Call for four-year sports ban over doping shocks Russia

Anna SMOLCHENKO
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Russia's anti-doping agency (RUSADA) director general Yury Ganus gestures during an interview with AFP in Moscow on October 22, 2019

Russia's anti-doping chief said Tuesday he expected the country to be barred from all sporting competition for four years, after a bombshell recommendation from the World Anti-Doping Agency that shocked Russia.

WADA's Compliance Review Committee recommended the ban on Monday, accusing Moscow of falsifying laboratory data handed over to investigators.

It recommended Russia also face a four-year ban from staging or bidding for major international sporting events.

The International Olympic Committee said in a statement it supported the "toughest sanctions" against Russia for "flagrant" manipulation of the doping data.

The recommendation is set to go before WADA's Executive Committee at a meeting in Paris on December 9.

Asked if he expected the recommendation to be upheld, the chief of Russia's anti-doping agency RUSADA, Yury Ganus, told AFP: "That's the reality."

"We are plunging, for the next four years, into a new phase of Russia's doping crisis," Ganus said, pointing out that the ban would affect Russian athletes at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo and 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.

"The most difficult and tragic thing is that our athletes have become hostages of the actions of our sports officials," he said.

The proposed sanctions are the latest chapter in a saga that began in 2015 when an independent WADA commission investigating allegations of Russian doping during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi said it had found evidence of a vast state-sponsored system stretching back years.

Russian track and field athletes were barred from competing at the Rio Olympics in 2016 although Russians were allowed to take part in other events.

- 'Transparent stunt' -

The ban was widened to include all events at the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, though Russian competitors who could prove they were above suspicion were able to compete as neutrals under the Olympic flag.

Under the proposed new ban, individual Russian athletes could still compete if they were able to prove they are not implicated in the doping scandal, a position welcomed by the IOC in its statement.

In the United States, the exiled former head of the Moscow anti-doping lab, Grigoriy Rodchenkov issued a statement through his lawyers condemning Russia's "predictable and deplorable policy of deception".

"The Kremlin must think the people of the world are idiots to believe this shameless and transparent stunt," the lawyers, Jim Walden and Avni Patel, said.

"If the IOC and the international sports regulatory framework gives Russia yet another free pass, other countries will simply follow in their footsteps."

Russian Sports Minister Pavel Kolobkov complained the country's "point of view was not heard" by WADA, while Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the ban recommendation was part of a campaign to put Russia "on the defensive, as the accused party", Russian news agencies reported.

Russia's Saint Petersburg is one of the host cities for the Euro 2020 football tournament but this would not fall under the ban because it is not a world championship, a WADA source told AFP Tuesday.

President Vladimir Putin was set to meet the UEFA chief Aleksander Ceferin in Saint Petersburg on Wednesday.

Russian sports stars and officials reacted with dismay and indignation.

"The news is simply shocking," said Varvara Barysheva, executive director of the Russian Speed Skating Union.

Former Olympic champion figure skater Alexei Yagudin told RIA Novosti he hoped WADA would change its mind, saying: "World sport without Russia is nothing."

Pole vault star Yelena Isinbayeva, who has been sharply critical of WADA, told RIA Novosti: "I don't have any illusions about a positive outcome."

Former Soviet hockey star Viacheslav "Slava" Fetisov said he saw little hope of reprieve as "Russia is the most shamed country in the history of world sport" in comments to TASS news agency.

Yet some said Russia had only itself to blame.

"We failed to draw conclusions from the last Olympics," renowned skating coach Tatiana Tarasova told Sport24 news site.

She said officials involved in the scandal "left for top jobs" and called for a full investigation into how data was "planted".

- Call for Putin to act -

The ban proposal came after WADA investigators examined data handed over in January from Russia's doping-tainted Moscow laboratory.

Full disclosure of the data was a key condition of Russia's controversial reinstatement by WADA in September 2018.

But WADA said in its statement on Monday that the data, which had been in the hands of Russian criminal investigators, was "neither complete nor fully authentic".

Ganus said Russia urgently needed new sports management and called on President Putin to intervene.

"Honestly, I am waiting for the president to take an active part in this," Ganus said.

"We need to push through real changes," he added. "We need new sports leaders."

If the sanctions are approved by WADA's Executive Committee, Russia can appeal the decision at the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

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