Despite doping ban, Russian athletes prepare for Olympics
Despite another doping ban, many Russian athletes will still be competing at the next Olympics.
The sanctions handed down by the World Anti-Doping Agency on Monday mean there won’t be a Russian flag or national anthem at a string of major sports competitions, including next year’s Tokyo Olympics. But there are enough loopholes for Russia to continue sending neutral teams to the events.
And that’s before the inevitable legal challenges, which could further water down the sanctions.
Similar restrictions have been imposed before. At the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there was no “Russia” but there were 168 “Olympic Athletes from Russia,” two of whom later failed doping tests.
When the men’s hockey team won the gold medal in uniforms echoing the old Soviet “Red Machine,” players belted out the Russian national anthem, even without any music. Russian President Vladimir Putin called the coach on the bench to congratulate him.
One of Russia’s top athletes said she is still aiming to compete at the Tokyo Olympics.
“I didn’t believe the stories that everything will be fine. What has happened today is a disgrace,” three-time world high jump champion Mariya Lasitskene wrote on Instagram. “I’ve never had any plans to change my citizenship and I don’t plan to do it now. I’m going to prove in my jumping that Russian athletes are alive, even in neutral status.”
Lasitskene has been a vocal critic of how Russian sports officials have handled the doping issues. She missed the 2016 Olympics because of a blanket ban on the Russian track team. Competing in 2020 as a neutral athlete would be nothing new for her, because similar restrictions have been in place for Russians in track since 2016.
“I’ve been doing that for all of the last few years. The only thing that disturbs me is that athletes are fighting alone and our sports authorities have all this time been paying lip-service to our defense,” Lasitskene said.
Much remains unclear about how Russians will compete.
At the Pyeongchang Games, the International Olympic Committee was criticized for letting Russian athletes have uniforms in national, not neutral, colors. The IOC also came under fire for allowing Russian officials to attend and for approving the “Olympic Athletes from Russia” name instead of “Independent Olympic Athletes,” as those from suspended countries were known at earlier games.
“A team that goes there is not a representative of Russia,” Jonathan Taylor, the head of WADA’s compliance review committee, said when asked about the Tokyo Olympics. “It is to send the message that Russia has forfeited its place at those games.”
Playing at the soccer World Cup in 2022 would mean FIFA would have to change its rules to allow for a neutral team.
“I don’t know if they are going to qualify,” Taylor said. “If a mechanism is put in place, (Russia) can apply to participate on a neutral basis.”
That would be particularly awkward since FIFA lavished praise on Russia for hosting the tournament last year and FIFA president Gianni Infantino accepted a medal from Russian President Vladimir Putin.
James Ellingworth is on Twitter: http://twitter.com/jellingworth