Russia is “Banned” from the Tokyo Olympics; Here’s What The Ban Actually Means

In December, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) banned Russia from Olympic and global sports for four years as a consequence of the nation’s history of state-run doping. Details of Russia‘s doping initiatives first surfaced amidst the 2014 Sochi Olympics, and a large-scale attempt to falsify and smudge doping records has since been uncovered, prompting WADA action.

This battle, entrapping not just athletes but fans, world leaders, sport governing bodies and media, has been raging for years. There have been compelling documentaries, limelight finger wags and intense political flare-ups that reflect larger, far-reaching global tensions. At times, it can be difficult to parse out not only who to blame, but who to punish (and how to ultimately eliminate doping in sport).

In the months since that ‘ban’ was announced, there has continued to be confusion among the general public as to what the terms actually mean. Weekly there are comments on SwimSwam asking ‘but I thought Russia was banned?’ In reality, the sanctions have the most to do with representation. Specifically, this ban means that the Russian flag, name and anthem are not allowed in Tokyo or at other global sporting events.

So, there will be no Russian flag on swim caps, jerseys, singlets, leotards or other equipment. Announcers will not call out ‘in lane four, Evgeny Rylov, of Russia,’ over the natatorium speakers in the 200-meter backstroke final; Russian athletes will be referenced and acknowledged under a neutral flag. Russian medalists will not hear their anthem play on the podium.

Russian athletes can, however, still participate in team events, including relays. This was borne out at the 2018 Winter Olympics, when the “Olympic Athletes from Russia” team won gold in men’s ice hockey. Swimmers will generally still qualify for the Tokyo Olympic Games in the same way as they would have without the ‘ban,’ both individually and in relays.

Another arm of the ban holds back Russian sport and government officials from attending the Olympics and other global sporting events in an official capacity, and Russia cannot host international events during the ban. Further, Russian officials can’t serve on governance committees of any doping code signatory; that would include a FINA committee, for example.

But, Russian athletes can still compete in Tokyo so long as they do so under a neutral flag, and so long as they are not serving an individual ban and so long as they are not implicated in non-compliance, including being named in the McLaren Report. This is how it went in Sochi. Granted, the ban still restricts Russian involvement and participation (mostly on the administrative side), and stamps out optics like the name, flag and anthem. Russian athletes, however, will certainly still be competing for medals in Tokyo.

The ban is more bark than bite, and it does not appease everybody, least of all the former head of Russia‘s national anti-doping laboratory, Grigory Rodchenkov. The orchestrator of Russia‘s doping strategy, who has since come forward about Russia‘s wrongdoings and fled the country, recently gave an interview to BBC saying that all Russian athletes should be barred from Tokyo.

Rodchenkov, who spoke so freely in the renowned documentary Icarus, talked to BBC by video call with a veil over his face and a straw hat over his head– after escaping to the USA following his tell-all to WADA, not even his lawyer knows his exact whereabouts.

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1 month ago

It they can’t hold meets how will Russians qualify for og? And the relay results from world will give the “non Russians” relay spots on og?

Reply to  Rafael
1 month ago

They can hold meets. They just can’t host major international events like the World Championships or Olympics.

Go See Cal
1 month ago

Just watched Icarus for the first time yesterday. What a great, insightful and impactful documentary. If you haven’t seen it do so.

Reply to  Go See Cal
1 month ago

I’m curious to see if any and which swimmers are shown in this documentary

Reply to  Olympian
1 month ago

It mostly centered on Sochi 2014 Winter games from what i recall…been cpl yrs since i saw the movie though

Reply to  Olympian
1 month ago

Just little bits of Vlad and Yulia-not mentioned by name.

Reply to  Olympian
1 month ago

Damn @Olympian you sure have strong opinions for someone who hasn’t actually bothered to watch the documentary. Just running with “what someone told you” then?

Reply to  swimapologist
1 month ago

I did watch the documentary as soon as it was released, just needed a reminder to be left on this comment section for the future generations…. Also raced a few athletes who tested positive throughout my career.

I also know that this same documentary is claimed to be “American propaganda” by the “other side”

Almighty WADA
1 month ago

So the ban means basically punish everyone except the doping athletes

Reply to  Almighty WADA
1 month ago

It’s a joke! WADA is spineless.

Reply to  Almighty WADA
1 month ago

In order to ban all the athletes WADA would have to provide evidence that each individual athlete was doping because athletes have rights independent of the nation they compete for.

Reply to  Troyy
1 month ago

They do not have to prove all athletes are doping to get the ‘death penalty’ if there is systematic and unrepentant proof of state-sponsored doping or total lack of doping control. The Russian Athletics/track and field federation has been under that kind of ban for years at this point with a clause that allows for ‘authorized neutral athletes’ if they can show several years of biological passport data and negative samples. And even the presence of ANAs in Tokyo (not to be confused with All-Nippon Airways) has been in serious doubt because Russian Athletics has not followed its agreed to rehabilitation plan. There are some of ANAs like Mariya Lasitskene that I’ve got a good amount of sympathy for because… Read more »

About Karl Ortegon

Karl Ortegon

Karl Ortegon studied sociology at Wesleyan University in Middletown, CT, graduating in May of 2018. He began swimming on a club team in first grade and swam four years for Wesleyan.

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