ROC: Why Russia is allowed to compete at the Tokyo Olympics

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·Sports Reporter
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Flag bearers Sofya Velikaya and Maxim Mikhaylov of Team ROC lead their team in during the Opening Ceremony of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
Russian athletes will march under the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) banner at the Tokyo Olympics. (Getty Images)

The Russian Olympic team has been under a spotlight for some time after their shock ban from the Rio Olympic Games due to a systemic doping breach.

However, a 335-strong team of Russian athletes have travelled to Tokyo in search for Olympic glory in 2021.

But with doping cases still haunting the Russian Olympic banner, how are they competing at the Tokyo Olympic Games?

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Russia rebranded in Tokyo

Russia is competing under another new name at the Tokyo Olympics, the latest fallout from the nation's remarkable state-backed doping scandal.

You won't see the Russian flag above any podiums.

This time it's not Russia, or even the Olympic Athletes from Russia.

It's the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC).

Officially the athletes will represent not their country, but the ROC, and Russia's name, flag and anthem are banned.

However, the punishment has drawn heavy criticism considering it will be hard to spot the difference when Russian teams are wearing full national colours.

Fallout from Russian state-backed doping scandal

In one of the biggest sporting scandals in modern history, Russia was banned from the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics and the 2016 Rio Olympics after the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) uncovered a state-backed doping scandal.

Leading up to the Tokyo Games, WADA intervened to stop several Russians from competing based on evidence from the Moscow testing laboratory that was shut down in 2015.

The database and samples from the long-sealed lab were finally given in 2019 to WADA, which prepared and shared about 300 potential cases for governing bodies of Olympic sports.

WADA investigators found the database was manipulated while in the hands of Russian law enforcement. 

Fencer Sofya Velikaya (pictured right) and volleyball player Maxim Mikhailov (pictured left) of the ROC Team carry a ROC flag during the Parade of Nations at the opening ceremony of the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympic Games.
Fencer Sofya Velikaya (pictured right) and volleyball player Maxim Mikhailov (pictured left) of the ROC Team carry a ROC flag during the Parade of Nations at the opening ceremony of the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympic Games. (Photo by Stanislav Krasilnikov\TASS via Getty Images)

Information was altered and deleted, and false emails tried to incriminate lab officials who became whistleblowers.

Fallout from the database case led to a ban on Russia’s national identity at the Tokyo Olympics and the 2022 Beijing Winter Games.

But, a panel of three Court of Arbitration for Sport judges imposed a two-year slate of punishments in December 2020.

However, some concessions were made for Russian athletes leading up to the Tokyo Games.

How will the ROC fair at the Games?

The ROC is predicted to finish in third for the Olympic medal tally.

Gold medals are still expected in the nation's strongest events such as gymnastics, artistic swimming, wrestling, fencing and judo.

While the team is around 50 athletes stronger than in 2016, when the doping-related restrictions hit harder across multiple sports, it is still the second-lowest number since the Soviet Union broke up in 1991.

Only Russian athletes in track and field have had to undergo special vetting of their drug-testing histories or possible involvement in past cover-ups. 

World Athletics has its own sanctions against Russia, including an “authorised neutral athlete” certification program. Only athletes with that status were eligible for Tokyo.

Weightlifting has its own system of doping sanctions, restricting team sizes based on past misdeeds. Russia can enter one male and one female lifter for Tokyo, but avoids the outright bans from Olympic weightlifting imposed on the most persistent offenders like Thailand and Romania.

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