Why is Russia 'Banned' from Tokyo Olympics 2021: ROC, WADA and IOC

Why is Russia 'Banned' from Tokyo Olympics 2021: ROC, WADA and IOC

As we all know that 2020 Tokyo Olympics has already started. Tokyo Olympics is an ongoing international multi-sport event that is currently being held from 23 July to 8 August 2021 in Tokyo, Japan.

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

Caught in a doping scandal, Russia has been stripped of its key identifying markers like a flag or a national anthem. Russia, in fact, isn’t officially competing in Tokyo as a country. Its athletes are competing as ROC, for the 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. This is because Russia, which has historically been among the world's top sporting nations, has been 'banned' from the Tokyo Olympics.

On 9 December 2019, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) banned Russia from all international sport for a period of four years, after the Russian government was found to have tampered with lab data that is provided to WADA in January 2019 as a condition of the Russian Anti-Doping Agency being reinstated. As a result of the ban, WADA plans to allow individually cleared Russian athletes to take part in the 2020 Summer Olympics under a neutral banner, as instigated at the 2018 Winter Olympics, but they will not be permitted to compete in team sports. 

Brief History

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 program that Russia had been accused of.

For many years, whistleblowers and investigators had accused Russia of running a doping program 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 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.

How this all Started?

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 role 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.


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.


  • 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 organized by a WADA signatory until the sanctioned 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. 
  • 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.

Current Situation

So ahead of the Tokyo Games, Russian officials and the IOC had to hammer out details including the kind of music to play for their winners instead of the national anthem, what the uniforms would look like, and where Russian flags can or can’t be positioned (venues are a no-go but hotels can fly the Russian banner).

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 organization's participant name should use the acronym 'ROC', not the full name "Russian Olympic Committee".

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