What Is ROC at the Olympics?

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Eagle-eyed fans of the Tokyo Olympics will have noticed that Russian athletes are competing under “ROC” rather than “Russia” during this Games. ROC stands for the Russian Olympic Committee, and hundreds of “ROC” athletes are competing under the Olympic rings flag instead of Russia’s—it’s a workaround measure so that they can compete despite an international doping scandal that rocked the sports world in 2019. The fact that the Russian athletes are there at all has been a source of controversy for the Games and other athletes. Not helping matters is that the ROC is currently ranked high on the country leaderboard at the Olympics, despite not being an actual country. So what do we know?

Why is Russia banned from the Olympics?

In 2019, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) banned Russia from all international sports competitions for four years after a doping scandal. WADA said there was conclusive proof that Russia had tampered with drug test data that showed state-sponsored doping for over 1,000 athletes spanning years. The time period spanned two Olympic Games—London and Sochi—and included a variety of unethical actions, like athletes systematically swapping out tainted urine samples, sometimes using “a hole in the wall … at the Sochi Olympics.”

As a result, Russia was subject to a variety of punishments. In addition to being stripped of several former medals and banned from the 2018 Winter Games by the International Olympic Committee and some the participants given a lifetime ban by the International Association of Athletics Federations, WADA ruled that Russia would not be able to use its flag, name, anthem, or officials in competitions for four years. The ruling was the most severe penalty handed down to date.

The Court of Arbitration cut the four year penalty to two years, but “the Panel has clearly upheld our findings that the Russian authorities brazenly and illegally manipulated the Moscow Laboratory data in an effort to cover up an institutionalized doping scheme,” World Anti-Doping Agency President Witold Bańka said. “In the face of continual resistance and denial from Russia, we clearly proved our case, in accordance with due process.”

The ban lifts in December 2022, meaning if you tune in to another international sporting competition until then, you’ll still see the ROC—including at the 2022 Beijing Olympics.

Why are Russian athletes competing as the ROC?

The ROC designation means that athletes are competing as “neutrals.” The 335 Russian athletes competing were apparently able to prove that they had nothing to do with the doping scandal, but they’re still not technically competing for their country. They are still wearing the Russian red, white, and blue.

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At the time of the 2019 ruling, sources explained that this might lead to some athletes who might have been complicit in the scandal to compete anyways. “The view of many is that it’s largely superficial,” said Canadian Olympian Beckie Scott to the New York Times. “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.” But others believed that it represented a strong rebuke to the country of Russia.

Reuters reported that the Russian athletes were among the “most tested” in the run-up to the Tokyo Games. Two members of the Russian men’s quadruple sculls (rowing) tested positive for a banned substance, but since it was out-of-competition testing in June, Russia wasn’t disqualified entirely (they later pulled out because their substituted rowers weren’t qualified for the Olympics).

Russian propaganda has utilized “ROC” to engender pro-Russian support nationally: Russian officials have added a “k” to make “ROCK.” Match TV, the state-run sports channel, was responsible for starting a social media campaign with #WeWillROCYou. There have been controversial videos made to denigrate the U.S. and the press.

How has this impacted the Tokyo Olympics so far?

ROC athletes have performed well: As of this writing they’ve won 52 medals and are in third place for overall medal count. When asked about doping among Russian athletes, some Olympic swimmers said they still feel that it’s going on. U.S. rower Megan Kalmoe tweeted that the Russian team, which took home silver, “shouldn’t even be here and that their win gave her a “nasty feeling.”

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Seeing a crew who shouldn’t even be here walk away with a silver is a nasty feeling. Really disappointing overall and I feel for the other athletes in the A Final. Big love to all my friends and frenemies who gave it everything out there. — Megan Kalmoe (@megankalmoe) July 29, 2021

She later elaborated that “there are a lot of women here that I think were very qualified to win one of those medals, and them not having that opportunity because that boat was here was very problematic for me as a competitor.”

American Ryan Murphy, who won silver after Evgeny Rylov won gold in the 200-meter backstroke, didn’t mince words. “It is a huge mental drain on me … that I’m swimming in a race that’s probably not clean … I don’t have the bandwidth to train for the Olympics at a very high level and try to lobby the people who are making the decisions that they’re making the wrong decisions.” Bronze medalist Luke Greenback from Great Britain put it even more bluntly: “It’s frustrating knowing there’s a state-sponsored doping program going on and not more being done to tackle that.”

In response, the Russian Olympic Committee had…this to say:

“How unnerving our victories are for some of our colleagues. Yes, we are here at the Olympics. Whether someone likes it or not. The old barrel organ started the song about Russian doping again. English-language propaganda, oozing with verbal sweat in the Tokyo heat. Through the mouths of athletes offended by defeats. We will not console you. Forgive us those who are weaker. God is their judge. And for us—an assistant.”

So, that’s interesting. Rylov himself had a more earnest response, saying in a press conference that “From the bottom of my heart, I am for clean sport … Ryan didn’t accuse me of anything, so I’d rather not comment.”

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What Is ROC? Inside the Russian Olympic Committee, Why It Exists and When It May Come to An End

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If you’ve watched the 2020 Olympics, chances are you’ve seen some athletes in red, white and blue competing in the Tokyo Games. The athletes are Russian, but they’re not competing for Russia, but instead on behalf of “ROC.” Say what? If that’s confusing, we don’t blame you and we’re here to help: If you scratched your head asking “What is ROC?” while tuning in, we have your answers.

What is ROC?

ROC stands for Russian Olympic Committee. Russian athletes are competing under the ROC banner as neutral athletes, not on behalf of Russia. There are 330 Russian athletes competing in the Tokyo Olympics under the ROC. Critics have said the rule barely makes a difference in the grand scheme of the Olympic Games, especially since the ROC athletes still wear Russia’s national colors.

Related: Get a Gold Medal in the Giggles With the Best 2020 Olympics Memes From the Tokyo Games

Why is Russia banned from the Olympics?

The World Doping Agency (WDA) banned Russia from all international athletic competitions in 2019 for alleged state-sanctioned, widespread doping among its athletes. The WDA also accused the Russian Doping Agency of being uncooperative with investigations into the matter. Russian athletes may still compete, but they cannot compete on behalf of Russia. In the Olympics, Russian athletes compete under the ROC and the Russian flag isn’t displayed, nor is their national anthem played. Russian athletes competing in the Olympics must pass doping tests like other competitors to be eligible to compete under the ROC. The offenses reportedly date back as far as the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014.

Professor and Russian propaganda expert Sarah Oates told Yahoo! Sports that the ROC ruling only deepens the rift between Russia and the United States, and noted that Russia’s state news organizations have mocked the move. “Russia is expert at using propaganda. This fits the Russians’ constant ‘Us against the West’ narrative, claiming that the athletes were unfairly treated as further evidence of how Russia is treated badly in the world in general,” she said. “Russia is their team and you tend to support your team even in the face of scandals. This could work to the Kremlin’s advantage to inspire anger at the international community and bolster Russian nationalism. That being said, Russians are a pretty sophisticated audience and are likely to be somewhat cynical about their government.”

Related: Meet—and Meme—Harry Dank! All About the Olympics’ First Viral Star and His Relation to Flag Bearer Sue Bird

When does the Olympics Russia ban end?

Russia was originally banned from international sports competitions for four years, but in December 2020, the ban was cut to two years on appeal. The Olympics ban on Russia will end in late 2022, meaning they will banned from the 2020 Summer Games as well as the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing. Russia will also be ineligible to compete in 2022’s FIFA World Cup.

What other countries have neutral athletes in the 2020 Olympics?

Russia isn’t alone in sending neutral athletes to the Tokyo Games. Numerous countries have sent refugee athletes to compete under the banners of other nations, known as the IOC Refugee Olympic Team. Athletes originally from Afghanistan, Cameroon, Republic of the Congo, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Eritrea, Iran, Iraq, South Sudan and Syria competed under other host national Olympic Committees, including Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, Israel, Kenya, Netherlands, Portugal, ROC, Switzerland, Trinidad and Tobago and the United Kingdom.

At the Olympics Opening Ceremony, IOC President Thomas Bach told the IOC Refugee Team, “Dear refugee athletes: With your talent and human spirit, you are demonstrating what an enrichment refugees are for society. You had to flee from your homes because of violence, hunger or just because you were different. Today, we welcome you with open arms and offer you a peaceful home. Welcome to our Olympic community.”

Next, find out what happens if an athlete tests positive for COVID at the Olympics.

What is ROC in the Olympics? Here’s why Team Russia is competing under new name in Tokyo

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For the second consecutive Olympic Games, Russia will be competing under a different name. The country was known as the Olympic Athletes from Russia (OAR) during the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Games and for the 2021 Tokyo Games, they are known as the ROC.

Why isn’t Russia allowed to compete under its country name and flag? It all stems from a doping scandal that has marred the country since 2015 and resulted in a ban from Olympic competitions.

Here’s everything you need to know about the ROC, including why Russian athletes are still allowed to compete during the Olympics despite the country being banned.

MORE: Full day-by-day events schedule for 2021 Olympics

What does ROC stand for?

ROC stands for “Russian Olympic Committee.” Russian athletes will be competing under this flag and designation during the 2021 Tokyo Olympics and the 2022 Beijing Olympics.

Why athletes aren’t competing under the Russian flag

Athletes aren’t competing under the Russian flag because of a punishment handed down by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). Originally, Russia had been suspended for four years of Olympic action, but in late 2020, that punishment was reduced to two years.

During that two-year period, athletes that weren’t involved in the Russian doping scandal are still able to compete in Olympic competition. That’s why there are 335 Russians competing in the 2021 Olympics. However, they have to do it as neutrals.

As a result, they aren’t competing under the flag nor will the Russian national anthem play during the Olympics. They will, however, wear uniforms that incorporate the colors of the country’s flag, much to the dismay of WADA.

“We at WADA remain disappointed that [the Court of Arbitration for Sport] has decreased the level of the sanctions from four years to two years and that CAS allows them to compete Russian athletes with the colors of the flag in the uniforms,” WADA President Witold Bańka said, per USA TODAY Sports.

MORE: Updated overall medal count for 2021 Olympics

Timeline of Russia’s doping ban

The Russian doping ban stemmed from a 2015 independent commission organized by WADA. It was led by the agency’s former president, Dick Pound, and revealed Russia had been running and endorsing a doping program. This was backed up in 2016 after whistleblower Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov told the New York Times about how Russia’s state-run doping helped them to perform well at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

A July 2016 investigation by WADA confirmed “beyond a reasonable doubt” that the Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA) had worked with other state agencies to cover up positive tests.

WADA recommended that Russia be banned from the 2016 Rio Olympics, but the IOC rejected the recommendation. Instead, CAS arbitrators decided which athletes would and wouldn’t participate in the Games. As a result, 278 Russian athletes were cleared while 111 were removed.

In December of 2017, the IOC announced that Russia was banned from the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics. However, their athletes were allowed to compete as neutrals under the Olympic Athlete from Russia (OAR) flag during the 2018 Winter Olympics.

RUSADA faced another suspension from WADA after inconsistencies in anti-doping data were discovered during a 2019 investigation. WADA president Sir Craig Reedie explained the decision to enforce the four-year ban that came due to data manipulation by RUSADA.

“For too long, Russian doping has detracted from clean sport. The blatant breach by the Russian authorities of Rusada’s reinstatement conditions demanded a robust response. That is exactly what has been delivered,” Reedie said, per BBC.

“Russia was afforded every opportunity to get its house in order and rejoin the global anti-doping community for the good of its athletes and of the integrity of sport, but it chose instead to continue in its stance of deception and denial.”

Russia appealed the suspension and saw it reduced to two years. Still, during the 2021 and 2022 Olympics, it will compete under the ROC flag because of the ban.