Why Russian Athletes Are Competing as 'ROC' in the Tokyo Olympics

Dan Clarendon - Author

Jul. 27 2021, Published 12:21 p.m. ET

If you watched the Tokyo Olympics’ opening ceremony, or if you’ve been keeping an eye on the medal leaderboards, you might have noticed the acronym "ROC"—which as of July 26 has a total of 12 medals to its name, including four golds.

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"ROC" stands for Russian Olympic Committee, but don’t expect to see Russia's flag or hear its national anthem in Tokyo. The country is still under an Olympic ban.

What country is ROC in the Olympics?

As USA Today explains, the ROC doesn’t represent a country. It’s an organization that allows 335 Russian athletes—who weren’t found to be involved in a state-sponsored doping scheme that got Russia banned from the Olympics—to participate as “neutral” athletes in the Tokyo Olympics.

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It isn't the first time Russian athletes have competed in the Olympics under a different banner. At the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, Russian athletes competed as OAR, or Olympic Athletes From Russia, since Russia was suspended from the games.

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Russia was banned from international sport in 2019.

In December 2019, the WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency) issued Russia a four-year ban from international sport as a sanction for Russia’s cheating scheme at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, as The Wall Street Journal reported at the time.

“For too long, Russian doping has detracted from clean sport,” then-WADA President Craig Reedie said. “Russia was afforded every opportunity to get its house in order and rejoin the global anti-doping community for the good of its athletes and of the integrity of sport, but it chose instead to continue in its stance of deception and denial.”

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A year later, the CAS (Court of Arbitration for Sport) cut the ban in half on appeal, which means that the band will end on December 16, 2022, according to The Wall Street Journal. Even with the reduction, the ban still applies to the Tokyo Olympics, the 2022 Beijing Winter Games, and the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

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ROC Olympians can still wear Russia’s colors.

Under the terms of the ban, the athletes can’t display the Russian flag at the Tokyo events and medal ceremonies won’t play the Russian national anthem. But WADA wasn’t able to prevent the athletes from wearing the white, blue, and red of the Russian flag on their uniforms.

“We at WADA remain disappointed that CAS has decreased the level of the sanctions from four years to two years and that CAS allows them to compete Russian athletes with the colors of the flag in the uniforms,” WADA President Witold Bańka said, according to USA Today.

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Alena Tiron, captain of the Russian rugby team, called the sanctions “insulting” in an interview with state news agency RIA Novosti, according to The Wall Street Journal. “But as they say, if the flag is not allowed, we ourselves will be the flag. We know which country we stand for.”

The International Olympic Committee also blocked a ROC swimwear design that featured the image of a bear, a symbol of Russia. But Dmitry Peskov, spokesperson for Russian President Vladimir Putin, didn’t seem too bothered. “Let’s look at it from the other side: The IOC has officially recognized the bear as a symbol of Russia,” Peskov told reporters, according to The Wall Street Journal. He said, “This is not a bad thing.”


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