In an unprecedented ban that could see Russia barred from officially competing in the Tokyo Summer Olympics and the upcoming FIFA World Cup in Qatar, the World Anti-Doping Authority decided to slap Russia with a four-year ban from international sports. The ban was handed down Monday during a special meeting of the WADA board in Lausanne, Switzerland.
Under the terms of the ban, Russia won't be allowed to field a national team during any events governed by the WADA rules for international sport. Russia's doping activity at the Sochi Winter Olympics helped trigger an investigation, aided by at least one major whistleblower, that eventually led to a stunning series of leaks to the New York Times that made Russian cheating at the Olympics an international story.
As a result, Russia was barred from competing officially during the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang (though Russian athletes were allowed to compete wearing a neutral kit). Restrictions were supposed to be lifted if Russia's doping program showed no signs of corruption, but unfortunately, investigators recently found evidence of tampering, and the board has decided to move ahead with the next harshest punishment.
The ban is the most severe sanction yet against Russian sports, which for years have benefited from their discreet and highly effective doping that worked because doctors figured out a way to defeat the tamper-proof sample cups developed by WADA. Russian athletes who didn't participate in the doping program will be allowed to compete (though it's unclear how many athletes might still qualify).
WADA’s president Sir Craig Reedie said: “For too long, Russian doping has detracted from clean sport. Russia was afforded every opportunity to get its house in order and re-join the global anti-doping community for the good of its athletes and of the integrity of sport, but it chose instead to continue in its stance of deception and denial.
Some felt WADA's punishment wasn't severe enough, falling short of a blanket-ban for Russia and is athletes.
"I'm not happy with the decision we made today. But this is as far as we could go," said Linda Helleland, a Norwegian politician who serves on the WADA executive committee and a vocal critic of Russian doping.
"This is the biggest sports scandal the world has ever seen. I would expect now a full admission from the Russians and for them to apologize [for] all the pain athletes and sports fans have experienced."
In a statement, WADA's president slammed Russia for "detracting from clean sport."
Wada’s president Sir Craig Reedie said: "For too long, Russian doping has detracted from clean sport. Russia was afforded every opportunity to get its house in order and re-join the global anti-doping community for the good of its athletes and of the integrity of sport, but it chose instead to continue in its stance of deception and denial."
"As a result, the Wada ExCo has responded in the strongest possible terms, while protecting the rights of Russian athletes that can prove that they were not involved and did not benefit from these fraudulent acts."
During Russia's surreppitious doping, its labs reportedly falsified close to 700 drug tests.
Last year, WADA made the controversial decision to reinstate Russia's anti-doping credentials after a brief ban. Clearly, the agency has come to regret that decision.