Liam Morgan

It seems a lifetime ago that a four-year package of sanctions was imposed on Russia by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) as punishment for the manipulation of the Moscow Laboratory data.

The December decision from the WADA Executive Committee has understandably been replaced atop the news agenda by the coronavirus pandemic, the consequences of which are likely to be long-lasting and far-reaching for sport.

But every now and then, the sporting sanctions Russia is facing - which affect athletes and International Federations (IFs) alike - make a return to the headlines.

The latest development to attract the attention of those of us who have followed the scandal closely in recent years, following the sacking of Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA) director general Yury Ganus, is the country being awarded yet another of what WADA defines as a "major event".

Last week the International Shooting Sport Federation (ISSF) announced its 2022 World Championships, the flagship event for the sport outside of the Olympic Games, would be held in the Moscow region.

This, of course, does not come as a surprise. If you were drawing up a list of IFs most likely to host an event in Russia, the ISSF - whose President, Vladimir Lisin, is the country’s richest man - would be in the top two.

That the ISSF has been able to do so is the product of a triumvirate of intertwined occurrences - the appeal from RUSADA against the sanctions, the postponement of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games and the COVID-19 pandemic causing delays to hearings at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).

The WADA imposed a four-year package of sanctions on Russia after RUSADA was declared non-compliant ©Getty Images
The WADA imposed a four-year package of sanctions on Russia after RUSADA was declared non-compliant ©Getty Images

As most of you know by now, Russia has been banned from bidding for or hosting major events during the four-year period where the WADA sanctions apply, while new hosts must be found for competitions that have already been awarded to the country.

But these rules do not come into effect until after the CAS, due to hear the RUSADA appeal from November 2 to 5, makes its decision.

Effectively this has granted Federations the opportunity to give major events to Russia - such as World Championships - without fear of any blowback from WADA, providing they do so before the CAS verdict is rendered. The global anti-doping watchdog practically said as much earlier this year.

The ISSF is the first to exploit this legal loophole since RUSADA confirmed it would appeal to CAS, but others had allocated Championships to Russia at the same time as the full extent of their deception was coming to light.

ISSF secretary general Alexander Ratner suggests Federations should not suffer because someone, somewhere tampered with data at an anti-doping laboratory.

"The ISSF, and any other International Federation, can’t plan the holding of major competitions counting on that they might be postponed or cancelled," Ratner told insidethegames.

"Same as nobody could plan in advance that the Olympic Games would be postponed for a year.

"It should also be taken into consideration that the shooting sport is not risky with regards to doping, and that neither the athletes nor the International Federation that have nothing to do with anti-doping violations should be responsible for somebody’s mistakes."

The WADA sanctions do not come into force until the CAS renders its decision ©Getty Images
The WADA sanctions do not come into force until the CAS renders its decision ©Getty Images

What Ratner’s opinion ignores is the simple fact the ISSF and other Federations are responsible for where their major events are staged. The ISSF knows it could be forced under WADA rules to find an alternative location for its World Championships but decided to give it to Russia anyway.

Granted cities and countries are not exactly queuing outside the door to host such events - Moscow was the only bidder for the 2022 World Shooting Championships - but why does Russia always have to be the solution?

And why now? Surely a sensible approach would be to wait until the CAS ruling before allocating World Championships to Russia, or better yet not award the country - which cheated on an unprecedented scale, remember - any events for the foreseeable future.

Some might argue that does not give bodies such as the ISSF enough time to find a suitable host, but this seems to be used as an excuse not to take an event away from one of sport’s biggest financiers.

Federations will almost certainly be looking to use a line in WADA’s statement from December to defend a refusal to strip the country of events, which stated signatories of the World Anti-Doping Code "must withdraw that right and re-assign the event to another country, unless it is legally or practically impossible to do so".

Organisations facing this Russian events dilemma had given little indication they would adhere to the WADA stipulations, which they are bound by under the code, before the pandemic hit.

International Ice Hockey Federation President René Fasel, for example, is on record as saying it will be "impossible" to strip its 2023 Men's World Championship from Russia. Others have quietly hinted they feel the same.

Yet there are those who have already acted. In May, the International Ski Federation (FIS) postponed a bid from Krasnoyarsk for its 2025 Snowboard, Freestyle and Freeski World Championships as "under current sanctions, the nomination of Krasnoyarsk…would not be allowed".

The FIS stands alone in this regard, and those hoping IFs tackling the Russian problem will follow the rational approach from skiing’s worldwide governing body will likely be left disappointed.

While the issue may not be at the top of their in-tray for a while yet, there will come a time when Federations are forced into action. It is up to them to ensure they get it right this time around.