Moscow, Russia: Russia decided on Thursday to contest its ban from major sporting events over doping violations, as President Vladimir Putin slammed its sidelining as unfair and insisted athletes should be able to compete under the national flag.
Russia's RUSADA anti-doping agency "made a decision not to agree" with the four-year ban by the World Anti-Doping Agency's decision, the head of RUSADA's supervisory board, Alexander Ivlev, told journalists.
The decision will have to be communicated to WADA before the end of the month, triggering the appeal process in the Lausanne-based Court of Arbitration for Sport.
WADA on December 10 banned Russia for four years from major global events, including the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, over manipulated doping data.
Putin appeared to indicate a lengthy legal battle loomed, as he addressed a throng of journalists in his annual press conference.
"We will have to calmly await all the relevant decisions, including the decision by the arbitration court, then we will understand what position we're in," he said when asked about the prospect of cancellation of events on Russian territory.
- 'Someone else's actions' -
Putin reiterated that he believes WADA's decision to be "not only unjust, but also not corresponding with common sense or law", saying Russia was being punished the second time for the same alleged offence.
He argued that the majority of Russian athletes were clean and should not be deprived of the right to compete under the Russian flag due to the actions of some individuals.
"If WADA does not have any issues with our national Olympic committee our team must compete under its flag," Putin said.
"If a majority of our athletes are clean how is it possible to slap sanctions against them for someone else's actions?
"Russian athletes have been training and will be training for competition. They will keep making us happy with their brilliant victories," Putin said.
Under the sanctions, Russians will still be allowed to compete at the Olympics next year and the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, but only as neutrals and if they can demonstrate that they were not part of what WADA believes was a state-sponsored system of doping.
He added that some events scheduled in Russia, namely the Euro 2020, which would partly be hosted by Saint-Petersburg, would go on since "the tickets have been sold".
"WADA is not going to reimburse the tickets, is it?" he said.
In fact, Russia's participation in Euro 2020 -- and Saint Petersburg's hosting of four matches -- is not affected by the ban because it is not defined as a "major event" for anti-doping purposes.
- 'Inefficient and useless' -
The director general of RUSADA, Yuri Ganus, who has long argued for a major crackdown by Russia against doping cheats, had told AFP prior to the decision that appealing WADA's ban would be "inefficient and useless."
Ganus, whose rigorous stance puts him at odds with his own government and supervisory board, argues that Moscow needs to accept the sanctions and own up to its faults in order to be able to reform.
The suspension was handed to Russia over falsifying data from a doping testing laboratory that was handed to WADA earlier this year as part of the compliance re-instatement process.
The significant extent of state-sponsored doping in Russia, notably between 2011 and 2015, was revealed in the independent report by sports lawyer Richard McLaren, released in 2016.
The issue has dealt a colossal blow to the status of post-Soviet Russia as a major sports power after hosting events such as the 2013 World Athletics Championships, the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi and the 2018 World Cup.
The Sochi Games later became notorious for the number of doping violations by prominent Russian athletes.
The situation has also divided Russian sports stars, with three-time world champion high jumper Mariya Lasitskene calling on sports officials to be held to account over the ban.