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What is ROC in the Olympics? It's not a country

Here's why Russia is going by a different name for Olympic competition.

News that ROC figure skating phenom Kamila Valiyeva tested positive for a banned drug delayed the medal ceremony at the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.

But just who is ROC? Russian athletes are competing not under the Russian flag but for the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) in Beijing because Russia is banned from competing.

If Russia is banned, why is ROC allowed to compete in Beijing and at the Tokyo Summer Games? And why was Russian president Vladimir Putin at the opening ceremony?

Related: What’s the drug at the center of Olympic controversy?

The delegation from Russia takes part in the parade of athletes during the opening ceremony of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games.Ben Stansall / Getty Images

What is ROC?

ROC stands for Russian Olympic Committee. Technically, Russia is banned from competing in international sporting events until December 2022 for running a state-sponsored doping program. Putin nonetheless attended the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics.

Russian athletes are allowed to compete as neutral athletes or “Olympic Athletes from Russia” (OAR) and represent the ROC. Their flag is the emblem of the ROC on a white background. Instead of the Russian national anthem, Russian composer Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 will play at medal ceremonies.

Why does Russia compete under ROC?

Sanctions were imposed by the World Anti-Doping Agency in 2020 after it was revealed that the Russian state-sponsored doping program was, according to The New York Times, “very likely the most extensive state-sponsored doping program since the notorious East German regime of the 1970s.” 

The following sanctions, were imposed by the World Anti-Doping Agency and upheld by the Court of Arbitration for Sport, beginning Dec. 17, 2020. 

  • Athletes from Russia cannot represent Russia at an Olympics, Paralympics, or World Championships.
  • Russian athletes’ uniforms cannot contain the Russian flag or any other national symbol. If the uniform includes the name “Russia,” the words “neutral athlete” (or an equivalent) must also be displayed.
  • The colors of the Russian flag are allowed on uniforms, but athletes cannot display a Russian flag or other national symbols on their clothes, equipment or other personal items at any official event venues. 
  • The Russian flag cannot be flown in an official capacity at these events and the national anthem cannot be played. 
  • Certain officials from the Russian government are banned from these events unless extended a special invitation by the head of state of a host nation. (For instance, Putin was allowed at the Beijing Olympics because he was invited by Chinese president Xi Jinping.) 
Russia's President Vladimir Putin gestures during the opening ceremony of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games.Wang Zhao / Getty Images

Russia’s anti-doping agency has to meet a number of requirements that include paying fines and conducting investigations. How long does Russia have to be ROC?

The sanctions imposed against Russia for its state-sponsored doping were originally imposed for four years. The Court of Arbitration for Sport reduced the four-year ban to two years, until Dec. 17, 2022.

Russia will be able to send a team to the 2023 women’s soccer World Cup and to host the 2023 World Hockey Championships in St. Petersburg as was originally planned, and the nation will be eligible for the Olympics and Paralympics again in time for the 2024 Paris Summer Olympics.