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WADA panel recommends neutral status for Russia at Olympics

MONTREAL -- Russian athletes should be forced to compete as neutral participants at next year's Olympics in Tokyo and other major events, a key World Anti-Doping Agency panel recommended on Monday.

WADA's compliance review committee proposed a four-year ban on hosting major events in Russia and a ban for the same period on flying the Russian flag at major competitions.

The WADA executive committee will rule on the recommendations on Dec. 9.

That follows a lengthy investigation into lab data handed over by Russia in January. That was part of a deal to lift a suspension of the Russian anti-doping agency and was meant to expose past cover-ups of drug use by Russian athletes.

Instead, the WADA panel says data on hundreds of positive tests were removed.

Russia was officially banned from the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang in fallout from investigations of a state-sponsored doping program that tainted the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.

The International Olympic Committee allowed Russia to send a 168-strong team under the name "Olympic Athletes from Russia.''

Those numbers were also restricted by IOC vetting of athletes' history of drug-testing and whether they were implicated in any apparent cover-ups.

The panel's recommendation would create a similar system lasting four years and covering not just the Tokyo Olympics but also the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing and world championships in numerous sports.

The IOC's president, Thomas Bach, still opposed a blanket ban on Russian athletes competing.

"Our principle is that the guilty ones must be punished as hard as possible and the innocent ones must be protected,'' Bach said in London last week.

The IOC also released a statement Tuesday, saying it "will support the toughest sanctions against all those responsible for this manipulation."

Travis Tygart, CEO of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, called the WADA recommendations "inadequate."

"Russia continues to flaunt the world's anti-doping rules, kick clean athletes in the gut and poke WADA in the eye and get away with it time and time again," Tygart said in a written statement Tuesday. "WADA must stand up to this fraudulent and bullying behavior as the rules and Olympic values demand. The response proposed by the CRC is inadequate, especially given the deceit perpetuated by the Russian sport system, which is controlled by the government."

While the committee thanked WADA for its work on the case, it also called for further action.

The WADA expert panel's advice could have serious implications for European soccer body UEFA if accepted in full by the doping watchdog's executive committee.

The recommendations include stripping Russia of sports events already awarded "unless it is legally or practically impossible to do so.''

Meanwhile, Umar Kremlev -- head of Russia's boxing federation -- said in a statement: "It's sad. I can only call these recommendations unfair."

Dmitry Svishchev, president of Russia's curling federation, added: "These recommendations are harsh, baseless punishment for old problems for which Russia has already been punished.

"Russia has made great progress in fighting doping. To punish the next generation in such a harsh manner is too much."

St. Petersburg in Russia is scheduled to host four games, including a quarterfinal, at soccer's 2020 European Championship which is being co-hosted in 12 different countries. The city is set to share hosting a four-team group with Copenhagen in Denmark.

Though some tickets for those games have been sold ahead of the tournament draw on Saturday, St. Petersburg could practically be replaced by Sweden's capital, Stockholm, which was a losing candidate when host cities were chosen in 2014.

St. Petersburg was also chosen by UEFA two months ago to host the biggest club game in world soccer -- the Champions League final -- in 2021. A replacement could easily be found for that event.

UEFA is not a formal signatory to WADA -- it receives funding from world soccer body FIFA, which is a signatory -- but it runs an anti-doping program that meets world standards.

"We have already said that our partner is UEFA,'' Russia's top soccer official, FIFA council member Alexei Sorokin, told state agency TASS.

"We've already come so far in our preparations that we as organizers would find it strange to see some discussion of changes,'' said Sorokin, who is CEO of St. Petersburg's plans for Euro 2020.

Other prestige hosting due in Russia during the four-year period suggested by WADA includes the 2023 men's world championship in ice hockey, already awarded to St. Petersburg, and the first World Cup races at the Alpine ski resort of Rosa Khutor since the Sochi Olympics. Two women's races are scheduled on Feb. 1-2.

WADA said the most recent edits to the vast lab data archive were made in December 2018 and January this year, after Russia had agreed to hand over the data.

At the time, Russia was delaying the handover, saying WADA experts' equipment needed to be certified under Russian law before it could take place.

"These activities were concealed by backdating of computer systems and data files in an attempt to make it appear that the Moscow data had been in their current state since 2015," WADA said in a statement.

WADA added that messages were planted to implicate former lab director Grigory Rodchenkov, who later became a witness for WADA, and two other people.

It didn't name any athletes whose tests were covered up.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.