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AP Interview: WADA lawyer defends no blanket ban on Russians

LONDON (AP) — Expelling all Russians from the Olympics would have been disproportionate and risked being overturned in court, according to the lawyer facing mounting criticism for overseeing a World Anti-Doping Agency decision not to impose a total ban on Russia for a fresh cover-up.

Jonathan Taylor, who chaired a WADA committee that determined the punishment announced Monday, told The Associated Press in an interview that only banning Russia's flag, name and anthem from major sports competitions “was the appropriate line to draw.”

WADA ruled that Russian athletes will still be able to compete at international sports events if they can show they are clean and not implicated in a state-sponsored doping scheme. However, Taylor also said the punishment should not lead to the moniker “Olympic Athlete from Russia” being used in Tokyo like it was at the 2018 Winter Olympics.

The WADA executive committee on Monday rejected calls led by its athlete committee chair, Beckie Scott, for a complete prohibition on Russians from competing after Moscow was found to have tampered with doping data as recently as January. A British member of the athlete panel quit on Thursday in protest, with former Paralympic rower Victoria Aggar saying WADA prioritized “politics over principle.”​

“Should it have been stronger? Well, I would say … it was the appropriate line to draw,” Taylor told the AP on Thursday. “You should not punish innocent athletes. So it's not as if there's some overwhelming voice that says, ‘No you've got this completely wrong.’"

Russia could still appeal the decision to the Court of Arbitration for Sport. If that leads to a lengthy legal battle, the punishment could be pushed back to cover the 2024 Paris Olympics instead of the Tokyo Games.

“If they drag it out so that it doesn't cover Tokyo, it will cover Paris,” Taylor said. “They have to decide which we want to do, which athletes they want to suffer.” The tampering of data happened when Russia was meant to be on the path to cleaning up its act after sanctions were imposed that saw some Russians barred from competing at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Summer Games and 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Games.

“We have to be careful as well, because those who say it should be blanket ban ... it'll be thrown out in court,” said Taylor, who chaired WADA's compliance review committee. “We have to focus on what happened in 2018 and ’19. That was the cover up of the cover up of the original doping.”

Russia, which spent $50 billion-plus on hosting the 2014 Sochi Olympics, is now banned by WADA from hosting major sporting events. “The idea that somehow this is a weak proposal, I just don't accept,” Taylor said. “Russia will feel the pain from those consequences. ... Ayone who says to me Russia doesn't care about this, this is a sham, they laugh this off — I don't accept them.”

But the ban on hosting events does not impact St. Petersburg staging four games at the 2020 European Championship and the 2021 Champions League final, because European soccer body UEFA is not bound by the ruling.

“We've gone down to major events and we've gone down to world championships,” Taylor said. “No one was expecting that. So now to argue, ‘Well, you should have gone further down to the Euros.’ Everyone's entitled to that view.

“You’ve got to remember as well, we need to have one line for everyone. Yes, in football, the Euros is a really important event. In other sports, the continental championships really aren't. So, you do have to have one that fits all.”

The British Olympic Association this week expressed unhappiness that the sanctions on Russians covering the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics still allowed proven clean competitors to participate as an “Olympic Athlete from Russia.” That should not be used again at the 2020 Olympics, Taylor said.

“I don't think ‘Olympic Athletes from Russia’ is appropriate,” Taylor said. “Not when we're saying if they participate, they do as neutral athletes, not as representatives of the country. … That’s the way I think it should be enforced.”

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