Here's Why There's a New Olympic Team Called 'ROC' at the 2021 Olympics

The former team Russia became the former team OAR and is now ROC.

what is ROC at Olympics
The Russian Olympic Committee flag at the Tokyo games. | Photo courtesy of Valery Sharifulin\TASS via Getty Images
The Russian Olympic Committee flag at the Tokyo games. | Photo courtesy of Valery Sharifulin\TASS via Getty Images

When you tune in to the start of the 2020 Summer Olympics, which is actually taking place in 2021, you might notice a country you haven't seen compete in the past. There's one team bringing a lot of athletes that you'll see labeled ROC. 

It's not a new country. It's Russia. You may remember seeing the Russian team competing under the name OAR—Olympic Athlete(s) from Russia—during the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang. During the Tokyo Games, that will again be changed. There's no Team Russia or OAR in Japan this year: Those athletes will wear uniforms that say ROC.

The acronym stands for Russian Olympic Committee

Russian athletes will compete under this title instead of Russia or the Russian flag due to repercussions from the Russian doping scandal. The end result is that we're basically pretending like this team isn't Russia, even though it's still the team with all of the Russian athletes. 

As part of the sanctions imposed after the scandal, the name "Russia" can only appear on uniforms, equipment, or "other personal items or in a publicly visible manner" if it is equally prominently accompanied by the words "neutral athlete" as well, per a ruling. So, instead of that pile of words, you'll see uniforms and equipment that say ROC. 

As we noted in 2018, the scandal first emerged in the McLaren Report, which alleged that more than 1,000 Russian athletes partook in or benefitted from a state-sponsored cover-up for athletes using performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs).

The second part of the report was published after the Rio Games in 2016. A subsequent International Olympic Committee (IOC) investigation and The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) sanction resulted in the Russian Olympic Committee being barred from international competitions through 2022. That will include the Tokyo Games and the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, China. 

If they're banned, why are Russians competing?

The ban was put in place in December 2017. However, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) decided to allow Russian athletes with no history of using PEDs to compete since they haven't done anything wrong. They just can't compete under the Russian flag. 

It has been a controversial situation at times. Some athletes at the 2018 Games said that the IOC failed many athletes who didn't cheat in the process, while simultaneously not being harsh enough on those who did use PEDs. 

What happens if a Russian athlete wins a medal?

Russian athletes can, of course, win medals. However, on the medals stand they will not be facing a Russian flag or hearing the Russian national anthem, should they win gold. 

Instead of the Russian national anthem, gold medal-winning athletes on the ROC team will hear Pyotr Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1, per the ruling. Though, it'd be more fun if they each got to pick their own song with no time constraints. Who wouldn't want to stand there and watching athletes shift their weight from foot to foot through the entirety of "Freebird"?

Instead of the Russian flag, athletes will face the emblem of the ROC, which is a white, blue, and red flame over the Olympic rings on a white background. You'll likely see it at some point. There are plenty of Russian athletes on the definitely-not-Russia team that are expected to do well in their competitions. 

Want more Thrillist? Follow us on InstagramTwitterPinterestYouTubeTikTok, and Snapchat.

Dustin Nelson is a Senior Staff Writer at Thrillist. Follow Dustin Nelson on Twitter.