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The Russian Athletics Federation (RusAF) has been banned from international competition since November 2015 due to systematic doping, corruption, and coverups.

Currently in place is an Authorised Neutral Athlete (ANA) program. The ANA is to allow Russian athletes to apply and if approved compete as neutral athletes or ANAs. There is no cap in place for the number of Russians to compete as ANAs. At this time, there are 151 Russian athletes who are permitted to compete in some competitions but not all. For certain events, however, World Athletics had placed a cap of 10 and is moving to 20 for the year 2022.

The smaller quota applies to the 2022 Eugene World Athletics Championships, World Athletics Indoor Championships in Belgrade, the World Race Walking Team Championship in Muscat, and the Munich European Athletics Championships. The 151 cap applies to all other international competitions.

So, when is a ban, a ban?

With up to 151 athletes permitted to compete in some international competitions and up to 20 during the prime global events, one may ask, when is a ban, a ban?

Not to be confused with the complete sport ban on Russia, where the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), initially banned Russia for a period of four years. Russian athletes were permitted to compete under the name Russian Olympic Committee or ROC.

Who cares?

The athletes still have Russian last names and the name “Russia” within the acronym “ROC” as well as iconography on their uniforms remain.

However, the decision by WADA on Dec. 9 2019 to ban Russia was due to the fact that they found data provided by the Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA) had been manipulated. Russian authorities did this with the goal of protecting athletes involved in its systematic doping program.

Russia filed an appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) against the suspension. The CAS, on review of Russia’s appeal, ruled on Dec. 17 2020 to reduce the term. Instead of banning Russia from sporting events, the ruling allowed Russia to participate in the Olympics and other international events, but for only two years. Other rules included that the team cannot use the Russian name, flag, or anthem. The ruling, however, permitted team uniforms to display the name “Russia” as well as the use of the colours of the Russian flag.

Russia has a culture of cheating. They believe everyone else cheats, so therefore they feel that it is perfectly okay to cheat too.

The Russian Anti-doping Agency, and Russian Athletics Federation have a long and winding history of doping, coverups, and corruption. For example, the legacy of cheating continued with the bizarre coverup story of World champion high jumper Danil Lysenko and the eight-year ban as well as the firing of five officials.

The chaos in Russia continued to hemorrhage officials and athletes into 2020 as a disciplinary tribunal upheld charges laid by the Athletics Integrity Unit against former RusAF President Dmitry Shlyakhtin, and former board member Artur Karamyan and three others.

The ROC athletes finished fifth during the Tokyo Olympic Games with 71 medals. They picked up 20 gold, 28 silver and 23 bronze medals. So much for being “banned” for systematic doping.

What happened to the Moscow laboratory data?

The Moscow Laboratory data was stored in a mainframe computer in Moscow. Authorities were delayed several times from entering the lab to extract data as part of the process of being reinstated. They failed in their compliance.

In November 2019, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) publicly claimed that the organisation fully supports the strongest sanctions against those responsible for the manipulation of the Moscow Laboratory data.

A statement from the IOC condemned the “flagrant manipulation” as “an attack on the credibility of sport itself and is an insult to the sporting movement worldwide”.

WADA recommended a four-year sanction against the RUSADA, following “an extremely serious case of non-compliance with the requirement to provide an authentic copy of the Moscow data, with several aggravating features”.

WADA had demanded the Russian Sports Ministry and RUSADA explain “inconsistencies” it found in the data when it opened a compliance procedure against the body, first suspended in 2015 before being reinstated in 2018, in September.

Russia was ordered to address the differences between the Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS) database provided by a whistleblower in October 2017 and the version WADA extracted from the facility in January 2019.

WADA determined the data was “neither complete nor fully authentic” after reports from experts, adding further significant deletions and or alterations had been made in December 2018 and January 2019.

Their malfeasance knows no limits.

World Athletics ban

The World Athletics ban and the ANA limit of 10 athletes during the Tokyo Olympic games earned ANA or ROC one gold medal and one silver medal.

The ban continues, but the athletes continue to cheat. For example two triathletes were recently sanctioned for doping. Although triathlon is not under the management of World Athletics, you cannot change a leopard’s spots. They are Russian athletes.

The doping likely goes back to the 1960s or perhaps before, however, that is merely speculation. Certainly during the 1980s there was systematic doping that the sporting world chose to ignore.

For example, Soviet hockey players and laboratory workers allegedly conspired to deceive drug testers during the 1986 World Championships that took place in Moscow. Apparently, they did this by hiding urine samples behind toilets. This, according to former Soviet hockey player Igor Larionov who was one of the first to defect from the communist regime and play in the NHL.

He accused the Soviet national team coach Viktor Tikhonov of ordering players to receive injections even though they did not know the contents of the shots. Larionov, a long-time critic of Tikhonov and the way Soviet hockey was run, made his claims in a book, “The Front Line Rebels.”

“When Soviet players went to the doping control points they used to take a container of prepared urine from behind the toilet bowl, which had been placed there,” Larionov said in the book.

The Soviets or Russians are known by the company they keep. For example, Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov, masterminded a similar scheme to what the Soviets managed in hockey at the Sochi Winter Olympic Games. He detailed the mass cheating in his book The Rodchenkov Affair. Similarly, Vitaly Stepanov, detailed from his perspective as an anti-doping officer as well as his athlete wife Yulia Rusanova in the book, The Russian Affair.

During an Athletics Illustrated interview with Stepanov, he said, “in Russia, we don’t call it cheating, we say, “we have an understanding.”

With at least 40 years and possibly 50 or 60 years of unabated systematic doping and corruption that continues to this day, Russian cheating is not going to end with a faux suspension.

It will likely never end. It is in their culture.