Photo Credit: Fifa.com
Soccer or football, as most countries outside the United States call it, is a sport that no matter how dire the situation, can always bring nations together. World War I was one the darkest times in the modern era. Yet, on Christmas morning of 1914, a friendly game of soccer broke out between two enemies. The Germans and the British put their differences aside and produced a rare moment of peace. Fast forward to 1930, the first ever World Cup was held. The World Cup would occur two more times before taking a major hiatus until 1950. Ever since then,the World Cup brings together millions of people from all over the world. Teams compete every four years to be called world champions and bring major glory and pride to their home nation. From my perspective, and the perspective of many other soccer fans, the World Cup trophy is the biggest trophy in soccer. Not qualifying for the World Cup is a major disappointment. Russia is on the brink for such disappointment, but for reasons of disqualification.
In 2014, major revelations came to light via whistle blower Grigory Mikhailovich Rodchenkov. Rodchenkov, former head of Russia’s national anti-doping laboratory, revealed Russia’s alleged attempts to cheat at the 2014 Sochi Olympics and the World Cup. Rodchenkov claimed players’ urine were swapped out for clean samples and then the failed tests were made to “disappear.” Reports alleged at least thirty-four Russian soccer players were involved in the scandal along with other Russian Olympic athletes.
In light of all the evidence and following investigations, on December 9, 2019, WADA handed down a four-year ban. The ban precludes Russia from competing under their flag in the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar, the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and the 2022 Beijing Olympics and only athletes that can can prove they were not tainted by the scandal can compete. Even then, they can only compete as neutrals. Russia can still compete at the Euro 2020 as Russia, as it is not considered a major sport event. However, the potential inability to compete in a major world event such as the World Cup, due to lack of true first team players, could be a major blow for Russia. Russia did have a twenty-one day period to appeal the decision with the Court of Arbitration for Sport, which Russian President Vladimir Putin elected to do so. As this ban not only applies to the World Cup, but other major events such as the Olympics, Putin stated Russia had reasons to appeal – one of which is fundamental fairness.
“If someone was caught doing something illegal, sanctions are natural and fair. . . But if an overwhelming majority of Russian athletes are clean, how can they be sanctioned for someone else’s actions?”
Following Russia’s decision to appeal the four-year ban, WADA requested for a public hearing. According to the Code of Sports-related Arbitration Rule 44.2, “Unless the parties agree otherwise, the hearings are not public.” If Russia does consent to a public hearing, this will only be the second such hearing in twenty years. The most recent public hearing was held in November of 2019, where Chinese Olympic swimmer Sun Yang asked for a public hearing when WADA appealed the swimming’s world body not to ban Yang. Will Russia consent to a public hearing? That is yet to be confirmed. This is unprecedented international sports legal drama. It represents international conflict and certainly goes against the grain of the historic spirit of cooperation that has characterized the sport.