Russia’s reputation, Olympic status on trial for doping

Russia’s status as an Olympic team, and its reputation as a serial cheater in international sports, goes on trial next week in more legal fallout from the country’s state-backed doping saga.

At an undisclosed location in Lausanne on Monday, the Court of Arbitration for Sport will start hearing four days of evidence and testimony about a manipulated database from the Moscow testing laboratory.

The three-judge panel has been asked by the World Anti-Doping Agency to ban Russia’s name, flag and anthem from the Tokyo Olympics and 2022 Winter Games in Beijing, plus four years of world championships.

WADA would let Russian athletes compete only if not implicated in doping or cover-ups. Russia’s right to host and bid for world championships could also stop for four years.

The case formally pits WADA against its Russian affiliate, known as RUSADA. The Russian agency was ruled non-compliant last December. That decision and the proposal of sanctions is being disputed.

But it is the Russian state that is effectively on trial for its handling of the database. It was given to WADA investigators _ belatedly in January 2019 _ after the laboratory had long been sealed. WADA says details of doping tests and emails were deleted or changed, and false trails created to frame whistleblowers.

RUSADA denies wrongdoing and claims the punishments are “unfounded, lacked legal basis … and violated the principle of proportionality,” CAS said this week.

WADA president Witold Banka said on Friday it “has left no stone unturned in preparation for this hearing and we are looking forward to having the opportunity to present our case clearly and fairly.” 

The Russian government has often blamed a western conspiracy since the WADA investigations opened in 2014.

Previous doping revelations led to chaotic late selection vetting that let hundreds of Russians compete at the past two Olympics. The International Olympic Committee refused WADA’s request to ban Russia outright from the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games.

Postponing the 2020 Tokyo Olympics by one year during the coronavirus pandemic gave more time to resolve this case.

The hearing opens two weeks after more allegations of Russian misconduct in Olympic circles.

Russian military intelligence officers were indicted by the U.S. Department of Justice for alleged cyberattacks, including on the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. Britain’s government said Russia also targeted the Tokyo Games.

A CAS verdict is not expected for at least several weeks. A further appeal is possible at Switzerland’s supreme court.