What is the ROC and why is Russia banned from the Olympics?


From Ariarne Titmus’ heroics in the pool to the dominance of Jessica Fox in the canoe slalom event, not to mention Zac Stubblety-Cook’s final-lap heroics in the 200m breaststroke, the Tokyo Olympic Games have offered us another inspiring display of sporting excellence.

One less familiar sight is the absence of Russia’s name on the medal tally. Instead, the acronym ROC stands in its place. Not only is Russia’s name excluded from the leaderboard, its national anthem and flag are also banned. Here’s why.

Why is Russia banned from the Tokyo Olympics?

In short, because of its controversial history with doping. In 2015, an independent commission by the World Anti Doping Agency (WADA) found that Russia had run a state-sponsored doping regime. A year later, whistleblower Dr Grigory Rodchenkov, the former head of Russia’s anti-doping lab, spoke to the New York Times about how Russia’s extensive doping had led to their success at the Sochi Winter Olympic Games. 

Wada recommended that Russia was banned from the 2016 Rio Games, but saw that recommendation denied by the IOC, who instead asked the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) to identify which individual athletes should be allowed to compete. CAS cleared 287 Russian athletes for competition and banned 111.

Following further inquiry, Russia was banned from the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics. Its athletes were forced to compete under the neutral banner of ‘Olympic Athlete of Russia’ (OAR). Another bombshell investigation in 2019 found Russia guilty of doping and handed a four-year ban, which was later reduced to two years. 

When will Russia be allowed to compete again?

Russia cannot compete at the Tokyo Olympics, the 2022 Qatar World Cup, or next year’s Paralympic Games. Essentially, any Wada-sponsored event until December 16, 2022. During this time, Russia is also not eligible to host any Olympic, Paralympic or World Championship event.

So, what is ROC?

Standing for Russian Olympic Committee, the ROC is a neutral banner that enables Russian athletes to still compete. The ban did not exclude Russia from all competition, only from using their name and national anthem at events. Therefore, those Russian athletes who were able to prove they were not part of the state-sponsored doping, can compete under the ROC banner. In total, 335 Russian athletes at the Tokyo Olympics are representing ROC. Even the name ‘Russian Olympic Committee’ is not allowed on any leaderboard, only the acronym ROC. However, Russia’s colours, red white and blue, are allowed on their uniform.

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