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Sunday, September 19, 2021

Tokyo Paralympics: Why Russians are competing under the name ‘RPC’

The Russians are not allowed to use their country’s name, flag, and anthem, and are competing under the acronym RPC, which stands for Russian Paralympic Committee.

By: Explained Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: September 5, 2021 9:14:51 pm
Russian Paralympic Committee team enter the stadium during the opening ceremony for the 2020 Paralympics at the National Stadium in Tokyo, Tuesday (AP Photo)

Those who saw the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Paralympic Games may have noticed the absence of a contingent from Russia. Instead of carrying their country’s flag, the Russian team arrived at the ceremony bearing the flag of the RPC, or the Russian Paralympic Committee.

This is because Russia was banned from competing in any international events — including the Tokyo Olympics and the Paralympic Games — for its involvement in one of the most notorious doping scandals in the history of sports. 

Since the Russians are not allowed to use their country’s name, flag, and anthem, they are competing under the banner of RPC.

What led to Russia being ‘banned’ from Tokyo Paralympics 2020?

In December 2019, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) banned Russia for four years from competing in international events, including the Tokyo Olympics, Paralympics and the FIFA World Cup in 2022. The ban was enacted after new revelations came up about a doping programme that Russia had been accused of.

For many years, whistleblowers and investigators had accused Russia of running a doping programme 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 hands over athlete data from its Moscow laboratory to doping regulators, which would help 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.

What was Russia originally accused of?

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 hole 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.

What did these authorities do then?

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 organised by a WADA signatory until the sanction term ends on December 16, 2022.

This means that official Russian teams are out of the 2020 Summer Olympics, 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.

According to a report in The Independent, 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.

So, what does this mean?

The ban is not outright. Russian athletes will still be participating in the Tokyo Paralympics, only under the banner of the Russian Paralympic Committee (RPC). The ban only prohibits athletes from competing using Russia’s name, flag or the national anthem.

A special RPC emblem was created and is being used on the athlete’s uniforms as well as the flag instead of the Russian national flag. Since the Russian national anthem can’t be played at the Games, Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No 1 will be played for all victory ceremonies instead. All sporting equipment will feature the acronym RPC instead of RUS.

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