Russia banned from Olympics but door open to Tokyo Games

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Russia may be banned from the next two Olympics but the door is open for Russian participation at the 2020 Tokyo Summer Games if athletes can meet the rigid criteria laid out by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). The road to the Olympics may not be as straightforward after Russia was on Monday banned by WADA for four years from the world’s top sporting events for tampering with doping tests. Russians nonetheless have a path to competing at the Tokyo Games as neutrals under the Olympic flag if they can demonstrate they are clean and meet conditions set by WADA. With the Tokyo Olympics a little over seven months away, just how many Russian athletes will meet their event’s qualifying standards and the WADA criteria is unclear.

It is, however, likely that Russia’s Tokyo contingent will be much smaller than for previous Summer Games. At the 2012 London Olympics, the last Summer Games Russia contested without a doping scandal hanging over their participation, a team of 436 athletes was sent. Four years later at the 2016 Rio Olympics, with Russia embroiled in the same doping controversy that contributed to Monday’s four-year ban, only 282 were invited. In Brazil, Russians were allowed to compete under their own flag after the International Olympic Committee (IOC) rejected a blanket ban, leaving it up to individual sports federations to determine which athletes were clean. For Tokyo that determination will be made by WADA who will lay out a uniform criteria that must be met across all sports. “There may be particular aspects unique to certain games/sports but any criteria would have to be approved by WADA,” the anti-doping agency said in an email.

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A final decision, though, may rest with the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), which will hear appeals submitted by athletes who believe they have been unfairly prevented from competing in Tokyo.

TOKYO DOUBTS: The prospect of seeing Russian track and field athletes in Tokyo is doubtful, however. World Athletics, formerly known as the IAAF, last month halted reinstatement procedures for Russia’s suspended athletics federation after its president and six others were provisionally banned for serious breaches of anti-doping rules. The IAAF has since 2016 allowed some Russians to compete internationally as neutrals if they could demonstrate that they were training in a doping-free environment. But the sport’s governing body is now reviewing how this process works. That could mean more bad news for Russia, possibly ruling out gold medal contenders such as top-ranked high jumper Mariya Lasitskene who was cleared to compete at the world championships in September where she won a third title. Russians who have qualified for the Tokyo Games in some team sports could be excluded in the face of WADA scrutiny.