Because Russia is banned from international sporting events, its 333 athletes compete for neutral teams and cannot hear the national anthem.

At the Tokyo Olympics, clean Russian athletes compete in the name of the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC). They wear red, blue, and white costumes – similar to the colors of the Russian flag, but are not allowed to carry the flag and listen to the Russian national anthem. Instead, the 333 athletes used the Olympic flag and listened to Tchaikovsky’s music as they went to the podium to receive their medals.

Mariya Lasitskene - three-time world champion, is the ROC's hope in the high jump.  Photo: AP

Mariya Lasitskene – three-time world champion, is the ROC’s hope in the high jump. Image: AP

Just before leaving for Tokyo, the ROC disqualified two rowers for testing positive for doping. Drug use has been a problem with Russian sport for the past decade. This scandal caused them to be banned by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) from participating in international tournaments for two years. However, the number of ROC athletes going to Tokyo still increased by more than 50 people compared to the 2016 Rio Olympics.

ROC’s strongest disciplines are gymnastics, synchronized swimming, wrestling, fencing and judo. Athletics and weightlifting have their own punishment system for Russian athletes. They need to undergo a special background check for a drug history before they can be certified as “authorized neutral athletes”. Only those who receive this certification are eligible to come to Tokyo.

At the 2012 Olympics, Russia was stripped of 15 medals, including five gold, eight silver and two bronze. Russia’s doping testing system has been found to have covered the offending athletes for a long time. Many people believe that when this system is cleaned up, the performance of Russian sports will seriously decline. That’s what the ROC athletes want to deny in Tokyo.

The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) initially banned Russian athletes from participating in international tournaments for four years. The CAS’s reduction of the sentence to two years, therefore, is seen as a victory for Russian sport. Last month, Russia was still pursuing a lawsuit with the International Swimming Federation over the suspension of two athletes Alexander Kudashev and Veronika Andrusenko. Both were released by WADA with evidence of doping. On July 18, CAS decided they were not allowed to attend the Tokyo Olympics.

Besides the ROC, the Tokyo Olympics also has a special sports delegation with 29 members who are refugees. They come from many countries that are experiencing civil war or political instability such as Syria, Congo, South Sudan, Afghanistan… Five years ago, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) established this special sports delegation with a total plus 10 members. The IOC has reserved a number of invitations for these athletes to come to Tokyo to compete. The 29 members of the refugee team mainly participated in the events of swimming and athletics.

Vy Anh (according to the AP)

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