Swiss court hears Russian appeal against Olympic ban over doping offences

FILE PHOTO: Russian Sports Minister Oleg Matytsin attends a conference to elect a new president of Russia's athletics federation at the Russia's Olympic Committee building in Moscow, Russia February 28, 2020. REUTERS/Tatyana Makeyeva

MOSCOW (Reuters) - A Swiss court will on Monday start hearing Russia's appeal against a four-year ban imposed on its athletes competing at major international events under their own flag over allegations of doctoring laboratory data.

At a four-day hearing, the Lausanne-based Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) could deprive Russian athletes of their flag at next year's Tokyo Olympics.

Russia, which has tried to showcase itself as a global sports power, has denied the allegations against it but has been embroiled in doping scandals since a 2015 report commissioned by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) found evidence of mass doping among track and field athletes.

Many of its athletes have been sidelined from the past two Olympics and the country was stripped of its flag at the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Games as punishment for state-sponsored doping at the 2014 Sochi Games.

WADA last year declared RUSADA, Russia's anti-doping agency, non-compliant and imposed a string of sanctions as punishment for Moscow's tampering of laboratory data. Russia said inconsistencies with the data were of a purely technical nature and that the data had not been tampered with.

In addition to a ban against Russians competing under their flag and hearing their national anthem for the next four years -- including at the 2022 soccer World Cup in Qatar -- the sanctions bar Russia from hosting or bidding for major sporting events during that period.

WADA accused Russia of planting fake evidence and of deleting files linked to positive doping tests that could have helped identify drug cheats.

Witold Banka, WADA's president, said in a statement last week he was convinced the agency's executive committee had made the right decision when imposing the sanctions.

RUSADA, tweeting with the hashtag #BanCheatsnotCountries, posted a video appeal with the message "Give Russian athletes a chance."

CAS has said its arbitration panel will begin its deliberations after the hearing ends on Thursday and will announce its verdict at a later date.

RUSADA was initially suspended in 2015 after WADA found evidence of mass doping in Russian athletics. The agency was conditionally reinstated in September 2018, only to be declared non-compliant late last year.

(Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber, Editing by Timothy Heritage)

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