LAUSANNE, Switzerland — Global anti-doping leaders agreed unanimously Monday to banish Russia from international sports — including next summer’s Olympic Games in Tokyo — for four years, the latest and severest punishment yet connected to a yearslong cheating scheme that has tarnished global sport.
The World Anti-Doping Agency’s punishment includes specific bans on Russian sports and government officials and prohibits the country from hosting international events, and it comes four years after the first details of the scheme that peaked at the 2014 Sochi Olympics were made public.
“For too long, Russian doping has detracted from clean sport,” the agency said in a statement. “Russia was afforded every opportunity to get its house in order and rejoin 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.”
To some, including many athlete groups and national anti-doping agencies, the punishment does not go far enough, because it leaves open the possibility that hundreds of Russian athletes can appear in Tokyo, just as they did at the Winter Olympics in South Korea last year.
The decision is unlikely to surprise many given the scale of Russia’s attempt to conceal, obfuscate and frustrate attempts to unmask the beneficiaries of a state-powered doping program, remarkable for its sophistication and scope.
Still, Russia is almost certain to contest the decision. It continues to steadfastly deny many of the allegations, even after several independent investigations that have revealed a welter of evidence against it.
Russian officials have 21 days to lodge an appeal with the Swiss-based Court of Arbitration for Sport after the announcement from the anti-doping agency, which convened for a special meeting near the International Olympic Committee’s headquarters in Lausanne.
The Russian prime minister, Dmitry Medvedev, encouraged an appeal, saying that the anti-doping agency’s decision looked to him like a “continuation of anti-Russian hysteria.”
But he offered a concession.
“The Russian side, too, — by that I mean our sports community — still has significant problems with doping,” he said. “This is undeniable.”
If Russia is unable to have the ruling overturned, the country’s ouster from the world of international sport would stretch to events well beyond the Olympics, including soccer’s World Cup.
What has angered many is Russia’s mendacity in the face of efforts to rehabilitate the country after whistleblower evidence helped unravel a meticulously planned — and ultimately successful — scheme in which Russian anti-doping experts and members of the country’s intelligence service surreptitiously replaced urine samples tainted by performance-enhancing drugs with clean urine at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
As part of the resolution of that case, Russia agreed to provide a set of testing results to doping regulators from its Moscow laboratory. It is that database, which Russia was found to have manipulated, that is at the heart of a crisis that threatens its sporting future.
The WADA board agreed to a suite of punishments detailed in a report from a committee led by British lawyer Jonathan Taylor which it received late last month. The penalties include forcing Russian athletes who have not been implicated in doping to compete at a second straight Olympic Games in neutral uniforms and collect any medals they win without raising the nation’s flag or playing its anthem.
They also bar Russian government officials and representatives from attending major events or from serving on the board of any organization that has signed the global anti-doping code, prevent Russia from bidding on new championships, and require moving any international events the country was set to host during the four-year period.
Linda Helleland, a Norwegian who is the outgoing vice president of the anti-doping agency, expressed frustration at the decision, saying she wanted the punishment to ensure that Russian athletes would not be able to compete independently, as they did in South Korea, during the ban.
But Helleland said that was not an option for what she called “the biggest sports scandal the world has ever seen,” because the board was limited to two choices: Agree with the punishments recommended by Taylor’s committee, or reject them.
“I am not happy with the decision we made today,” Helleland told reporters at the conclusion of the hourlong meeting. “This was as far as we could go.”
James Fitzgerald, a spokesman for the agency, said that the decision made Monday was only a first step, and that the authorities would now seek to ban all Russian athletes implicated in the doping scheme or identified in the manipulated databases.
“They’re going to have to prove they had nothing to do with the noncompliance,” he said of the athletes.
While the pressure has been ratcheting up on Russia from the outside, inside the country there has been a propaganda campaign that has attempted to discredit the findings as just another Western plot.