ROC Explained: Why Is Russia Banned from the Tokyo Olympics?

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Viewers may have noticed an unfamiliar country abbreviation at the Tokyo Olympics: ROC.

What is the Russian Olympic Committee?

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Just who is the ROC, anyway? It stands for Russian Olympic Committee.

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.

Explained: At the Tokyo Olympics, why Russians are competing under the name ‘ROC’

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Veronika Kudermetova of the Russian Olympic Committee in action during her first round match against Garbine Muguruza of Spain. (Reuters Photo)

At the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, there are 335 sportspersons from Russia competing with athletes from around the world. Yet, unlike their counterparts, the Russians are not allowed to use their country’s name, flag and anthem, and are competing under the acronym ROC, meaning Russian Olympic Committee.

In the 2020 medals tally, all of their medals are listed next to the name ROC, with a flag that is different from Russia’s official.

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This is because Russia, which has historically been among the world’s top sporting nations, has been ‘banned’ from the Tokyo Olympics.

What led to Russia being ‘banned’ from Tokyo Olympics 2020?

In December 2019, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) banned Russia for four years from competing in international events, including the Tokyo Olympics and the FIFA World Cup in 2022. The ban was enacted after new revelations came up about a doping programme that Russia had been accused of.

For many years, whistleblowers and investigators had accused Russia of running a doping programme so sophisticated that it forced international federations to stop its athletes from competing in major events.

In September 2018, after multiple investigations, WADA lifted the sanctions on the condition that Russia hand over athlete data from its Moscow laboratory to doping regulators, which would help identify hundreds of athletes who may have cheated across various sports.

Russia was then accused of manipulating that database, leading to the WADA panel suggesting the four-year ban.

What was Russia originally accused of?

In 2014, 800m runner Yulia Stepanova and her husband Vitaly, a former employee of the Russian Anti-Doping Agency, RUSADA, appeared in a German documentary and lifted the lid on what was later described as one of the most “sophisticated doping programmes” in sports history.

Two years later, another whistleblower — Grigory Rodchenkov, a former head of the RUSADA — told The New York Times that Russia ran a carefully planned, state-sponsored doping scheme. Rodchenkov’s claims were more damning.

He alleged a wider conspiracy, in which the country’s anti-doping and members of intelligence services substituted urine samples of the athletes through a hidden hole in the wall at the agency’s laboratory during the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. The lab, according to investigations, was guarded by members of Russia’s state security services.

Subsequently, the International Olympic Committee (IOC), WADA and other global federations launched a series of investigations.

What did these authorities do then?

Immediately after the allegations surfaced, the accreditation of Russia’s anti-doping lab was suspended in 2015. After the preliminary investigations, the IOC removed 111 athletes, including the entire track and field team, from Russia’s 389-member contingent for the Rio Olympics.

Following a deeper inquiry, the IOC suggested a complete ban on Russia’s participation at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

Ultimately, 168 athletes participated through special dispensations from the international federations. But the Russian Olympic Committee was barred from attending the event and the country’s flag was not officially displayed at any of the venues. Russian athletes, too, were forced to wear neutral uniforms with “Olympic Athlete From Russia” printed on them.

What happened then?

In 2020, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) reduced the initial ban of four years to two, but it ensured that no official Russian team can participate in events organised by a WADA signatory until the sanction term ends on December 16, 2022.

This means that official Russian teams are out of the 2020 Summer Olympics, next year’s Paralympics in Tokyo as well as the Beijing Winter Olympics. Even at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, Russia would have to compete under a neutral name, if it qualifies. Russia is also not allowed to host any world sporting event whose governing body is registered with WADA during the ban period.

According to a report in The Independent, Russia will be reinstated after the ban term ends, if it respects and observes all imposed sanctions, pays its fines and contributions, and starts adhering to WADA regulations.

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But what does the ‘ban’ effectively mean?

The ban is not outright, and 335 athletes from Russia are still playing at Tokyo, only under the name ROC, meaning Russian Olympic Committee – the team that sends Russian athletes to all Games. In effect, the ‘punishment’ only consists of forcing them to not use Russia’s name, flag or national anthem.

WADA President Witold Bańka said about the case to USA Today, “We at WADA remain disappointed that CAS has decreased the level of the sanctions from four years to two years and that CAS allows them to compete Russian athletes with the colours of the flag in the uniforms.”

The ROC players are only those who have been able to prove that they were not part of the doping scam. As per the IOC, “All public displays of the organisation’s participant name should use the acronym ‘ROC’, not the full name “Russian Olympic Committee”.

If on the kit of any athlete the name ‘Russia’ is written, the words ‘neutral athlete’ must also be written. However, the athletes will still be wearing uniforms in the country’s colours, as per IOC guidance, the Independent report said.

What is the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) at Tokyo 2021?

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This year’s Olympic Games in Tokyo looks very different for a number of reasons, mainly COVID-19 related. However, one country in particular will experience a very different Olympics to the rest of the world.

Russia was handed a four-year ban from all major sporting events back in 2019 due to a series of doping related scandals, including cover-ups in Sochi 2014.

Following strict adherence to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) guidelines, Russian athletes will be allowed to feature in the Games, including representing the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC), rather than the nation of Russia.

What does this mean for Russia?

With the guidelines in place, neither the Russian flag nor their national anthem will feature at the games.

Athletes will have to prove that they had nothing to do with the doping scandals of the past to be able to compete in Tokyo, and if any of their athletes win gold, Russian composer Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 will be played in celebration.

Russia’s ban explained

Russia was originally banned from competing in athletics in 2015, after doping cover-ups were made in Sochi 2014.

Then in 2019, the nation was handed a ban of four years by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), after Russia’s Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA) was declared non-compliant for manipulating data.

The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) then reduced the ban from four to two years following an appeal in 2020.

Russian athletes among the most tested

To avoid any incidences this year, Russian athletes have been among the most tested in the run-up to the Games.

“Obviously, I will not hide that Russian athletes come high in the risk assessment based on the previous years”, said International Testing Agency Director Benjamin Cohen.

“Testing plans are based on risk assessment. We take into account a number of factors.”