By Brian Homewood and Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber
LAUSANNE/MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia was banned from the world’s top sporting events for four years on Monday, including the next summer and winter Olympics and the 2022 soccer World Cup, for tampering with doping tests.
The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) executive committee in Switzerland acted after concluding that Moscow had planted fake evidence and deleted files linked to positive doping tests in laboratory data that could have helped identify drug cheats.
“For too long, Russian doping has detracted from clean sport,” WADA president Craig Reedie said.
“The blatant breach by the Russian authorities of RUSADA’s reinstatement conditions…demanded a robust response. That is exactly what has been delivered today,” he said in a statement.
The impact of the unanimous decision was felt immediately, with WADA confirming that the Russian national team cannot take part in the 2022 World Cup in Qatar under the Russian flag and can only participate as neutrals.
“If they qualify, a team representing Russia cannot participate, but if there is a mechanism put in place, then they can apply to participate on a neutral basis, not as representatives of Russia,” Jonathan Taylor, chair of WADA’s compliance review committee, told a news conference
FIFA, soccer’s world governing body, said in a statement: “FIFA is in contact with WADA and ASOIF to clarify the extent of the decision in regards to football.”
The ban also means that Russian sportsmen and sportswomen will not be able to perform at the Olympics in Tokyo next year under their own flag and national anthem.
The 2020 Tokyo Olympic organising committee said it would welcome all athletes as long as they were clean.
“Tokyo 2020 hopes that athletes from all teams and NOCs/NPCs will participate in the Olympic and Paralympic Games in compliance with all anti-doping regulations,” said Tokyo 2020 spokesman Masa Takaya in a statement.
It would work with relevant organisations to fully implement anti-doping measures, it added.
Russia, which has tried to showcase itself as a global sports power, has been embroiled in doping scandals since a 2015 report commissioned by WADA found evidence of mass doping in Russian athletics.
Its doping woes have only grown since, with many of its athletes sidelined from the past two Olympics and the country stripped of its flag altogether at last year’s Pyeongchang Winter Games as punishment for state-sponsored doping cover-ups at the 2014 Sochi Games.
Monday’s sanctions, which also include a four-year ban on Russia hosting major sporting events, were recommended by WADA’s compliance review committee in response to the doctored laboratory data provided by Moscow earlier this year.
One of the conditions for the reinstatement of Russian anti-doping agency RUSADA, which was suspended in 2015 in the wake of the athletics doping scandal but reinstated last year, had been that Moscow provide an authentic copy of the laboratory data.
The sanctions effectively strip the agency of its accreditation.
RUSADA head Yuri Ganus could not be immediately be reached for comment. His deputy, Margarita Pakhnotskaya, told the TASS news agency that WADA’s decision had been expected.
Sports Minister Pavel Kolobkov last month attributed the discrepancies in the laboratory data to technical issues.
The punishment leaves the door open for clean Russian athletes to compete at major international sporting events without their flag or anthem for the next four years, something they did at the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics.
“This protects the rights of Russian athletes by allowing re-entry for those able to demonstrate they are not implicated in any way (in doping),” Reedie told a news conference following the decision. “The decision is designed to punish the guilty parties…it stands strong against those who cheated the system.”
Some Russian officials have tried to cast WADA’s behaviour as part of what they say is a broader Western attempt to hold back the country.
Igor Lebedev, a lawmaker and deputy speaker of Russia’s lower house of parliament, said on Monday the move was a serious blow to Russian sport that required a tough response from Russia’s authorities, the RIA news agency reported.
If RUSADA appeals WADA’s punishment, the case will be referred to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
Some thought the sanctions did not go far enough.
“I wanted sanctions that cannot be watered-down. I am afraid this is not enough,” said WADA Vice President Linda Helleland on Twitter. “We owe it to the clean athletes to implement the sanctions as strong as possible.”
The European soccer body UEFA had no immediate comment.
(Editing by Andrew Osborn and Angus MacSwan)