The ban on Russian athletes competing for their country was reduced to two years on Thursday by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) — a decision decried by as "not a sanction".
The Lausanne-based court had initially slapped the country with a four-year ban in December 2019, after endorsing a report from the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) which found that the Russian Anti-Doping Agency, RUSADA, had tampered with doping tests data. This followed a three-year ban from 2015 to 2018.
Russia appealed the decision with CAS, halving its sanction on Thursday, despite stressing its panel "unanimously determined" RUSADA to have been non-compliant with the World Anti-Doping Code by failing to provide "authentic" laboratory data.
The ruling panel said the reduced sanction "should not, however, be read as any validation of the conduct of RUSADA or the Russian authorities."
It added that "it has considered matters of proportionality and, in particular, the need to effect cultural change and encourage the next generation of Russian athletes to participate in clean international sport."
The sanction means Russia will not be represented at next year's Olympic Games in Tokyo or the 2022 Football World Cup but it does not, however, prevent Russian athletes from competing under a neutral flag.
As such, the Russian flag will not be flown at any international sporting competitions and its anthem won't be played. Officials are banned from attending the competitions and the country cannot host a competition for the next two years.
Travis Tygart, CEO of the US Anti-Doping Agency said after the ruling was made public: "The full extent of (the Russian doping programme) still hasn't been revealed because of their cover-up. And yet, the maximum sanction they get is to be rebranded as neutral athletes from Russia. It makes no sense.
"It also sends a very powerful message to others that, 'hey, if you want to win, this is the new rules of the game.' You put in place a state-sponsored system, allow your athletes to go, and worst case is if you go get caught," he concluded, "you just cover it up as best you can."
Linda Helleland, a former WADA vice president described herself as "puzzled by how a system considered dishonest, deceitful and seeped in systematic doping by CAS gets away with a two-year ban."
British Paralympian Ali Jawad also argued that "if it was an athlete breaking the rules the way Russia did, it would be a lifetime ban, easily."
"Russia has got off very, very lightly," he added.