O# 9 DECEMBER the World Anti-Doping Agency (AMA) banned Russia from participating in major sporting events for four years. The ban will apply to next year’s Olympics in Tokyo, the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, and this year’s World Cup, to be held in Qatar. It follows that the Russian authorities are still concealing widespread fraud. Russia released computer files in January supposed to be a full account of past doping, AMA think involved more than 1,000 athletes and was chaired by government ministers. But AMA found that the files had been tampered with.
A four-year ban is like a severe penalty. But it is full of loopholes. It only applies to “major” tournaments, which do not include mega events like next year’s European Men’s Football Championship.
Even in competitions AMA classified as “major”, like the World Cup, the ban could allow the Russians to compete under a neutral flag. The fine print of the agency’s decision specifies that athletes can participate as long as they have not been named in the documents that the Russian authorities have submitted or failed any drug test. FIFA will likely allow the Russians to play their qualifying matches for the 2022 competition in their national colors. It is only at the Qatar final that the team will have to abandon their flag and their anthem.
This arrangement has already been used at the Olympics and will likely continue at next year’s games in Tokyo. The International Olympic Committee (CIO) suspended the Russian Winter Games team in Pyeongchang last year, but only in name. It still allowed 168 competitors to appear as “Olympic athletes of Russia”, collecting 17 medals in all. The men’s ice hockey team won the gold medal while wearing a distinctly familiar red kit (but without emblems or flags) and defiantly sang the national anthem at the medal ceremony, against official orders. Few spectators could have doubted who they represented.
The message to these cheaters is clear. If you get caught, you risk losing some of the medals won by your country and your teams will compete briefly without your flag. But many of your stars will slip into the net. Cheaters sometimes thrive, it seems.
This article appeared in the Europe section of the print edition under the title “Cheat, cover up, repeat”