Russia Has Left The Olympic Chat – Or Has It?

At the 2021 Olympics Opening Ceremony in Tokyo, Russian athletes walked out waving the Russian Olympics Committee (ROC) flag, which contains the Olympic rings and Russia’s tricolours. But what does this all mean? Why can’t they represent Russia and wave her flag?

To answer these questions, we’ll have to backtrack a few years to 2015, right after the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

That was when the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) uncovered details of a years-long state-sanctioned doping scandal, involving hundreds of Russian athletes. From 2015 up until 2019, WADA delved into investigations, finding damning evidence against the Russian Federation and its intricate doping programme. It was discovered that in Sochi, contaminated urine samples were switched with clean ones through holes in the walls.

This scandal had tarnished the country’s reputation in the world of sports and sparked high tensions between Russia and the West.

Russian athletes marching into Tokyo Olympics opening ceremony with the Russia Olympic Committee flag (twitter @Olympic_Russia)

Years of investigation led to a unanimous decision by the world’s top anti-doping authority in 2019 – Russia was to be banned from all international competitions (including the Olympics) for four years.

Russia appealed this decision and in 2020, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) reduced these sanctions to two years.

Essentially, this ban entails that Russian athletes cannot wave the Russian flag and hear their national anthem at the Olympics. Russian officials are also not allowed to attend these competitions. However, athletes who were not part of the doping scandal are in fact allowed to compete under the newly-created Russian Olympics Committee (ROC).

Although WADA insisted they wear neutral colours to uphold the strictness of the sanctions, the athletes were allowed to wear Russia’s tricolours.

Athletes display the Olympic uniforms for Russian athletes in Moscow, Russia, on April 14, 2021. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)

There have been many arguments that this punishment, especially after the CAS decision, is effective in name only and the sanctions are not proportionate to the level of which Russia had tarnished the ethics of competitive sports.

However, lawyer Jonathan Taylor, who wrote the report proposing these sanctions, told the New York Times that the punishment was a humiliation to Russia.

“Don’t tell me that doesn’t affect them. What happens if this neutral team wins the World Cup and Putin’s not there? Don’t tell me it doesn’t mean anything.”

Do you think the anti-doping agency and the CAS had served appropriate punishments that are proportionate to Russia’s significant wrongdoing?

Regardless, a distinct takeaway from this explosive doping scandal is the need for strong authorities with regards to ethics and law in sports.

Sportsmanship is not just about winning competitions and medals, it is about integrity and fairness. We need reliable enforcement agencies and courts to ensure that athletes and countries are held accountable for tainting the integrity of a game.

If you are passionate about the spirit of sportsmanship within these competitions and tournaments, perhaps careers in enforcement agencies or international courts are suitable pathways for you! But before delving into these areas of interest, learn the groundwork needed by pursuing a Foundation in Law.

With people of integrity guarding the sanctity of sports, communities all over the world can enjoy these international competitions that bring us closer together.