USADA calls Russia doping ruling a 'tragedy'

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STADIO PIERO DE PAOLI, CHIERI, Athletics (Photo by Nicolò Campo/LightRocket via Getty Images)
STADIO PIERO DE PAOLI, CHIERI, Athletics (Photo by Nicolò Campo/LightRocket via Getty Images)

The United States Anti-Doping Agency condemned the Court of Arbitration for Sport's decision to halve Russia's doping ban on Thursday as a "tragedy" for the global fight against drug cheats, slamming the ruling as a "weak and loophole-riddled outcome."

USADA chief executive Travis Tygart said the CAS decision -- which cut Russia's proposed four-year ban to two years -- represented a "significant loss" for the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and clean athletes.

The two-year sanction bars Russia from sending an official delegation to the rearranged 2021 Tokyo Olympics, the 2022 Winter Olympics and the 2022 World Cup but allows Russian athletes to compete in those events under a neutral banner.

Similar rules were in effect for Russian athletes at the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics.

Tygart told AFP the sanction would be undermined by the fact that athletes would still be able to compete in uniforms in Russian colours with the word "Russia" on them, and that Russian government officials could still attend the games if invited by host nations.

"It's riddled with so many loopholes," Tygart said. "IOC members are exempt from the ban. Athlete support personnel and government officials are exempt from it. There's no consequence on those folks even if they were involved with directly perpetrating fraud in the past.

"The Russian colours can be there. It will be another charade like we saw in Pyeongchang where neutral athletes from Russia will have uniforms in Russian colours and the only thing that's absent is the flag and the anthem in the event they win."

WADA had imposed a four-year ban on Russia after finding that Moscow had manipulated evidence from a laboratory database handed over to investigators probing the long-running doping scandal.

Tygart said that attempts to alter evidence showed Russia had not been deterred by earlier sanctions.

"They've been given chance after chance after chance," Tygart said. "Pyeongchang didn't change their behaviour and we know that because they manipulated the database after that. So to be given yet another weak and loophole-riddled outcome is just a tragedy for the overall global effort."

Tygart also questioned the ability of authorities to monitor Russian athletes allowed to compete at the Olympics under a neutral banner.

"We don't know anything about what the testing requirements for any athletes from Russia who do compete in Tokyo are going to be," he said.

"There is a lack of transparency and unwillingness to create a standard that would hold them accountable.

"We put our individual test histories on our website. So you can go and see how many times (US swimmer) Katie Ledecky has been tested by us. The world's not going to get any of that information from Russia if the status quo remains."

Tygart's criticism was shared by Jim Walden, the lawyer for Grigory Rodchenkov, the former head of Moscow anti-doping laboratory who first lifted the lid on the scandal. Rodchenkov now lives in hiding in the United States.

Walden said CAS's decision was "nonsensical" and showed that the tribunal was "unwilling and unable to meaningfully deal with systematic and long-standing criminality by Russia."

The United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee gave a measured criticism of the ruling, saying that while "gratified" by aspects of the decision it remained "deeply disappointed by other elements of the ruling that materially weaken" sanctions against Russia.

"What is clear at this point is that the blatant disregard shown for the rules and purpose of anti-doping regulations in this case has harmed clean athletes and gone further to erode confidence in the international anti-doping construct," the USOPC said in a statement.

"Whatever the final effect of implementation of the CAS ruling, we must acknowledge that it is only the latest chapter in a terrible story of a calculated, and at least partially successful scheme, to attack clean athletes and fundamental Olympic and Paralympic values."

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