Richard Pound

The velvet glove treatment did not produce the hoped-for conduct change within Russia's sport-doping culture.

Prior to the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) refused to accept a unanimous recommendation by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) that Russia be excluded from those Games, despite incontrovertible evidence of systemic Russian doping. 

Two years later, at the 2018 Winter Games, the IOC administered only a gentle slap on the wrist - suspending the National Olympic Committee for a couple of months, but allowing Olympic athletes from Russia (publicly identified as such) to compete - a sanction lifted immediately following those Games.

WADA developed a roadmap to reinstate RUSADA, the Russian national anti-doping organisation. Russia refused to follow the agreed-upon roadmap, one element of which was a requirement to provide WADA with certain laboratory data and samples prior to the end of 2018.

Russian athletes competed at Rio 2016, but their Olympic future is currently in doubt ©Getty Images
Russian athletes competed at Rio 2016, but their Olympic future is currently in doubt ©Getty Images

Faced with an immediate new declaration of non-compliance, Russia provided the data several days later. Forensic examination showed that the data had been altered and tampered with. WADA confronted Russia with the results of the findings. Russia denied the tampering. 

WADA's Compliance Review Committee prepared a report to the WADA Executive Committee recommending, inter alia, suspension of RUSADA for a period of four years. On Dec 9 2019, the WADA Executive Committee unanimously accepted that recommendation. Both committees included an athlete member. Both were unanimous in their decisions.

Russia can either accept the recommendation or, within 21 days, appeal against it to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, whose decision (subject to very limited grounds of appeal to the Swiss Federal Tribunal) will be definitive.

The implications of Russian non-compliance are significant. 

They include non-participation by Russia in the 2020 Tokyo and 2022 Beijing Olympics. At the athlete level, only those Russian athletes able to demonstrate that they have not been implicated in any Russian doping and that they have been tested outside of Russia will be permitted to participate at the IOC’s invitation, but without national identification and without any Russian flag or anthem. 

During the four-year suspension period, Russian officials may not sit as members of the boards or committees of any signatory of the World Anti-Doping Code, no Russian Government officials may participate in or attend Olympic Games, Youth Olympic Games, Paralympic Games, World Championships organised by Code signatories (basically the IOC, international Sport Federations, National Olympic Committees and the International Paralympic Committee), or events organised by any major event organiser (e.g. Pan American Games, World Cups) during the four-year period.

The consequences extend even further. 

During the four-year period, Russia may not bid for, or be granted the right to host, a major event, whether during or after the sanction period. 

Where a major event has already been awarded, the Code signatory must withdraw the event unless it is legally or practically impossible to do so. The Russian flag may not be shown at any major event. No senior Russian sport official may attend or participate in major events during the four-year period. Russia must refund all WADA costs incurred on the anti-doping matter since January 2019 and pay a fine of up to US$100,000 (£75,000/€90,000).

Unfortunately the Russian flag will not be raised at many major events ©Getty Images
Unfortunately the Russian flag will not be raised at many major events ©Getty Images

WADA will monitor the actions of RUSADA during the four-year suspension period. A condition of its eventual reinstatement will include WADA's satisfaction that its independence has been respected and that there has been no improper outside interference in its operations.

Unanimity on the part of WADA involves a number of moving parts: its Executive Committee includes representatives from the full range of the Olympic Movement - athletes, IOC members, International Federation members, National Olympic Committee representatives and Paralympic representatives. 

In addition, one-half of its members represent the Governments of all continents. Generating consensus, therefore, let alone unanimity, can be challenging. It was encouraging to note that none of the parties shrank from making it clear that the continuing conduct of Russia is unacceptable and that significant sanctions are called for in the circumstances. 

No country, however large and important it may be, can disregard the rules governing their participation in sport.

This is by far the most significant sport-related sanction imposed on a sport organisation since the expulsion of South Africa from the Olympic Movement in 1970 by reason of the system of apartheid operating in that country, following ad hoc refusals to let its team compete in the Games of 1964 and 1968. 

It is important for sport to ensure that its rules are respected and that it be ready to deter improper conduct. Fair play depends on that, as does the protection of athletes who compete in accordance with the rules upon which participants have agreed.

This article originally appeared on The Lawyer’s Daily website published by LexisNexis Canada Inc.