Liam Morgan

Reports this week suggested UEFA had been considering staging the entirety of next year’s European Championship in Russia.

The article in the French publication Le Parisien, the contents of which were quickly dismissed by European football's governing body, coincided with a court in Lausanne beginning hearings that will ultimately decide Russia’s sporting future for the next four years.

Russia's appeal at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) comes after the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) imposed a package of sanctions on the country for manipulating data at the Moscow Laboratory.

A ban on Russia staging what WADA calls "major events" in the four-year period, which starts once the CAS has issued its final ruling, is included in the wide-ranging series of punishments meted out by the global watchdog.

UEFA Euro 2020, postponed to 2021 because of the global health crisis, strangely does not come under this category.

Despite the status of the tournament, the fervour surrounding it and the considerable viewing figures it generates, Russia is free to stage matches during the pan-continental competition next year, irrespective of which way the CAS decides to go.

WADA, if you recall, mainly defines major events as World Championships. Seeing as a UEFA tournament is continental rather than global, it does not count.

The CAS has been hearing the Russian appeal this week ©Getty Images
The CAS has been hearing the Russian appeal this week ©Getty Images

As has been mentioned on these pages before, what constitutes a major event has thrown up a discrepancy between, for example, Russia being able to host matches at a world-renowned football event while simultaneously being banned from staging World Championships in more obscure sports.

Devising a definition for major events that can stand up to legal scrutiny is far from straightforward, however, and it is difficult to determine which exact metrics should be used to come up with one.

What is certain is the package of sanctions, should the CAS rule in WADA’s favour, represents a pretty severe and strict punishment for what the International Olympic Committee (IOC) called a "flagrant manipulation" and an "insult to the sporting movement worldwide".

The minutiae in WADA’s decision last December to effectively plunge Russia into sporting exile for an entire quadrennium are worth mentioning to coincide with the hearings finishing today.

Not only would Russia be barred from any audacious bid for the 2032 Olympic and Paralympic Games, but the country would also be unable to submit a candidacy for any event during the four-year period - even if the competition in question falls outside of it.

For example, Russia’s potential bid for the 2027 Rugby World Cup must, under the rules, be immediately canned, despite the tournament being held around three years after the period expires.

The International Ski Federation has already postponed a bid from Krasnoyarsk for the 2025 Freestyle Ski and Snowboard World Championships because of the pending WADA sanctions. Others should follow suit, although there is no guarantee they will.

Aside from the headline sanction of Russia’s flag being banned from Tokyo 2020, Beijing 2022 and possibly even Paris 2024, the nation should also be stripped of any major event it has been awarded that is due to take place in the four-year period.

Russia's flag will be banned from Tokyo 2020 and Beijing 2022 if the CAS rules in WADA's favour ©Getty Images
Russia's flag will be banned from Tokyo 2020 and Beijing 2022 if the CAS rules in WADA's favour ©Getty Images

This will cause a headache or two for Federations who had either given Russia a major event before the WADA decision last December or, unforgivably, awarded the scandal-tainted country any lucrative competitions since.

Even with this hanging over their heads, Russian officials, known for being stubborn and obstinate, have pressed ahead with bids for events in the Olympic Movement.

Perhaps they know certain Federations will be reluctant to remove them from the country, despite the fact the sanctions are binding for all signatories to the WADA Code.

As you might remember, WADA said Federations in this situation should strip Russia of major competitions and tournaments it has already been allocated "unless it is legally or practically impossible to do so".

Lawyers for those involved will probably be scrambling to find a reason not to follow the directive, adding credence to the view that Russia has largely been given a free pass during the scandal.

WADA certainly appears keen to avoid any mistakes of the past. The agency, whose calls for Russia to be banned from the 2016 Olympics were ignored by the IOC, is believed to be opposed to any mention of the nation’s name should it be forced to compete as neutral athletes at the next two - potentially three - editions of the Games.

Russian athletes at Pyeongchang 2018 competed as "Olympic Athletes from Russia" as part of a compromise the IOC is thought to have struck with the country.

Should the CAS dismiss the appeal filed by the Russian Anti-Doping Agency, which is effectively acting on behalf of the state, only athletes who "are able to demonstrate that they are not implicated in any way by the non-compliance with conditions including (without limitation) that they are not mentioned in incriminating circumstances in the McLaren reports, there are no positive findings reported for them in the database and no data relating to their samples has been manipulated, and that they have been subject to adequate in-competition and out-of-competition testing prior to the event in question according to WADA" will be able to represent Russia at major events including the Olympics.

IOC President Thomas Bach put pressure on the CAS earlier this year by claiming its Russian ruling must be watertight ©Getty Images
IOC President Thomas Bach put pressure on the CAS earlier this year by claiming its Russian ruling must be watertight ©Getty Images

IOC President Thomas Bach, perhaps harbouring resentment at the CAS after sport’s highest court threw out the doping bans of 28 Russian athletes on the eve of the 2018 Winter Olympics, warned earlier this year that the verdict must be "watertight".

"It cannot leave any room for any kind of interpretation," Bach said of the ruling, which could be announced by the end of the year.

In some ways, real justice for athletes affected by the Russian scandal has been lost amid a sea of nuance, legal disputes and procedure, much of which has stemmed from the very "interpretation" referenced by the IOC President.

There is hope it will be different this time, but the CAS verdict - when it eventually comes - will be far from the end of this sorry saga.