Four-Year WADA Ban Allows Russian Equestrians Under Neutral Flag At 2020 Olympic Games

Dec 13, 2019 - 9:45 AM

The Russian flag will be absent from the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games following the implementation of a four-year ban by the World Anti-Doping Agency on Dec. 9, which means Russian equestrians will once again ride as individuals under a neutral flag next summer.

WADA’s 12-member executive committee voted for the ban after the Russian Anti-Doping Agency failed to provide undoctored copies of data that pertain to its athletic programs.

“For too long, Russian doping has detracted from clean sport,” said WADA President Sir Craig Reedie in a press release. “The blatant breach by the Russian authorities of RUSADA’s reinstatement conditions, approved by the [Executive Committee] in September 2018, demanded a robust response. That is exactly what has been delivered today. Russia was afforded every opportunity to get its house in order and to rejoin the global anti-doping community for the good of its athletes and for the integrity of sport, but it chose a different route.”

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Russia’s Inessa Merkulova and Mister X, shown here at the 2018 FEI World Equestrian Games, competed under a neutral flag at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio. Lindsay Berreth Photo

Former RUSADA employee Vitaly Stepanov and his wife, Russian track star Yuliya Stepanova, helped reveal Russia’s elusive doping program to WADA in 2013 and 2014. In 2016, ahead of the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, the International Olympic Committee banned Russian participation.

The current ban extends to international sporting events like the Olympics and all world championships. Russia may not host international sporting events either. However, Russian athletes who have no history of anti-doping violations will be eligible to compete under a neutral flag. Such was the case at the 2016 Olympic Games, when the IOC cleared Russia’s five equestrian athletes to compete following a “detailed submission by the [Fédération Equestre Internationale], including confirmation that all five had no previous anti-doping rule violations.”

“The FEI fully supports the decision by the WADA Executive Committee to declare the Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA) non-compliant with the WADA Code for a period of four years, and also the resulting consequences and conditions for reinstatement,” said an FEI spokesperson in an emailed statement. “The fact that the WADA ExCo unanimously endorsed the recommendations of the independent Compliance Review Committee sends a very strong signal to the sporting world.

“While it is clear that those who opt to cheat must be punished, the sports world has a duty to protect clean athletes,” the spokesperson’s statement continued. “To preserve the rights of the clean athletes and to support them, we will test them as we did before Rio 2016 in order to provide the necessary evidence that they are clean.”

In June, Russia’s national dressage team qualified for Tokyo 2020 by ranking highest amongst the countries in FEI Olympic Group C.

“They now need to provide a [Code of Conduct] to the FEI by December 31,” stated the FEI spokesperson. “And provided the FEI can confirm through a dedicated testing program that the nominated Russian athletes are clean, they will be able to send a full team to Tokyo 2020 to compete in a neutral capacity, that is, not as representatives of any country.”

Russia did not qualify a team in either show jumping or eventing, but the country may earn individual places through the FEI rankings.

“Russian athletes may participate in the Olympic Games if they are able to demonstrate that they are not implicated in any way by the non-compliance,” the spokesperson added.

RUSADA has 21 days to appeal. Russian President Vladimir Putin called the ban political and said Russia has grounds to appeal.

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