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Russia Faces Four-Year Ban From Sporting Competitions

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A sign outside the office of the Russian Anti-Doping Agency in Moscow.

A key panel of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) has recommended that Russia be hit with a four-year ban from sporting competitions over noncompliance with the World Anti-Doping Code.

The recommendation was criticized by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who said it amounted to one more Western effort to sideline Russia.

The global anti-doping watchdog said in a statement on November 25 the recommendation by its Compliance Review Committee was based on a forensic review of "inconsistencies" found in some of the data that were obtained by the agency from the Moscow laboratory in January.

The statement said the final decision will rest with WADA's Executive Committee, which will consider the recommendation and the proposed consequences on December 9.

"There are those who want to put Russia in a defensive position accused of pretty much everything in every sphere of international life -- conflicts, economics, energy, gas pipelines, arms sales," Lavrov told a news conference in Moscow when asked about the WADA panel's recommendation.

The chief of Russia's anti-doping agency, RUSADA, said on November 26 he expected the WADA Executive Committee to uphold the recommendation.

"That's the reality," Yury Ganus told the media. "We are plunging, for the next four years, into a new phase of Russia's doping crisis."

The four-year ban would prevent Russia from taking part in next year's Summer Olympics in Tokyo and the Beijing Winter Games in 2022.

However, the ban isn't across the board, as WADA recommended neutral status for Russian athletes without their national flags or anthems played if they medal.

The country was officially banned from the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, but a number of Russian athletes were allowed to compete as neutrals under the Olympic flag.

WADA has documented more than 1,000 Russian doping cases across dozens of sports, most notably at the Winter Olympics that Russia hosted in Sochi in 2014.

The country was found guilty of a government-organized effort to mask samples from athletes using banned substances between 2011 and 2015.

Full disclosure of data from the Moscow lab was a key condition of Russia's controversial reinstatement by WADA in September 2018.

But its Compliance Review Committee said the data handed over was rife with problems, describing it as "neither complete nor fully authentic."

It said data on "hundreds" of positive tests had been removed while "underlying raw data and PDF files have been deleted or altered."

This means that more than 140 cases could have disappeared involving athletes who may or may not still be competing because of the tampered data.

Moreover, Russia handed over the data -- which was supposed to be used to corroborate many of the doping cases dating to the 2014 Olympics and before -- two weeks past the deadline of December 31, 2018.

According to WADA's news release, "someone in the Moscow laboratory" was planting contrived evidence in an attempt to frame the lab's former director, Grigory Rodchenko, the whistle-blower on the Russian government's covert doping program, AP reported.

Besides a ban from major sporting competition, the committee recommended Russia be barred from hosting major events and from bidding for any such event. It also called for Russian officials be barred from attending major events.

This may include losing the right to host group games and a quarterfinal tie in next year's European soccer championship organized by UEFA, the continent's soccer governing body.

Russia can appeal any sanctions to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Russian Athletics Federation's (RUSAF) suspension is still in place, and the World Athletics Council, the sport's global governing body, on November 22 halted the federation's readmission process and said it could be expelled altogether.

The announcement came after RUSAF President Dmitry Shlyakhtin and several other officials were provisionally suspended over breaches of anti-doping rules. Shlyakhtin later resigned from the post.

On November 25, the head of Russia's Olympic Committee called for the entire leadership of RUSAF to be replaced, saying the scandal around the federation "discredits all of Russian sport, inflicts colossal reputational damage on our country as a whole, and undermines the foundations of the Olympic movement's integrity."

"If this recommendation is not be taken into account, we will consider the question of the membership of the athletics federation in the Russian Olympic Committee at our next executive committee meeting," Stanislav Pozdnyakov said in a statement.

With reporting by Reuters, AFP, AP and TASS
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