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TOKYO — For a country officially barred from the Olympics, Russia is very much a presence at this summer’s Tokyo Games.rr
Take Friday’s opening ceremony. A significant Russian delegation marched in the parade of nations — right behind San Marino and just before Sierra Leone — under the banner of ROC., the acronym for the Russian Olympic Committee. That is the official label under which more than 330 Russian athletes are competing here, a bit of disciplinary sleight of hand required by punishments imposed after the country’s recent doping scandals.rr
In the days since marching proudly into the Olympic Stadium in central Tokyo, Russian athletes in Russia’s national colors have competed in dozens of sports, from archery to diving, fencing to gymnastics, tennis to taekwondo. On Sunday (July 25), Russia even collected its first gold. Twenty-four hours later, it picked up two more.rr
“Actually,” one Russian journalist admitted this week, “it does not feel like we are banned.”rr
The penalties are real, though, and have roots in one of the worst doping scandals in sports history: a yearslong campaign to swap dirty doping samples for clean ones — and then cover it up — that eventually touched dozens of sports and involved more than 1,000 athletes, dozens of coaches and sports officials and even members of the country’s state security services.rr
Initially suspended from global sports for four years, Russia has spent years working to overturn — or at the very least water down — its punishment. In December, it won at least a partial victory when the Court of Arbitration for Sport sided mostly with Russia’s appeal, first by reducing by two years the ban imposed by the World Anti-Doping Agency and then by making Russia’s pathway to the Olympics far less onerous than the doping body had demanded.rr
The consequence has been Russian athletes traveling to Tokyo in larger numbers than they did to the Rio de Janeiro Games in 2016, and a sense that the country’s penalties appear to be open to interpretation. That could be because the International Olympic Committee — which has often avoided directly sanctioning Russia — has placed the onus on individual sports federations to interpret its two-page guidelines on the sanctioning measures, which include an edict that reads: “All public displays of the organisation’s participant name should use the acronym ‘ROC,’ not the full name “Russian Olympic Committee.”rr
That rule was almost immediately — and repeatedly — broken by event organisers, including the IOC, in public pronouncements. At the opening ceremony, for example, Russia’s name was read out in English, Japanese and French as dozens of members of its team entered the stadium.rr
A day later, on the first day of judo competition, Irina Dolgova of Russia was announced as a member of the ROC when she walked out for her first-round match in the 48-kilogram category. A few hours later, her compatriots on the men’s volleyball team, dressed in red uniforms, were introduced as the Russian Olympic Committee.