Landmark Russia doping verdict due on Thursday

by AFP / pic by AFP

SPORT’S highest court will on Thursday deliver its verdict on whether to overturn Russia’s four-year ban from international sport imposed following allegations of state-sanctioned doping in the latest chapter of the long-running saga.

The much-anticipated decision from the Court of Arbitration for Sport follows a four-day arbitration hearing between the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and the Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA) at a secret location last month.

The showdown in front of three CAS judges took place following WADA’s decision last year to declare RUSADA non-compliant after the Russian body was accused of manipulating drug testing data.

The ensuing ban meant Russia would miss the re-arranged Tokyo Olympics next year as well as football’s 2022 World Cup in Qatar, the 2022 Winter Olympics in China and the 2024 Paris Games.

The Lausanne-based CAS is announcing its ruling on its website at 1500 GMT.

Russia considers its ban to be legally indefensible. Russian President Vladimir Putin slammed the decision at the time as a “politically motivated” ruling that “contradicted” the Olympic Charter.

Former prime minister Dmitry Medvedev described the suspension as “chronic anti-Russian hysteria”.

The Russian saga erupted in 2016 when Grigory Rodchenkov, the former head of Moscow’s anti-doping laboratory, blew the whistle over state-backed doping at the 2014 Winter Olympics hosted in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi.

Barely two weeks before the 2016 Rio Olympics in July that year, WADA called for Russia to be banned from those Games.

The IOC, however, stopped short of an outright ban and said individual federations would decide whether to allow Russian athletes to compete.

In 2017, the IOC banned the Russian Olympic Committee from the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Games, but allowed clean Russian athletes to take part as neutral competitors.

A total of 168 Russians eventually competed.

Manipulated data

Then, in September 2018, WADA controversially lifted its ban on RUSADA, despite not having been granted access to its doping-tainted Moscow laboratory.

Russia finally handed over lab data to WADA in January 2019.

However, in yet another twist, in September last year WADA gave Russia three weeks to explain “inconsistencies” in the data.

Sport’s global policeman then hit Russia with the four-year ban over the manipulated data last December.

Athletics’ global governing body meanwhile has given the Russian federation until March next year to produce a comprehensive plan to fight doping and be reinstated to the sport or face expulsion.

While Thursday’s CAS verdict is of paramount importance to Russia, WADA too has plenty on the line.

The organisation, founded in 1999, has been criticised by US lawmakers over its handling of the Russian scandal and failure to implement governance reforms.

The US as a result has threatened to pull its annual $2.7 million financing.

Thursday’s announcement is also being awaited with interest by the International Olympic Committee and sports federations who are expecting clear directives from CAS, eight months before the Tokyo Olympics.

And also at FIFA.

WADA’s sanctions cover major international events like world championships and Olympics, allowing Russia to compete in continental championships.

That is why FIFA’s 34th ranked team can take part in next year’s delayed European Championships and 2022 World Cup qualifiers, but not the finals themselves in Qatar in their national colours if the ban on the 2018 World Cup hosts is upheld.