Russian doping: Olympic dream in the balance
It’s one of the traditional powerhouses of Olympic sport, but Russia’s place at the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro hangs in the balance over allegations of “state-sponsored doping.”
Just 24 hours after the International Olympic Committee was told it should consider banning Russian athletes from the Rio Games, the tournament’s governing body said it would be “exploring legal options” over such a move.
Russia came fourth in the medal table at the 2012 Games and the absence of the nation’s athletes at Rio would hark back to the Cold War era when the U.S. boycotted the Moscow Olympics in 1980 and the then Soviet Union snubbed the Los Angeles Games four years later.
A ban is being considered after Russia was accused Monday of “a shocking and unprecedented attack on the integrity of sport and on the Olympic Games” following an independent World Anti-Doping Agency commissioned report.
IOC president Thomas Bach said in a statement that his organization “will not hesitate to take the toughest sanctions available against any individual or organization implicated.”
The Russian track and field team has already been banned — but that decision is contested at the Court of Arbitration for Sport with a decision likely to be announced by the end of the week.
And with just 17 days until the Games get underway in Rio, the IOC doesn’t have time on its side.
Will Russia compete at the Olympics?
Russia’s athletes face a nervous wait to see if a blanket ban will be imposed with the IOC announcing it will retest all of its athletes which competed at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.
That’s because an independent report published by Canadian law professor Richard McLaren found urine samples of Russian competitors were manipulated across the “vast majority” of summer and winter Olympic sports from 2011 through to August 2015.
Russia came top of the medal table at Sochi — winning 33 medals, 13 of them gold.
But McLaren concluded Russia’s “Ministry of Sport directed, controlled and oversaw the manipulation of athlete’s analytical results or sample swapping, with the active participation and assistance of the FSB, CSP, and both Moscow and Sochi Laboratories.”
The FSB is Russia’s federal security service while the CSP is involved in the training of Russian athletes.
Meanwhile, in a statement Monday, WADA called on “the IOC and the International Paralympic Committee to consider, under their respective charters, to decline entries, for Rio 2016, of all athletes submitted by the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) and the Russian Paralympic Committee.”
The Russian track and field team has already been barred by from competing in the 2016 Games by the International Association of Athletics Federation — or the IAAF as its known for short.
Around 80 athletes have filed petitions to compete under the Olympic flag.
What is the IOC doing?
On Tuesday the IOC revealed a whole list of steps it was taking against Russia including whether it can issue a collective ban of all the nation’s athletes.
While it seeks legal opinion on that, it has already stated that Russia will not be allowed to host any events including the European Games scheduled for 2019.
The IOC is also encouraging each sport federation to make their own checks on whether competitors contravened the WADA code.
On top of that, Russian officials from the Ministry of Sport or anyone implicated in the report will be refused accreditation for Games in Rio.
Then there’s the forensic analysis and full inquiry into all the Russian athletes who competed at the Winter Games two years ago — as well as coaches and support staff.
The IOC has also asked McLaren to name names of those implicated in allegations of manipulating drug tests.
It gets worse for Russia — the IOC has asked McLaren to continue with his investigation.
What are the Russians saying?
Russian president Vladimir Putin reacted to the report by claiming that “accusations against Russian athletes are based on the testimony of one person, a man with a scandalous reputation.”
In a statement he added that the officials named in the report would be temporarily suspended.
Vitaly Mutko, the Russian sports minister, told the R-Sport news agency he had suspended his anti-doping advisor Natalia Zhelanova as well as Irina Rodionova, deputy head of Russia’s state-funded Sports Preparation Centre, and two other officials.
According to the McLaren report, Zhelanova and Rodionova had worked closely with Russian Deputy Sports Minister Yury Nagornykh to cover up positive doping tests.
Nagornykh was suspended on Monday after the report’s publication.
“The fact that the commission didn’t give any recommendations to ban Russian team from the Olympics in Rio is a positive fact,” the head of the Russian Olympic committee Alexander Zhukov told the state run news organization TASS, adding that the report needed to be studied in greater detail before he could comment further.
U.S. Anti-Doping Agency chief Travis Tygart — the man who brought down Lance Armstrong — said McLaren’s report “has concluded, beyond a reasonable doubt, a mind-blowing level of corruption within both Russian sport and government that goes right to the field of play.”
WADA chief spokesman Ben Nichols tweeted that his organization would recommend that Russians be banned from all international competition, including Rio, until “culture change” is achieved.
In a series of tweets, Nichols condemned what he called the “most deliberate and disturbing abuse of power ever seen in sport” while saying that the scale of the accusations across 30 sports means “there can no longer be a presumption of innocence” where Russian athletes are concerned.
IAAF President Sebastian Coe added: “The institutionalized and systematic doping in Russian athletics is the reason the IAAF suspended, and then upheld the suspension of, RusAF’s membership and consequently the exclusion of their athletes from international competition.”
Meanwhile, Toni Minichello, coach of British Olympic heptathlon champion Jessica Ennis-Hill, has called for a rethink in how much money is spent on fighting doping.
“Who are the real victims here?” Minichello told BBC Radio 4. “The real victims are athletes that missed out on medals. Let’s ban these hundreds of athletes, retest them all and not allow them to go to Rio or any future Olympics. That decimates a Russian team anyway.
“There needs to be a huge investment in anti-doping at major championships to make sure things don’t happen again.”