Banning the Cheats, Identifying the Innocent
The priority for the International Olympic Committee, led by President Thomas Bach, is, optimistically, to clear the path for exclusively clean athletes to compete in Rio’s Olympic Games. For the IAAF, taking a crucial decision in Vienna, the problem is: how to distinguish between the innocent Russians and those not yet detected but currently still involved in illicit performance enhancement.
There could, probably, still be many of the latter, but the only way to ensure that they do not escape testing vigil is to enforce random, pre-Olympic testing, outside Russia. Almost impossible.
Tomorrow is the moment when Sebastian Coe’s reputation, as IAAF President, is precariously on the line. Golden Olympian he may have been at two Olympics in the 1980s, but his administrative credentials will be condemned worldwide were the Russian Athletics Federation – suspended in the wake of WADA’s independent investigation led by Richard Pound last autumn – to receive blanket re-admission.
Fortunately, from informed conversations within the IAAF Council, I get the impression that there is a mood among European members to continue the suspension. Whether there is now a sufficient majority to carry the vote – a 22-1 majority originally – is another matter.
Coe has acknowledged the need to be brutal, and the suspicion enveloping Russian track and field is so all-consuming that IAAF credibility, not to say the IOC’s, will be further poisoned by unqualified re-admission. Part of the problem is emphasized by hypocritical criticism from, of all countries, the United States, which has an abysmal record over the past decades of conspicuously positive athletes, notably Marion Jones, but continues to ride the spirit of Cold-War rivalry.
The question-mark hangs over all Russian sport. In Weightlifting, for instance, a prime Russian event, four competitors including three winners were tested positive at last December’s world championships. In Pound’s enquiry, an IAAF administrator alleged that “former Soviet Union countries have a deeply ingrained drug culture in sports”.
If the IAAF vote tomorrow were to sustain the suspension of the Russian federation, how would the IOC react, given Thomas Bach’s vigorous campaign to protect the innocent, not excluding possible Russians?
The Russian federation accepted the original verdict without appeal, confirming that any re-admission would only occur if WADA-compliant testing and personnel were re-established. Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko optimistically suggested that such ‘rehabilitation’ could be achieved in a couple of months. However, at the UK anti-doping authority, temporarily appointed to handle testing within Russia through utilization of the
independent Swedish company IDTM, has encountered difficulty in effective random testing, with some Russian regions sealed from casual entry. And there are claims that former Russian testing employees continue to function within Russia’s bureaucracy.
Whichever way the IAAF Council vote goes, the IOC will be left with a conundrum: how to uphold individual justice within a Russian team previously exposed to have been manipulated by government initiative; how to extract honourable athletes from a nation by now notorious for extensive official manipulated cheating.
Can the Olympics recover the public image, the trust and prestige that had distinguished and separated the Games from all other sport for 120 years? As a potential Olympian, four metres short of the qualifying distance for the javelin sixty years ago and a footballer in a British training squad for Melbourne, it was a life opportunity that I revered, part of the driving force of my journalistic career.
The IOC is right jealously to protect this privilege for thousands of athletes alive now and yet to be born.
An ultimate solution in this crisis might be for Bach to persuade President Putin to withdraw Russia’s team for the sake of global integrity until Russian sport gets its act together.
This story first appeared in the blog, The Sport Intern. The editor is Karl-Heinz Huba of Lorsch, Germany. He can be reached at ISMG@aol.com. The article is reprinted here with permission of Huba.