GENEVA (AP) — The never-ending Russia doping saga hits another dramatic peak Monday when its Tokyo Olympics status and prospects for hosting international sports events are on the line.
World Anti-Doping Agency leaders have been urged by expert advisers to take a hard line on Russian state tampering with a Moscow laboratory database that was meant to bring the scandal toward closure.
Instead, the latest round of broken promises risks tainting Russia in world sports for at least four more years.
The national flag and anthem faces being banned from major events, including the 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo and 2022 Winter Games in Beijing. Some hosting rights could be stripped from Russia by sports governing bodies bound by WADA rules to respect Monday’s ruling.
Still, a decision due to be announced at 1.30 p.m. (12:30 GMT) in the Olympic city of Lausanne, Switzerland, will likely not be the end. Appeals and more legal action are expected ahead of the July 24 opening ceremony in Tokyo and beyond.
THE DOPING SCANDAL
Russian doping and the legal fallout have been a global news fixture for five years and counting.
Systematic state-backed cheating kicked into gear in 2011 and was not exposed until after it corrupted the 2014 Winter Games hosted by Russia in Sochi.
Mounting evidence of doping, extortion schemes and cover-ups was revealed since December 2014 by German television programs, World Anti-Doping Agency investigations and an Oscar-winning documentary about the whistleblowing lab director who fled into U.S. witness protection.
It provoked a slew of Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) cases, hacking schemes to retaliate against western sports officials and athletes, and a U.S. federal indictment of Russian military intelligence officers.
Russian athletes were stripped of Olympic medals, others were barred from competing at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Summer Games or 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Games. In South Korea, the Russian flag, anthem and national Olympic body were banned.
Russia took a big step toward rehabilitation in September 2018 when WADA — defying pleas from many athletes and anti-doping officials — restored the working status of its anti-doping agency, RUSADA.
Russia’s key challenge from WADA was handing over data and samples from the Moscow lab long sealed by state authorities.
WADA got the evidence in January which could have cleared some athletes of suspicion and helped sports bodies prosecute others for doping violations.
However, data was deleted and altered. Fake evidence was planted — intended to clear a state witness and implicate whistle blowers — according to WADA investigators. They sifted though 23 million megabytes comparing the database with their own version provided by a whistle blower in 2017.
Given a chance to cooperate, Russia committed more state-backed tampering.
WADA’s executive committee will consider a slate of punishments from by its Compliance Review Committee, starting with again declaring RUSADA non-compliant.
WADA is expected to impose a “Four-Year Period” where Russian teams and athletes could compete at major events only if they are not linked to positive doping tests or the data corruption.
That would deny Russia its flag and anthem at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and 2022 Beijing Winter Games — just as they were absent from the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Games, and the past two track and field world championships.
WADA could also impose a four-year ban on Russia hosting, bidding for, or being awarded major events, including the 2032 Summer Games. Sports bodies would then be asked to move events already awarded.
There is a loophole: Russia would retain events where “it is legally or practically impossible” to move them.
Russian government representatives and Olympic officials would be banned from attending major events or committee seats of sports organizations.
Any recommended sanction rejected by the WADA leadership will go back to the compliance panel for review.
WHO WILL DECIDE?
The WADA executive committee includes five IOC-approved delegates from Olympic circles and five representatives of governments worldwide.
It is chaired by long-time IOC member Craig Reedie of Scotland, whose second term as president expires this month. His successor, Poland’s sports minister Witold Bańka, is a government delegate.
The outgoing vice president, Norwegian lawmaker Linda Hofstad Helleland, consistently sides with athlete groups wanting WADA to be tougher with Russia.
Olympic delegates successfully pushed for RUSADA to be reinstated last year.
WADA leaders did not have power to force a blanket ban on Russia from the Rio Olympics, which IOC President Thomas Bach resisted. They have greater powers now.
THE OLYMPIC VIEW
The IOC’s patience seems to be wearing out with Russian state authorities, though it still wants to protect Russian athletes and sports officials not directly implicated.
Two weeks ago, the IOC condemned “flagrant manipulation” of Moscow lab data that was “an insult to the sporting movement worldwide.”
“The IOC stresses that the guilty should be punished in the toughest way possible,” it said — but who exactly in the state apparatus is seen as having “sole responsibility”?
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov decried the case as the latest western attempt to put Russia on the defensive.
However, RUSADA CEO Yuri Ganus has said of the proposed sanctions: “They’re to be expected and they’re justified.”
Russian Sports Minister Pavel Kolobkov said he wants an appeal filed at CAS, but that is a decision for RUSADA.
RUSADA will have 21 days from Monday to accept or appeal the WADA decisions. If RUSADA accepts the punishments, other interested parties can step in with an appeal to CAS.
Any CAS verdict in the months ahead is binding on all signatories to the World Anti-Doping Code.
Lawyers who have represented Russians at CAS said WADA is trying to “revive an already failed strategy” by targeting athletes.
SPORTS EVENTS IN RUSSIA
In the next four years, Russia helps host two of the biggest events in international soccer, the biggest annual convention of Olympic stakeholders, and some world championships.
European soccer body UEFA will go to St. Petersburg for four games at the 2020 European Championship and the 2021 Champions League final. Though world soccer body FIFA is signed up to WADA, UEFA is not.
If the annual SportAccord conference is not well known to fans, it is a significant gathering of Olympic sports bodies, potential host cities, and experts in business, marketing and law.
On Nov. 30, the Lausanne-based organizers , which include a Kremlin-connected businessman, seemed to defy the pending WADA process by announcing Ekaterinburg as their 2021 host.
World championships heading to Russia include: luge (2020, Sochi); beach soccer (2021, Moscow); wrestling (2022, Krasnoyarsk); ice hockey (2023, St. Petersburg), and also the University Summer Games (2023, Ekaterinburg).
The Champions League final and SportAccord seem the most prestigious and easiest to relocate — yet also perhaps the easiest for Russia to retain.
WADA sanctions can by appealed by RUSADA to Lausanne-based CAS.
Appeals typically take several months to prepare but can be fast-tracked before the July 24-Aug. 9 Tokyo Olympics.
Some Russian athletes won CAS appeals against the IOC days before the Pyeongchang Winter Games to overturn their Olympic life bans and Sochi disqualifications.
Another Olympic life ban in December 2017 for Vitaly Mutko — Russia’s sports minister before and after the Sochi Olympics, now a deputy prime minister — was later overturned at CAS. The court said government officials were not in the IOC’s jurisdiction.
Beyond CAS, appeals can be made on limited grounds to Switzerland’s supreme court which rarely succeed.