Russian riders may yet compete at the Tokyo Olympic Games, despite today’s (December 9th) announcement that the World Anti Doping Agency (WADA) has banned Russia from major sports events for four years.

Provisions allow for athletes to compete under a “neutral” flag if they can prove they are not complicit in doping. Russian riders will be sampled by the FEI before Tokyo, as also happened before Rio 2016 “to preserve the rights of the clean athletes and to support them.” Russia has qualified a team in dressage, and currently has two riders at the top of the special Olympic rankings which could well earn an individual place in the eventing.

WADA’s executive committee made the decision in after Russia’s Anti Doping Agency (RUSADA) was found to have manipulated laboratory data handed to WADA investigators in January 2019.

A FEI spokesman said that FEI world championships are included in the definition of “major events” from which the Russian flag will be banned, and that the FEI “fully supports” the decision and the resulting consequences and conditions for reinstatement. The spokesman added: “The fact that the WADA ExCo unanimously endorsed the recommendations of the independent Compliance Review Committee sends a very strong signal to the sporting world.

“While it is clear that those who opt to cheat must be punished, the sports world has a duty to protect clean athletes. To preserve the rights of the clean athletes and to support them, we will test them as we did before Rio 2016 in order to provide the necessary evidence that they are clean.”

Today’s decision only comes into effect when either RUSADA accepts it or, if appealed, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) rules on it.

In 2018, 168 Russian athletes competed under a neutral flag at the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, winning 33 medals, after the country was banned following the 2014 Winter Games which it hosted in Sochi. Russia has been banned from athletics since 2015.

RUSADA was first declared non-compliant with WADA regulations in November 2015 after an official report alleged there was state-sponsored doping in Russian athletics. A further report in 2016 declared this extended to the “vast majority” of summer and winter Olympic sports. In 2018, WADA reinstated RUADA when it agreed to release data from its Moscow laboratory. However, a whistleblower alleged some positives were missing, prompting a new inquiry.