FILE - In this file photo dated July 24, 2019, Russian Sports Minister Pavel Kolobkov speaks to the media in Moscow

MOSCOW - Russia faces a four-year ban from global sporting events, including next year’s Tokyo Olympics, because of a continued failure to cooperate with anti-doping investigators.

The ban recommendation made Tuesday by the compliance panel of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), came after investigators found evidence of a further drug cover-up by Russian officials, who are alleged to have deleted and tampered with positive drugs tests from a database at a Moscow laboratory earlier this year.

The executive committee of the anti-doping agency will decide at a meeting in Paris scheduled for December 9 whether to approve the sanction, including stripping Russia of sporting events already awarded to the country “unless it is legally or practically impossible to do so.” Russian government officials would also be barred from attending events for the next four years and the country’s flag wouldn’t be flown at World sporting tournaments for the ban’s period.

Russia was banned from sending a team to the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea but individual athletes from the country were allowed by the International Olympic Committee to compete, if they passed strenuous doping tests. The new ban recommendation is the latest twist in a saga of state-sponsored doping stretching back to before the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics and which is said to rival in its magnitude the extensive and notorious East German drug program of the Cold War years.

Flag bearers from various nations attend the closing ceremony of the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, Feb. 25, 2018.

The expert panel’s advice would include banning Russia’s team from competing in the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, but Russia would still be able to host four games from the 2020 European Championship in St Petersburg because it is a regional football tournament and not a World competition.

US Anti-Doping Agency head Travis Tygart welcomed the sanctions recommendation saying it “recognized the egregious conduct of Russia toward clean athletes and now let's all hope the Wada executive committee uses the same resolve to ensure clean athletes are not again sold down the river and actually supports this unfortunate but necessary outcome.”

Rusada was initially declared non-compliant in November 2015 after a report by sports lawyer and academic Richard McLaren found widespread evidence of state-sponsored doping in Russian track and field athletics. A subsequent report in 2016 commissioned by WADA accused Russia of operating a state-sponsored doping program for four years across the “vast majority” of summer and winter Olympic sports. Last year the country sport bodies were declared compliant after the release of data from its main Moscow anti-doping laboratory but data handed over in January proved to be “inauthentic” according to investigators.

The compliance panel says a forensic review found serious inconsistencies, saying investigators had uncovered “an extremely serious case of non-compliance with the requirement to provide an authentic copy of the Moscow data, with several aggravating features.”

More than 2000 samples supplied by the Moscow laboratory had been tampered with, the compliance panel says. The huge scale of Russian doping first came to light in 2015 when Grigory Rodchenkov, who for a decade was Russia's anti-doping lab chief, fled to the U.S..

McLaren’s report confirmed the allegations made by Rodchenkov, concluding that more than a thousand Russian athletes had been doping up  between 2012 and 2015 and that Russian officials, the country’s sports ministry and Russia’s FSB security agency had conspired in a “cover-up that operated on an unprecedented scale.”

Russian officials say a four-year ban would be devastating and unfair, pointing to an acknowledgement by the compliance panel that aside from the alleged Moscow laboratory tampering Russian officials are being cooperative. Russian sport official Yuri Ganus told local media it would be a “tragedy,” if Russian athletes faced a suspension.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Monday ahead of the ban recommendation: “Our sports authorities have been in close contact with WADA and will continue cooperating with the body and international sports community.” He added: “No decisions have been made so far. You know that the Russian Federation provided all necessary information. Let’s wait for results and analyses of reports provided by the Russian side.”

In October Russian President Vladimir Putin said at an international forum that Russia was keen to overcome the doping controversies. “We want our athletes to be fully represented in international events where they can demonstrate their talent without any restrictions. We want them to become role models for amateur sports lovers and professionals, first of all for our young generation,” he said.

Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov later Tuesday dismissed the accusation of tampering, saying the allegation fits a Western narrative of blaming Russia for everything. 
 

“Everywhere Russia is said to be in violation of something or doing something that one or several Western nations find detrimental to their interest,” he said.