Liam Morgan

A much-publicised hearing in the protracted Russian doping scandal looks set to be held in public following a request from the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) last week.

The noises from the Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA), which is taking WADA to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) after the global watchdog imposed a wide-ranging series of sanctions on the country, are that it will agree to stream the proceedings online and allow media to attend.

"If a consensus exists in favour of a public hearing, CAS will almost certainly validate that choice," CAS secretary general Matthieu Reeb said.

Should it be confirmed, the eagerly anticipated RUSADA versus WADA showdown will be the second hearing to be staged in public in the last six months.

Those of us in the room in Montreux for controversial Chinese swimmer Sun Yang’s tribunal in November will not forget it in a hurry. The hearing consistently veered from the farcical to the bizarre, with more than a touch of theatre from Sun himself thrown in for good measure.

WADA’s request immediately sparked thoughts of the merits, and reasoning, for flinging open the doors to such a crucial event.

Chinese swimmer Sun Yang's CAS hearing was held in public in November ©Getty Images
Chinese swimmer Sun Yang's CAS hearing was held in public in November ©Getty Images

According to director general Olivier Niggli, WADA made the request to "ensure that everybody understands the process and hears the arguments".

Throughout the scandal, which looks likely to overshadow a third consecutive Olympics, WADA, amid a storm of criticism, has struggled to effectively explain its procedures. This is not entirely WADA’s fault, as its rules and regulations are doused in complexity and are not easily understood by your average person on the street.

Holding it in public will help alleviate that problem and leaves WADA’s most ardent of critics no excuse for being deliberately disingenuous, as some have been during the fallout to the doping crisis.

WADA might also have been emboldened by Sun’s hearing, where the three-time Olympic champion’s career was on the line. After all, the Chinese athlete seemed to do his case more harm than good with the way he conducted himself.

An open tribunal means everyone - journalists, lawyers, athletes and others interested in the fascinating mechanism of anti-doping - will have all the information at hand.

However, there were few - if any - genuine revelations during Sun’s date with the three-man CAS panel as most of the key material was public knowledge, and that could again be the case during the RUSADA-WADA hearing.

While officials from RUSADA - seemingly pressured into an appeal against the four-year package of sanctions, which includes a ban on the Russian flag at major events including the Olympics, by Russian President Vladimir Putin - have openly admitted they have little chance of success at CAS, they equally have nothing to lose.

WADA director general Olivier Niggli said the organisation had requested the public hearing to
WADA director general Olivier Niggli said the organisation had requested the public hearing to "ensure that everybody understands the process and hears the arguments" ©Getty Images

Russia has rightly been cast as a sporting pariah as a result of its manipulation of the anti-doping system at numerous global events, and the appeal from RUSADA appears little more than a desperate attempt to salvage its shattered reputation.

That could lead to plenty of grandstanding and drama, both of which were in abundance when Sun faced the music in the lakeside annex of a luxury Swiss hotel.

The request from WADA also prompted a rare statement of agreement from athletes’ groups in predominantly Western countries, many of whom have been a thorn in the side of the administration during the Russian saga.

Beginning with confirmation of support for WADA’s request, the statement from Athletes’ Commissions in Britain, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Norway and the United States said: "An open and transparent CAS hearing will go a long way in helping athletes understand any decision which is rendered by CAS and may lead to increased confidence in the anti-doping system."

Those athletes will almost certainly be backing WADA in its bid to have its sanctions on Russia upheld by CAS, even if the eventuality of a spate of athletes from the country competing at Tokyo 2020 appears unavoidable.

It is now up to CAS, which first has to convene a three-man panel before any hearing can take place.

Russia's flag will be banned from major events for four years if CAS upholds WADA's decision ©Getty Images
Russia's flag will be banned from major events for four years if CAS upholds WADA's decision ©Getty Images

The hearing itself is not likely to be held until March or April, with a verdict following in May, around two months before the Opening Ceremony of the Olympics on July 24.

It is little wonder the International Olympic Committee and its President Thomas Bach have called for a “watertight” decision from CAS to avoid any further confusion in the build-up to Tokyo 2020.

The direction of that verdict will become clearer at the hearing, particularly if RUSADA does what WADA has called for.

SportAccord finally confirm the inevitable

SportAccord today confirmed its World Sport and Business Summit scheduled for Beijing in April would be relocated because of the coronavirus outbreak.

Given escalating concerns over the virus, which has so far claimed the lives of almost 1,350 people and infected at least 60,000 in total, the decision was as inevitable as they come.

Holding such a large gathering of people in a country stricken by the virus, given the official name of COVID-19 by the World Health Organization, was unfathomable, and moving the Summit away from China is unquestionably the right call.

Attention now turns to who will step in to replace Beijing as hosts for the event, due to take place between April 19 and 24.

My money is on Lausanne, which hosted the Summit - then called SportAccord Convention - in 2016. 

Why? The SwissTech Convention Center is a regular venue for this type of meeting, while the Olympic Capital itself is home to a considerable percentage of those who usually attend the Summit. 

In its statement, SportAccord said "contingency options" are being explored and a new location is expected to be announced sooner rather than later.