SYDNEY (Reuters) - The Australian Olympic Committee have welcomed the decision by the World Anti-Doping Agency to ban Russia from major sporting events, including next year's Tokyo Games, for four years as the sports world began to digest the suspension on Tuesday.
WADA's executive committee acted on Monday after concluding that Moscow had planted fake evidence and deleted files linked to positive doping tests in laboratory data that could have helped identify drug cheats.
Ian Chesterman, the AOC vice-president who will lead the Australian team at the Tokyo Olympics next year, said that WADA had sent a "powerful message" with the unprecedented ban.
"This was a shocking betrayal of fair sport and there are severe consequences for that," he said.
"Every athlete deserves to compete with the confidence they are competing in a clean and fair environment. The fact that this was a systematic attempt to undermine fair sport makes it all the more galling and all the more offensive."
The ban comes as a huge blow to Russian pride and President Vladimir Putin said on Monday that Moscow might appeal the decision, as is their right within 21 days.
WADA's decision does leave the door open for "clean" Russian athletes to compete as individuals in Tokyo without their flag or anthem, as was the case when Russia was banned from the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Games.
The decision not to impose a blanket ban was not uniformly welcomed with Travis Tygart, head of the United States Anti-Doping Agency, describing it as "yet another devastating blow to clean athletes."
His view was echoed by Global Athlete, an advocacy group set up by athletes, who said WADA had been "played for fools" by the Russians and was "not fit for purpose".
"Today WADA has robbed athletes worldwide of their right to clean sport due to their inability to enforce the strongest possible sanctions on Russia," it said in a statement.
"Strong sanctions which would include a complete ban of Russia and Russian athletes at all international competitions including the Olympic and Paralympic Games."
Chesterman, however, said that Russian athletes who could prove they were not part of the tainted system must be able to compete.
"While the guilty must be punished, it's only fair that clean athletes from Russia are given the opportunity to compete if they can demonstrate that they were not implicated in any way," he added.
The International Paralympic Committee (IPC), whose 2020 Tokyo Games will also be impacted by the decision, said they would respect WADA's sanction after the appeal is exhausted.
"The IPC would like to thank WADA for the work they have done in exposing this attempt to cheat the system," the IPC said in a statement
"Once a final decision has been taken, it will be legally binding across all sports and bodies that are signatories of the World Anti-Doping Code, and must be recognized and enforced by all signatories. This includes the IPC."
The Japanese Olympic Committee said they would not be commenting on the ban.
(Reporting by Nick Mulvenney and Jack Tarrant in Tokyo, editing by Peter Rutherford)