Russia’s doping ban from next two Olympics is upheld, drawing praise and condemnation

The Olympic rings and flag outside the headquarters of the International Olympic Committee in Lausanne, Switzerland
The headquarters of the International Olympic Committee in Lausanne, Switzerland.
(Fabrice Coffrini / AFP/Getty Images)

An international court has upheld Russia’s ban from the next two Olympics in a ruling that has drawn predictably mixed reactions — both praise and condemnation — from around the sports world.

The Court of Arbitration for Sport in, Lausanne, Switzerland issued its decision on Thursday, the latest development in a long-running scandal that has seen Russian athletes, coaches and officials caught in systemic doping.

Though the embattled country will not be allowed to use its flag or anthem or march as a national team at the Tokyo Games this summer, individual athletes may still compete as “neutrals” in select cases. And the panel of three CAS judges reduced the four-year penalty originally recommended by anti-doping authorities.


The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) called the decision “an important moment for clean sport and athletes” while also expressing disappointment that “the CAS panel did not endorse each and every one of our recommended consequences for the four-year period we requested.”

American officials were sharper in their response.

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“At this stage in the sordid Russian state-sponsored doping affair, now spanning close to a decade, there is no consolation to this weak, watered-down outcome,” Travis Tygart of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency said in a statement.

As with previous sanctions, Russia cannot seek to host the Olympics or any world championships. Individual athletes and teams can attain neutral status only by convincing authorities they have not cheated.

But, in addition to the time reduction, the country did win several concessions by appealing to the CAS.

The burden of proof for determining which athletes should be accepted will now shift somewhat to WADA. Verified athletes can wear uniforms in their national colors with the name “Russia,” so long as the word “neutral” appears with equal prominence.

In Russia, where leaders have traditionally viewed sports as a national showcase, the decision was hailed.


“’Clean’ athletes should not be held responsible for the actions of some unscrupulous athletes who committed anti-doping rule violations,” said Mikhail Bukhanov, head of the Russian Anti-Doping Agency. “The fact that WADA was unable to convince the CAS referees to punish ‘clean’ athletes from Russia, and along with them the Russian sports organizations and federations, is a victory of common sense.”

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The scandal dates back to allegations surrounding the 2014 Winter Olympics in Soch, Russia. Investigators found evidence that blood and urine samples taken from athletes were tampered with and, subsequently, that Russian state officials shielded cheaters by manipulating data at a testing lab in Moscow.

With the Olympic movement scrambling to respond, the Russians were allowed to participate at the 2016 Summer Games on a limited basis only. Two years later, at the 2018 Winter Games, they were banned as a nation with numerous athletes competing as neutrals and the men’s hockey team winning a gold medal.

Scores of athletes whose data had been manipulated by the Moscow lab were not allowed to apply.

Many in the sports world saw excluding all Russians from Tokyo and beyond as a logical next step. After WADA handed down its four-year sanction in late 2019, Russia appealed to the CAS, which convened a four-day hearing last month in Lausanne as dozens of Russian athletes and their lawyers presented arguments.

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This week’s decision will extend through the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing and the 2022 World Cup soccer championship in Qatar.


“The fact that Russian athletes can compete as ‘Neutral Athletes from Russia’ is another farcical facade that makes a mockery of the system,” said Global Athlete, a grassroots organization. “If athletes from Russia can still compete, it is not a sanction. Russia has not been banned; they have simply been rebranded.”

The CAS panel insisted its ruling should not “be read as any validation of the conduct of [Russian anti-doping officials] or the Russian authorities.”

A full 186-page arbitral award is expected soon. Russia has the option of appealing again, this time to Switzerland’s supreme court.

With the Tokyo Games just seven months away, the International Olympic Committee reacted cautiously, stating that it has “taken note of the CAS decision” and “will now carefully evaluate the award and its consequences for competitions within the Olympic movement.”