Sport’s highest court on Thursday banned Russia from international sports competitions for two years including the Tokyo Olympics.
The Court of Arbitration for Sport’s ruling halved a four-year ban for systematic doping imposed by the World Anti-Doping Agency while also blocking Russia from bidding to host major sporting events for two years.
“This Panel has imposed consequences to reflect the nature and seriousness of the non-compliance...and to ensure that the integrity of sport against the scourge of doping is maintained,” said CAS in its judgment.
The statement added: “The consequences which the Panel has decided to impose are not as extensive as those sought by WADA.
“This should not, however, be read as any validation of the conduct of RUSADA or the Russian authorities.”
Under the landmark decision which also excludes the country from the 2022 Beijing Winter Games, Russians will still be allowed to compete, but only as neutrals.
The CAS verdict followed a four-day arbitration hearing between 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.
One small win for Russia is the proposed team name at major events. The name “Russia” can be retained on uniforms if the words “Neutral Athlete” or “Neutral Team” have equal prominence, the court said, reported The Associated Press.
Still, the court’s three judges imposed the most severe penalties on Russia since allegations of state-backed doping and cover-ups emerged after the 2014 Sochi Olympics.
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.
Russia considered 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.
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.
In yet another twist, in September last year WADA gave Russia three weeks to explain “inconsistencies” in the data.
Sport’s global doping 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 also 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 was being awaited with interest by the International Olympic Committee and sports federations who were expecting clear directives from CAS, eight months before the Tokyo Olympics.
(With AFP inputs)