADA involved in the data transfer process at the heart of the allegations — this is also not disputed by WADA.”
WADA President Witold Bańka said his agency was pleased to have won this landmark case in which the panel “clearly upheld our findings that the Russian authorities brazenly and illegally manipulated” a testing laboratory database in Moscow. “We are, however, disappointed that the CAS panel did not endorse each and every one of our recommended consequences for the four-year period we requested,” Bańka said in a statement.
“We believe they were proportionate and reasonable, but ultimately WADA is not the judge but the prosecutor and we must respect the decision of the panel,” he said. “These are still the strongest set of consequences ever imposed on any country for doping-related offenses and the award clearly endorses the resolute, process-driven approach taken by WADA in dealing effectively with this case.”