Russia’s doping scandals lead to possible ban in upcoming Olympics

Helen Kang and Riya Mehta

On Dec. 9, 2019, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) unanimously voted to issue a four-year ban on Russia from competing in international sports competitions following multiple cases of doping. Russia’s Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA) was given 21 days to decide whether or not to send the case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS). They did this by Dec. 19, 2019.

 In the past few years, Russia has been guilty of  tampering with the integrity of international sports competitions.

Doping in Russia dates as far back as the Beijing 2008 Summer Olympics. As allegations continued, the case magnified in 2016, where dozens of Russian athletes, 15 of which won medals, were involved in a state-run doping program. One of these was professional hammer thrower Tatyana lysenko, who won gold, but lost her medal due to being caught doping. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) continued running samples with advanced technology from past Olympics, eventually revealing that many athletes were again involved in state-sponsored doping in the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. As a result, some athletes were banned from the 2016 Rio de Janeiro summer games and from the 2018 winter games in Pyeongchang, only allowing cleared athletes to compete under a neutral flag. Many tests came back negative. 

Just recently, Russia was caught manipulating the Moscow anti-doping lab data and WADA investigations, jeopardizing their spot in the upcoming summer Tokyo 2020 and winter Beijing 2022 Olympics. In response, Russia has appealed against the ban, according to RUSADA. If upheld, the ruling would result in the inability to host or participate in major sporting events, including the upcoming Winter and Summer Olympics and Paralympic Games, as well as the World Cup, or even sit on committees related to international sports. Athletes who are caught doping will be banned from competing, while athletes who have been tested as clean can still compete as neutral athletes, meaning that they will compete under a neutral flag, and wear neutral uniforms. 

However, this ban comes with many loopholes. Russia is still allowed to compete at the European Championship next summer, a quadrennial soccer tournament between members of the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA), because it is not considered a global event, according to WADA. In addition, Russian athletes are still allowed to compete at this year’s Summer Olympics if they’re tested as clean.  However this opens many opportunities for athletes to continue drug usage. 

Athletes competing from other countries, as well as anti-doping agencies are not happy with these loopholes and WADA’s lack of action in Russia’s ban. Canadian Olympian Beckie Scott mentioned how disappointed she was that WADA did not take immediate action when they have all the power to. In 2018, WADA even agreed to impose the toughest consequences if Russia was caught again. In addition, many argue that the ban is too relaxed, and will not enforce the consequences of doping strongly enough to influence athletes to take the right decisions and stop its use. 

“To allow Russia to escape a complete ban is yet another devastating blow to clean athletes, the integrity of sport and the rule of law,” U.S Anti-Doping Agency CEO Travis Tygart said.