The scheme, which had started years earlier, only came to light after one of its chief architects, Grigory Rodchenkov, the former head of a Moscow doping laboratory at the heart of the scandal, revealed what had taken place.
Rodchenkov, now living in an undisclosed location in the United States, revealed how hundreds of tainted antidoping results were manipulated before being entered into official records, protecting athletes from identification and allowing them to benefit from chemically enhanced advantages before heading away to major championship events.
Antidoping investigators later recommended a four-year ban after finding that Russian officials had fabricated evidence and manipulated the contents of a drug-testing database in an effort to discredit Rodchenkov and further disguise its conduct. WADA’s board, in a meeting last December, agreed with the recommendation and imposed the ban.
Until WADA’s global sanction was issued, punishments against Russian sports and officials had been sporadic, and largely left to the governing bodies of individual sports. World Athletics, track and field’s governing body, has long taken the hardest line, with a ban that has kept Russia in the sporting wilderness for nearly five years.
The International Olympic Committee, by contrast, has been reluctant to act more broadly, with its president Thomas Bach, repeatedly saying he opposed to collective punishment on Russian athletes. That led to the strange sight of Russia’s fielding one of its largest teams at the 2018 Winter Olympics, where the I.O.C.’s punishment was largely limited to Russian symbols, including its uniform, team name and anthem.
Russia’s determination to overturn the ban was clear by the size of the legal arsenal it wielded at the appeal hearing at the arbitration court last month. It amassed a group of some of the world’s top sports lawyers and was assisted by interventions from a number of sporting bodies, like the world ice hockey federation, with which it maintains close relationships. Its representatives argued that WADA had gone beyond reasonable limits with its punishments, and even beyond what it legally could do within the scope of its statutes.
WADA’s legal team countered by describing its efforts as something akin to a bureaucratic housekeeping, an attempt to bring in-house — and standardize — the sanctioning powers that had been left to individual sports federations.