Who is ROC in the Olympics? How Russian Athletes are Competing in Tokyo
Viewers may have noticed an unfamiliar country abbreviation at the Tokyo Olympics: ROC.
Athletes from Russia took home gold in the women’s team gymnastics event, beat the U.S. men’s volleyball team and made headlines in several events. But how is that possible given the country’s ban?
Here’s a breakdown of what ROC means and how Russian athletes are competing in the Games:
What is the Russian Olympic Committee?
Just who is the ROC, anyway? It stands for Russian Olympic Committee.
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Is the ROC the same as Russia?
Well, sort of. Russia received a two-year ban from the World Anti-Doping Agency for its state-sponsored doping program. Between December 17, 2020, and December 17, 2022, no athlete can represent Russia at the Olympics, Paralympics or World Championships.
The ban was originally set to last four years, but the Court of Arbitration for Sport reduced it to two years. The state-sponsored doping program was revealed in 2016 and included at least 15 medal winners from the 2014 Olympics, held in Sochi, Russia.
Athletes competing under the ROC designation cannot wear the Russian flag, or any other national symbol, on their uniforms. If their uniforms say “Russia,” they must also include “neutral athlete” or something equivalent in the same size.
When an ROC athlete wins a gold medal, the Russian anthem will not be played. Vitalina Batsarashkina won the ROC’s first gold in Tokyo in the 10m pistol event earlier Sunday. She was serenaded by music from Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1, which will also play for other ROC gold medalists.
Will Russia compete at the 2022 Olympics in Beijing?
The ROC will be competing instead of Russia at the Winter Olympics in Beijing in February 2022. Russia was also under sanctions for the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics, where athletes were considered “Olympic Athletes from Russia.”
Unless further sanctions are levied, the traditional contingent from Russia, including its flag and anthem, will be back at the 2024 Olympics in Paris.
Tokyo Olympics: What does ROC stand for?
If you have been watching the Tokyo Olympics and noticed athletes competing under the title “ROC,” you may be wondering what those initials stand for.
It is not an abbreviation for a country, but rather an acronym that stands for “Russian Olympic Committee.”
It is a way for Russian athletes to compete in the Olympic games even though Russia was banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency for its “state-sponsored doping program,” according to The New York Times.
At the Tokyo Olympics, there are 335 athletes from Russia competing. But unlike most athletes at the Olympics, these Russian athletes are not allowed to use their country’s name, flag or anthem at the games.
Instead, they compete under the acronym ROC, or “Russian Olympic Committee.”
So how are these Russian athletes allowed to compete even though their country and their nationality is banned? How did Russia get banned from the Olympics in the first place?
Here are the answers to your most burning questions.
Athletes from the Russian Olympic Committee, such as 3-on-3 basketball team member Alexander Zuev, are not allowed to to use their country’s name, flag or anthem at the Olympics. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)AP
No, the ROC stands for “Russian Olympic Committee.” It does not represent a country. It is a group of athletes from Russia who are allowed to compete under this special designation because their country is banned.
These athletes also are barred from showing the Russian flag.
Russia was banned from the 2021 Olympics by the Court of Arbitration for Sport for the country’s massive doping scheme.
The World Doping Agency conducted an investigation and discovered that more than 1,000 Russian athletes benefitted or were involved in government-sponsored doping programs between 2011 and 2015.
Russia was initially banned from the Olympics, Paralympics, and World Championship games for four years, but the Court of Arbitration for Sport shortened that period to two years.
Russian athletes who did not take part in the doping scheme are still allowed to compete in the games, but only as neutrals. This means that if they win a medal for any competition, the Russian national anthem will not be played.
However, athletes with an ROC designation are allowed to wear their country’s colors on their uniform.
Related stories to the Olympics:
What are the new sports at the Tokyo Olympics?
Why aren’t there spectators at the Olympics this year?
Why are there 5 Olympic rings? What do they stand for?
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What is ROC in the Olympics? Here’s why Team Russia is competing under new name in Tokyo
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.