The World Anti-Doping Agency was founded with the aim of bringing consistency to anti-doping policies and regulations within sport organizations and governments right across the world. We’re all aware of the sports ban imposed on Russia by WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency).

On 9 December 2019, WADA banned Russia from major international sporting events for four years, on charges of tampering with doping-related reports. Russia will be barred from hosting, participating in, or establishing bids for international sporting events during this period. Under the ruling, Russia will not be allowed to participate in the Olympics, Youth Olympic Games, Paralympics, FIFA’s World Cup, world championships and other major sporting events subject to WADA code; Russian officials are barred from sitting on boards and committees related to international sports governance; Russia is disqualified from hosting any major sporting event or even applying for hosting opportunities, and the Russian flag won’t be allowed to fly at any major event.

But the question arises that what led WADA to take such a big step. This decision was taken by WADA’s executive committee headed by Craig Reedie after it concluded that Moscow had tampered with laboratory data by planting fake evidence and deleting files linked to positive doping tests that could have helped identify drug cheats. Russia, which has tried to showcase itself as a global sports power, has been embroiled in doping scandals since a 2015 report commissioned by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) found evidence of mass doping in Russian athletics. According to WADA, “hundreds of presumptive adverse analytical findings” supplied by the whistleblower had been removed, and “the related underlying raw data and PDF files have been deleted or altered.” RUSADA, Russia’s anti-doping agency, was first declared non-compliant with WADA’s rules in 2015, just as it has been now. Making matters worse, the investigators said this data manipulation was done after RUSADA had been reinstated and informed it needed to share the information with WADA. Travis Tygart, the chief executive of the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), said the appeal was “no surprise” and insists Russia has “failed to ever take responsibility for these sporting crimes.”

The Russian Olympic Committee, however, has taken its stand saying that it expects the Russian Athletes to take part in the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games under the Russian tri-color despite the four-year doping ban. The Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA) has sent a letter to Wada stating that it “disputes the ban in its entirety”. President Vladimir Putin has said, “It’s unjust, doesn’t correspond with common sense and the law”. The Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA) has said that Russia will appeal against the decision. RUSADA’s Supervisory Board met to deliberate WADA’s punishment and announced that it will lodge an appeal with the Switzerland-based Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), whose decision will be final.

Russia has been previously punished for doping infractions. Its track and field athletes were barred from the Rio Games in 2016, for example, and it had no formal presence at the Pyeongchang Olympics last year.

The punishment, however, leaves the door open for clean Russian athletes to compete at major international sporting events without their flag or anthem for four years, as was the case during the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics. Critics of the decision are asking what exactly has changed since the first non-compliance, pushing instead for a blanket ban, whereby Russian sportspeople wouldn’t be allowed to compete under any circumstances. While the decision was hailed by WADA as the “strongest possible” response, it was criticized by some campaigners for failing to go far enough. Criticisms of the decision came from inside WADA itself, with the organization’s Vice-President and a vocal critic of Russian doping, Linda Helleland, saying it fell short of the ultimate sanction of a blanket ban for Russia and its athletes. Helleland believes RUSADA should never have been reinstated after Russia obfuscated its way through the aftermath of the doping scandal and sought to frustrate investigators at every turn.

It also isn’t clear how exactly the ban will impact team sports like football, and Russia’s participation at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. WADA has previously stated that next year’s multi-city European Championship, part-hosted in St. Petersburg, would be exempt from the ban because this is viewed as a regional competition. The country can still attempt to qualify for the tournament in Qatar because “qualifying events don’t determine the world champion.”

This decision, however, is a bombshell dropped on the Russian athletes. Many Russian athletes say they have felt caught in the middle, calling the ban on the Russian team too harsh while also reserving strong words for a lack of effort from Russia’s sporting establishment. Already, that question has evoked stark responses from athletes and politicians. Mariya Lesitskene, a high-jumper who has been outspoken on doping issues, blasted Russian sporting officials for leaving athletes “alone in their fight” and has vowed to compete. Meanwhile, a senior official in the Russian parliament has called on athletes not to participate, saying: “There’s no need to go to Tokyo; we should organize our own competitions.” As Tokyo 2020 approaches, hundreds of Russian athletes who can, at best, only realize their Olympic dream under a neutral banner rather than the flag of their country. But, that decision will also require deep introspection, pitting national feeling against camaraderie with teammates.

The matter still hasn’t reached a conclusion, and opinions on the decision are coming from all directions. While, the ban was long overdue, and maybe it is not the appropriate punishment for what is being considered the biggest sports scandal in history, it poses a difficult decision for the Russian athletes, who are being pressurized to choose between their country and their sport.

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