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Russia gets hammered by the World Anti-Doping Agency, banned from next two Olympics

December 17, 2020

Kyodo News

When you see the words "Russia" and "hammered," you should immediately be thinking "vodka," but this is a lot less fun: the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Switzerland just hit the Russians with a ban for two straight Olympic games and all world championships for the next two years. That means they can't use their name, their anthem, or their flag, which not only punishes the country and its athletes, but essentially brands them as cheaters for the world to see.

Which, if the shoe fits . . .

All of this stems from overwhelming evidence that the Russians facilitated a doping operation on a national level, with material support from the government, and that they've been doing it for years (the allegations first became prominent after the 2014 Sochi games). Worse, when they were taken to task by outside authorities, they made a botched effort to cover it all up when they had to submit their lab databases in 2018.

"The (CAS) panel has clearly upheld our findings that the Russian authorities brazenly and illegally manipulated the Moscow Laboratory data in an effort to cover up an institutionalized doping scheme,'' was the official statement from Witold Banka, the president of the World Anti-Doping Agency, which had actually recommended a four-year ban instead of two.

In some ways, Russia actually got off easy. As mentioned, the term of punishment could be wayyyyy longer, and there were small concessions throughout. Even though Russia has to submit to the embarrassment of calling themselves the "Neutral Team," their athletes can still have the word "Russia" on their uniforms and use their home nation's colors. Also, allowing those athletes to compete at all is a pretty big deal. The standard is pretty strict, since it bars anyone who has been implicated in any kind of doping or cover-up, but another concession to Russia is that the burden of proof will be on WADA to prove guilt, not Russia to prove innocence. (Which, when Russia is the one covering it up, can be pretty hard.)

So, sure, it could be worse. That said, Russia also lost the chance to host any world championships over the next two years, and along with all the material punishments (which includes $1.27 million paid to WADA), the biggest blow is to their reputation. Fair or not, every athlete who competes for Russia in the Tokyo and Beijing games will be subject to intense scrutiny or simply accused of cheating outright. Any success they have will be tainted. And for Russia itself to be found guilty of running this kind of operation on a state level is a shock that won't wear off. It's not exactly novel in the world of Olympics—we've seen it before with East Germany, most prominently, and China has been accused of the same thing for years—but it is damaging.

From a cultural perspective, it can be hard (particularly for westerners) to understand this kind of cheating on an institutional level. Doping in Olympic sports is rampant everywhere, but if you're used to the paradigm of "individual athletes and their team cheat, government and anti-doping bodies try to catch them," watching an actual government facilitate the illegal program can be a bit stunning. That's the reputation Russia has to live with, and though they achieved minor concessions from the Lausanne court, the stain on their athletic reputation will linger long past the two-year penalty phase.