Paddock, Sochi Autodrom, 2019

Analysis: Why Russia’s worldwide sporting ban is unlikely to affect F1

2019 F1 season

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World Anti-Doping Action’s decision to suspend Russia from all types of ‘major events’, such as the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and Paralympics and the FIFA 2022 World Cup in Qatar, is the latest move in the long-running dispute over Russia’s state-sponsored doping programme.

The story began, of course, in Sochi, now home to Russia’s Formula 1 race. The site hosted the Winter Olympics in 2014 and was also the base for the drugging programme, where urine sample bottles from doping athletes were carefully substituted for clean specimens. The building where these ‘B samples’ were swapped is a short walk from turn two.

The news immediately prompted concerns September’s Russian Grand Prix could be cancelled, or that Russian F1 drivers such as Daniil Kvyat and Sergey Sirotkin or their Formula 2 compatriots Robert Shwarzman and Nikita Mazepin might be banned from participation in international events.

After all, the sport’s regulator, the FIA, was recognized by the International Olympic Committee in 2012, having two years earlier signed up to WADA’s World Anti-Doping Code. The FIA’s stance on substance misuse is more stringent even than WADA’s. Beta blockers (optional under WADA) and consumption of alcohol during events (not on WADA prohibited list) are banned under Appendix A of the International Sporting Code.

However, it does not automatically follow that either the race or participation by said drivers in international competition are at immediate risk – if at all – for, as is the way in matters such as these, an appeal channel remains open to the Russian authorities, and is likely to be pursued as indicated by president Vladimir Putin.

“We have all the reasons to file an appeal to CAS (the Court of Arbitration for Sport)” he told Russian news agency TASS. “There are other considerations as well, but it is important that this issue is analysed by specialists, lawyers who would talk with our partners having this knowledge.”

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Asked to comment about the ramifications of the WADA ruling, an FIA spokesperson told RaceFans the FIA is “conscious of RUSADA’s right to dispute this decision under WADA’s compliance code, the FIA in cooperation with its [commercial rights holder] shall continue to closely follow all material developments in this matter while taking into account any possible legal and practical consequences which these may have.”

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Sochi Autodrom, 2019
Russia’s former Winter Olympics venue holds its grand prix
Therein lies the rub: While the FIA is a WADA signatory, F1 commercial rights holder Liberty Media is not, and the race promoter reached an agreement with them, not the FIA. Given that the contract is said to be worth $50 million annually, the FIA needs to consider all ‘legal consequences’, particularly as RUSADA is likely to appeal – a process that could drag on for many years.

The race contract was signed in 2010, pre-dating the WADA investigation, while the anti-doping agency’s code states a signatory “must withdraw that right and re-assign the event to another country, unless it is legally or practically impossible to do so”.

Thus the promoter has a double backstop, for no alternate country could host the ‘Russian Grand Prix’, plus it would be illegal to nullify a pre-existing contract. Finally, the WADA code speaks of ‘a major event’, yet does not define the term – so it could ultimately boil down to semantics, particularly as St Petersburg is a host city for the Euro 2020 football championship, and is seemingly unaffected on that basis.

[icon2019autocoursempu]So far so good for Russian Grand Prix, certainly in the short to medium term, but what about the drivers? Will Toro Rosso need to scurry about for a replacement for Kvyat in 2020?

Again, highly unlikely: Not only would the governing body leave itself open to legal action were it to withdraw the licenses of Russian drivers during any appeal process, there are absolutely no suggestions that any Russian drivers have or are using banned substances.

Indeed, provision is made by WADA for participation in international events by individual athletes provided they are not implicated in the scandal which led to the sanctions in the first place. Under the circumstances it would unthinkable for the governing body to withhold the licenses of Russian drivers who are not in any way involved.

Any wonder, then, that a spokesperson for Russian Grand Prix promoter Rosgonki said in a statement: “We are confident that the Formula 1 Russian Grand Prix will be held in 2020 and in the following years, and invite everyone to Sochi. The ticket sales are in full swing.”

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Dieter Rencken
Dieter Rencken has held full FIA Formula 1 media accreditation since 2000, during which period he has reported from over 300 grands prix, plus...

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28 comments on “Analysis: Why Russia’s worldwide sporting ban is unlikely to affect F1”

  1. I’m not a fan of the Russian GP or the Chinese either. But the question has to be asked what country can legitimately stand on the moral high ground?
    Actually looking at F1s checkered past can it?
    All sport is a business there are no friends or morals in business.

    1. I’m not a fan of the Russian GP or the Chinese either. But the question has to be asked what country can legitimately stand on the moral high ground?

      The simple answer to that question is none of them.

      1. Oh give over thats a lazy remark. Clearly there are many countries with gastly behaviours and some with none to speak of. Most inbetween. The idea that somehow that this means we all make the best is the enemy of the good is ridiculous. There are but a handful of countries that have every tried state sponsored doping at this scale. (Rus/E.Ger/China mainly)

        1. State endorses doping in communist regimes is designed to compete with secret but obvious doping in non communist countries.

          Just read the lance Armstrong evidence put out by USADA and its clear cycling at least is rife with doping.

          If you look at the history of anti doping cases in athletics the same conclusion is reached

          Take a look at the declared and allowed substance lists for athletes in England competing in the olympics.

          The only conclusion is performance enhancing drugs are ubiquitous and many athletes compete dirty while trying to aplear clean. And this is known by thier national sporting bodies. This is reality. I disagree any country would have high moral ground.

          1. Your argument is fiction. The allowed substance list is no different in England to France or India or Russia. Its a Wada list.

            Lance’s doping was not state doping and indeed was finally caught and punished by USADA not the sports governing body. The russian state and the Russia’s anti doping body were behind the cheating and obstruction of WADA.

          2. Leaked documents on dozens of US athletes with fake medical exemption shows there is state dopping program in USA. And it’s called USADA. And WADA is there only to cover it up. Russian athletes are being most tested all around the world. But it doesn’t matter, if independent laboratories all around the world shows nothing. First they used local everyday drug to fit their agenda, now they even don’t bother. Straight to fake the story. And all because racist russophobic USA and few more countries just hate Russia to their blood to accept it.

            What world needs is an independent doping agency and fully transparent.

  2. ”Will Toro Rosso need to scurry about for a replacement for Kvyat in 2020?”
    – I wouldn’t worry for him either, but if nevertheless, that was to happen, then Naoki Yamamoto might be the only immediate alternative given that he meets the super license-requirements.

  3. consumption of alcohol during events (not on WADA prohibited list) are banned under Appendix A of the International Sporting Code.

    How does that work on the podium? In F1 the podium is after all parts of the event, but F2 and F3 have multiple races during the same event.

    1. Presumably F1 is ok because the “event” would have concluded by the time the drivers are on the podium. Not quite sure how they could get round it for F2 and F3…

    2. That’s why the winners of the feature race in F2 get grid penalties for the sprint…. :P

  4. If it ever came to that, a possibility that another country might host the Russian Grand Prix is not at all out of question…it did happen before with San Marino, Swiss and Luxembourg GPs. As for any obstacles for Kvyat’s participation…I don’t see any at all. The only thing is that should he win a race, maybe they wouldn’t be able to display the Russian flag and play the anthem?

    1. José Lopes da Silva
      11th December 2019, 13:55

      The main obstacles to Kvyat participation are is lack of progress against Gasly.

      1. Maybe he’s taking the wrong drugs! :-)

    2. @gpfacts – Yeah, he’d race under a neutral flag (is that a white flag?), and they’d just omit the driver’s anthem (or play his favourite song!).

      And it wouldn’t be just the podium – even on those driver captions they show on screen (name, number, flag, and other stats), they’ll blank out the Russian flag.

      consumption of alcohol during events are banned.
      How does that work on the podium?

      @pluisje – I presume there would be a waiver for celebratory champagne, with some caveats that only a certain amount be handed out on the podium, and that those partaking don’t participate in further events for another 12 hours or so.

      @johnrkh – yep, like both you and @geemac say, I don’t think any country holds a moral high ground. It’s easy to pick on certain countries using glasses that are tinted with Western morals, and I’m sure those countries in turn look at the West in similar light.

      All sport is a business there are no friends or morals in business.

      But any good business loves to partake of virtue signalling to show that they’re “in” with the latest cause célèbre.

      1. “It’s easy to pick on certain countries using glasses that are tinted with Western morals, and I’m sure those countries in turn look at the West in similar light.”

        This false equivalence is laughable. Not chelating in sport is not a ‘western moral’. It in the sporting rules all entering sign up to. Nearly all countries (though not all athletes) manage to abide by it.

  5. Finally, the WADA code speaks of ‘a major event’, yet does not define the term – so it could ultimately boil down to semantics, particularly as St Petersburg is a host city for the Euro 2020 football championship, and is seemingly unaffected on that basis

    There is a list of “Major Event Organisations” on the WADA website – this includes the FIA and FIFA but not UEFA which is why the Euro 2020 champs aren’t included but F1 races presumably would be.

    Provision for individual Russian competitors with no implication of doping requires them to compete as neutrals and not under the Russian flag. The ban prevents the Russian flag being flown and the national anthem being played, so it’s likely that the impact would be mainly cosmetic (more significant if a Russian athlete were on the podium).

    Finally, the fact that FOM is not a signatory to WADA is irrelevant, many athletics events for example are run by commercial entities but are certified by an athletics governing body in order to become a legitimate athletics meet – this did not exempt any of them from the previous ban on Russian athletes as allowing Russian athletes would fall foul of the requirements of the governing body. In terms of the contract it’s entirely possible (and indeed sensible) that any contract between the commercial rights holder and the event organiser may have terms allowing FOM to get out of the contract where the event would not comply with FIA requirements. Even so if the event goes ahead perhaps it could be forced to be run as a non-championship event so that the event contract is satisfied without breaking the ruling.

    1. Finally, the fact that FOM is not a signatory to WADA is irrelevant, many athletics events for example are run by commercial entities but are certified by an athletics governing body in order to become a legitimate athletics meet – this did not exempt any of them from the previous ban on Russian athletes as allowing Russian athletes would fall foul of the requirements of the governing body. In terms of the contract it’s entirely possible (and indeed sensible) that any contract between the commercial rights holder and the event organiser may have terms allowing FOM to get out of the contract where the event would not comply with FIA requirements. Even so if the event goes ahead perhaps it could be forced to be run as a non-championship event so that the event contract is satisfied without breaking the ruling.

      Very nice points there, Dave.

  6. Bearing in mind the political machinations of Russia and the fact that the Sochi circuit nearly always produces poor races, I wouldn’t mind at all if the Russian GP was cancelled or moved.

    This might give a chance to another decent circuit to stay on the calendar.

  7. Crooks will be crooks.

  8. If Liberty Media hold the race, could the FIA turn it into a non-championship round?

  9. In F1, its not necessarily the performance enhancing drugs that are the issue…

  10. “Any wonder, then, that a spokesperson for Russian Grand Prix promoter Rosgonki said in a statement: “We are confident that the Formula 1 Russian Grand Prix will be held in 2020 and in the following years, and invite everyone to Sochi. The ticket sales are in full swing.”

    Nobody wants polonium on their door knobs, so nobody dares block it.

  11. And why should Russia be banned from F1? Why should it be a topic at all? Also, is F1 all about moral values? Sure, with its tobacco industry ties from the past, pay to win concept, promoting despots of Bahrain, Azerbaijan and other places etc.; the list would be too long. And surely, Russians are the only ones on doping, while Americans on the other hand pose as the completely opposite example (they never touch drugs of any kinds and always play fair in sports as well as in politics). Why there always have to be some political hysteria, why things always have to be black or white, why we must have “bad” and “good” guys cliche (the good guys being the ones who declared war on like 10-15 countries in the last 20 years) and why do we need to read about all that crap here?

    1. Who did they declare war on? The only one I can think of is Iraq. Afghanistan was supporting the Afghans against invaders (Taliban), Syria was helping Syrians against invaders (ISIS), in Somalia it’s helping stop insurgency from ISIS. In Pakistan they helped Pakistan against ISIS, in Yemen they’re barely active and only in a support role for the locals, in Uganda they are helping the Government fight Islamic insurgency, and the rest has just been support roles to local organisations or rebellions. All in all there have only been 12 actions by the US in total, either small or large, in the last 20 years, almost all of which are supporting the national government of a country.

      Where are these 10-15 countries they’ve declared war on?

      Anyway, back to F1 and not silly political hyperbole.

  12. Some countries just never learn.

    1. Yeah, they should have paid WADA at least the same amount that americans do.
      Anyway, nothing will happen. Just another Olympics under neutral flag.

  13. Russia should lose the GP. Not because of the doping scandal, but because it is a Mercedes track.

  14. F1 is entertainment. No longer a sport. WADA can keep their overreaching pawns to themselves, while we enjoy F1.

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