LAUSANNE, Switzerland — The world’s top antidoping authority agreed unanimously on Monday to banish Russia from international competition — including next summer’s Olympic Games in Tokyo — for four years, the latest and most severe punishment yet connected to a yearslong cheating scheme that has tarnished sports, rendered Russia a sports pariah, and exacerbated tension between Moscow and the West.
If the ban by the World Anti-Doping Agency’s board is upheld, Russia’s flag, name and anthem will not be allowed at the Tokyo Games next summer or the Beijing Winter Olympics in 2022, though the competitive effects may be minimal: Russian athletes not implicated in doping are expected to be allowed to compete in the Olympics and other world championships, but only under a neutral flag.
The antidoping agency also barred Russian sports and government officials from the Games and prohibited the country from hosting international events. The decision, which Russia is expected to appeal, most likely will set up a series of confrontations in the coming months and years as Russia fights to have its athletes and teams compete at major events.
The ban comes four years after the first details of a conspiracy that peaked at the 2014 Sochi Olympics were made public, and only months after more recent revelations of a failed Russian cover-up that involved the manipulation of test results. The punishment was hailed by some as a tough step, though many declared it insufficient as a deterrent; some critics and athletes have called instead for a blanket ban with no exceptions.
Even some officials from the global antidoping organization, known as WADA, said the punishment was too lax because it left open the possibility that hundreds of Russian athletes, including some who may have been complicit in the doping or the cover-up, will appear in Tokyo, just as they did at the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea.
“The view of many is that it’s largely superficial,” said Beckie Scott, a Canadian Olympian who once had her bronze medal upgraded to gold when the two Russians who beat her were disqualified for doping. “It’s particularly disappointing in light of that fact that WADA had the authority and power to impose a much stronger and serious sanction and they chose not to.”
Jonathan Taylor, the British lawyer who wrote the report proposing the sanctions, countered in an interview with The New York Times the measures amounted to a humiliation for the Russian authorities.
“Don’t tell me that doesn’t affect them,” Taylor said. “What happens if this neutral team wins the World Cup and Putin’s not there? Don’t tell me it doesn’t mean anything.”
The debate about how far to go in punishing Russia pits those who fear punishing innocent athletes, and angering one of the biggest and most important nations in international sports, and those who say the rules must be upheld regardless of the repercussions.
Edwin Moses, the chairman of the United States Antidoping Agency and a two-time Olympic gold medalist, said too many antidoping leaders and the International Olympic Committee have prioritized Russian sentiments over those of certifiably clean athletes from elsewhere. Those athletes, he said, may have lost medals and money to Russians who cheated.
“The Russians are asserting their athletes that may be clean deserve the opportunity to compete,” Moses said. “They destroyed all the evidence that could have exonerated them.”
Russia is almost certain to contest the decision anyway. It continues to steadfastly deny many of the allegations, even after several independent investigations that have revealed the scale of its attempts to conceal, obfuscate and frustrate. Russian officials have 21 days to lodge an appeal with the Swiss-based Court of Arbitration for Sport.
The Russian prime minister, Dmitri Medvedev, encouraged an appeal on Monday, saying that the antidoping agency’s decision appeared to him to be a “continuation of anti-Russian hysteria.”
He also offered a concession. “The Russian side, too — by that I mean our sports community — still has significant problems with doping,” he said. “This is undeniable.”
Despite that admission, Russia’s ban contains significant loopholes. Russia will host matches and its team will participate in Europe’s quadrennial soccer championship next summer, for example, because it is a continental championship and not a global competition. Also, Russia still can qualify and participate in soccer’s 2022 World Cup, provided team members are cleared of doping, though its team would have to wear neutral uniforms.
Banning Russian uniforms, the country’s flag and the playing of its anthem at international competitions were part of a suite of punishments proposed by a committee at the global antidoping agency led by Taylor and delivered to board members for Monday’s up-or-down vote.
Also included were a ban on Russian government officials and representatives, who may not attend major events or serve on the board of any organization that has signed the global antidoping code. Russia cannot bid to host any international championships, and any such events the country was set to host during the four-year period now must be moved.
Linda Helleland, a Norwegian who is the outgoing vice president of the antidoping agency, expressed frustration at the sanctions because Russian athletes will continue to compete, just as they did in South Korea.
“I am not happy with the decision we made today,” Helleland told reporters at the conclusion of Monday’s hourlong meeting. “This was as far as we could go.”
Travis T. Tygart, the chief executive of the United States Anti-Doping Agency, called allowing Russia to escape a blanket ban “another devastating blow to clean athletes, the integrity of sport and the rule of law.” He said those who opposed Monday’s decision should “revolt against this broken system to force reform.”
What has angered many is Russia’s mendacity in the face of efforts to rehabilitate the country after whistle-blower evidence helped unravel a meticulously planned — and ultimately successful — scheme in which Russian antidoping experts and members of the country’s intelligence service surreptitiously replaced urine samples tainted by performance-enhancing drugs with clean samples at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
As part of the resolution of that case, Russia agreed to provide a set of testing results to doping regulators from its Moscow laboratory. That database was found to have been manipulated, with results altered or deleted. Information on as many as 145 athletes with suspicious doping profiles was irreparably compromised, WADA said.
Inside Russia, a propaganda campaign has attempted to discredit the findings as just another Western plot.
One Russian talk show described the revelations as an attempt by Russia’s rivals to eliminate a potential medal-winning opponent, while a documentary tried to lay the blame on the whistle-blower, Grigory Rodchenkov, a former antidoping official who helped mastermind the scheme from his position as the head of the Moscow laboratory.
Russia’s denials and manipulations of data continued well after antidoping regulators had gone public in September with confirmation that thousands of crucial Russian files had been deleted or manipulated, and that the data that Russia provided did not match a database on Russian athletes investigators received in 2017.
In a follow-up meeting in October, Russia’s sports minister, Pavel Kolobkov, provided WADA with fresh data, but that only revealed further manipulation.
Before it handed over the database of results, though, Russia tried to frame Rodchenkov by fabricating messages between the former laboratory director and his staff, to suggest they were plotting to extort Russian athletes by falsely accusing them of failing drug tests.
“I don’t know if he is corrupt or incompetent,” Taylor said of Kolobkov, a former fencer who was appointed to his post after revelations of Russia’s vast doping scheme.
In a statement Monday, Rodchenkov said Russia had compromised the reputations of clean athletes who now can’t be proven innocent.
“Russia dug its own grave,” Rodchenkov said.
A rare voice of dissent in Russia has come from the current head of its antidoping agency, Yuri Ganus. For months, as the crisis grew, Ganus spoke out against his country’s handling of the scheme, telling the world that he believed thousands of athlete files most likely had been deleted to save the reputations of some of Russia’s most significant figures.
He told The New York Times that the punishment was logical. But he also said he would back an appeal he went on to describe as a “mission impossible” to prevent a generation of clean athletes from being punished for a scheme they had no part in.
Ganus called on Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin, to become personally involved. “I think there is only one person who can change the situation,” Ganus said.
Margarita Pakhnotskaya, the deputy head of Russia’s antidoping agency, said that the ban should prompt action by officials in her country who have suggested that Russia was being unfairly targeted.
“This is another reason for sports executives to think about whether we are moving in the right direction,” the Interfax news agency quoted her as saying. “This all shows that there has been no change in our antidoping culture.”
Oleg Matsnev contributed reporting from Moscow and Andrew Keh from New York.