IT’S right in keeping with the 2020 spirit that we finish the year with a reminder that anti-doping in sport remains something of a shambles, to put it politely. 

This week saw the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) slash Russia’s suspension from major sporting events for its now infamous doping indiscretions from four years to two, but with closer reading of the ruling, it becomes apparent that Russia has been handed a number of early Christmas presents by CAS. 

For some, even the four-year suspension initially handed out to Russia was not stringent enough, so the halving of this ban has, unsurprisingly, created an outcry. 

As if anyone can forget, Russia’s actions, which involved swapping dirty samples for clean ones and manipulating samples which were likely to come back with a positive result, was called the most sophisticated state-sponsored doping programme in sporting history. And so for a country which carried out a shockingly flagrant breach of the anti-doping rules, receiving a mere two-year ban must feel like a lottery win. 

CAS’s ruling ensures Russian athletes will be banned from competing under their national flag at next year’s Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, as well as the Winter Olympics the following year, and the 2022 Football World Cup. 

However, the saving grace for Russian athletes, and the thing that makes a complete mockery of the whole charade is that providing they can show evidence they were not implicated in the scandal with the Moscow lab that rocked the sporting world and have also undergone a sufficient anti-doping testing programme, Russian athletes will be free to compete at all of these events under a neutral flag. The absence of the Russian flag however is somewhat inconsequential as the athletes can still wear Russian colours and bear the name ‘Russia’ as long as they also display the words ‘neutral athlete’. It’s not much of a rebuke, is it? If it looks like a duck and sounds like a duck, it’s a duck, even if it’s forced to bear the slogan ‘neutral athlete’.  

Athletics is the only sport which continues to maintain a strong stance against the Russians, only allowing a maximum of ten Russian men and women to compete as neutrals. However, CAS’s ruling ensures that in all other sports, there is likely to be a significant Russian presence over the next two years until the suspension expires, after which things will likely be back to normal entirely. It’s nothing short of a farce. 

The backlash regarding the decision was quick and uncensored. The chief executive of the United States Anti-Doping Agency, Travis Tygart, did not pull any punches, calling the decision to halve Russia’s suspension a “weak, watered-down outcome,” before adding: “To once again escape a meaningful consequence proportional to the crimes, much less a real ban, is a catastrophic blow to clean athletes, the integrity of sport, and the rule of law.” 

It is hard to disagree with a word of Tygart’s assessment.  

Russia has made an absolute mockery of the anti-doping laws and so to have their suspension halved to only two years is a slap in the face to athletes and nations alike who are striving for clean sport. The message sent out is that if you want to dope, it’s worth the risk. 

It doesn’t take a genius to see that sport’s reputation was cataclysmically damaged by the Russian doping scandal. Many, myself included, were skeptical as to how it would ever recover. 

The answer, looking at rulings like this week’s from CAS, is that the will to do what is needed to repair the damage is sorely lacking.  

HeraldScotland:

AND ANOTHER THING . . .  

It is never hard to find commentators who push the narrative that sports men and women should stay in their lane; opining athletes should remain focused on their career and keep their heads firmly below the parapet rather than becoming activists or spokespeople for social issues. 

However, 2020, and one individual in particular, has done more to consign that view to the bin than anyone in this country in recent memory. 

This evening, Manchester United striker Marcus Rashford will receive a special award at BBC Sports Personality of the Year in recognition of his campaigning against child poverty and for free school meals. 

Rashford himself grew up experiencing poverty and having risen to become his side’s joint top-scorer last season, as well as an England international, he used his platform to persuade the government to make a u-turn on its stance on failing to provide food vouchers for the poorest families in England. 

And on a global scale, one of the highest-profile stances was taken by tennis player, Naomi Osaka, who wore the name of a black American killed by the police on each of her seven face masks as she walked onto court at the US Open in a show of support for the Black Lives Matter movement.  

Her move brought attention to the cause in a way few other athletes have been able to manage. 

There is, of course, no obligation for sportspeople to use their position to do anything outside of their sporting bubble but Rashford in particular has proven just how powerful athletes can be when they use their platform for something greater than excelling in their sport. 

As I have talked about previously in this column, BBC SPOTY has long lost its shine. But there is no athlete in Britain more worthy of recognition than Rashford. Scoring goals is great, but using your gravitas to do something about a cause like child poverty is worth many more plaudits.