On Wednesday, only days after the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea came to an end, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) lifted its ban on the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC), despite the fact that the Russian Anti-Doping Agency, or RUSADA, still remains non-compliant with the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).
Russia was originally banned from competing in the 2018 Winter Games following revelations that the Russian government assisted in an elaborate doping operation to help athletes cheat drug tests at the 2014 Winter Olympics and beyond. Russia still sent 168 athletes to the 2018 Winter Games, though they were made to compete under the moniker “Olympic Athlete from Russia” (OAR). The OAR delegation was “neutral” and could not wear Russian colors or march under the Russian flag. OAR medal-winners in PyeongChang instead saw the Olympic flag raised and heard the Olympic anthem played in place of Russia’s when receiving medals, though they were few in 2018.
While the Russian athletes present in PyeongChang were largely WADA-compliant, two athletes, a curler and a bobsledder, both tested positive for banned substances. One of the athletes, Nadezha Segreeva, who competed in bobsleigh, tested positive for trimetazidine, the same banned substance China’s Sun Yang tested positive for and which led to his secret three-month suspension from competition.
Now that the Olympics are over and the world can view the Russian situation with some hindsight, the ROC’s suspension from PyeongChang seems to have done little to make a difference. When Russian athletes returned home from PyeongChang, President Vladimir Putin greeted them with a hero’s welcome on the same day the IOC reinstated the ROC. This is not unique for a country to do post-Olympics, though when leaders greet the athletes that represented their countries in Olympic competition, they don’t usually include in their welcome speeches quotes like this:
“We should make the relevant conclusions for ourselves. But I hope that international organizations will also, at last, understand that sport needs to be held further away from problems, which have no relation to it.”
Putin has stated in the past that Russian anti-doping efforts have been a failure, though he refused to admit the Russian government had any involvement in the endemic doping violations uncovered in Russian sport.
Since the release of the first and second McLaren Reports in 2016, many international sporting organizations have struggled to find a punishment for Russia and its respective National Governing Bodies (NGBs) of sport that pleases everyone. Though select Russian athletes were allowed to compete for Russia in the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) banned Russian athletes from competing in the 2016 Paralympic Games held in Rio de Janeiro in September of 2016.
The International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), however, has been much stricter with Russia and chose not to lift Russia’s suspension in time for the 2017 IAAF World Championships. However, select athletes were allowed to compete in London under a designation similar to the OAR moniker used in PyeongChang: No Russian flag or anthem, no team colors, and no official team standing for Russia.
RUSADA, which remains suspended by WADA, is still in the process of reforming in order to meet standards set by WADA. Yet despite the efforts of Russian sports officials, the fact remains that the work is not finished, and if WADA is not satisfied with RUSADA’s progress thus far, it is worth asking why the IOC believes Russia should be welcomed back after an arguably menial punishment.
Sir Craig Reedie, the President of WADA, has expressed his own dissatisfaction with Russia’s reinstatement. BBC World News reports that Reedie would have preferred a slightly longer suspension:
“I would have preferred a slightly longer period, because that might have given me and the World Anti-Doping Agency a little more time to try to get the Russian Anti-Doping Agency to be fully complaint.”
“Which it isn’t.”
“But, it is the IOC’s call.”
“The only people the IOC can discipline are their own National Olympic Committees and the Russian Olympic Committee is a big one.”
“They have decided to restore their status.”
The IOC Executive Board, on the other hand, was prepared to lift the Russian suspension before the closing ceremony of the PyeongChang Games. Were it not for the two positive drug tests turned in by Russian athletes in South Korea, the Executive Board likely would have restored Russia’s status before the competition officially wrapped. The IOC’s full, though very brief press release can be found here.
In regards to RUSADA, it is vital that Russian officials acknowledge the state-sponsored doping scheme that helped Russian to be so successful in a wide array of sports over a number of years. RUSADA must also give WADA access to the Moscow Laboratory so that WADA officials may work alongside RUSADA in order to make the laboratory compliant once again. Though Reedie describes the new RUSADA as “pretty reasonable,” these two requests must be met before WADA reinstates their Russian counterpart.