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Russia’s Olympic Future

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International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach and Russian president Vladimir Putin. Photo: Robert Deutsch, USA Today Sports

Amid the International Olympic Committee’s anxiety about diminishing available candidate host cities for ever more expensive Olympic Games, President Vladimir Putin makes it evident that Russia, though currently embroiled in an Olympic doping controversy involving the London and Sochi Games, 2012-14, can become contender for hosting Summer Games – and he vows total collaboration with WADA and IOC.

Though engaged in Middle East political turmoil, historic Russia’s contemporary leader of its new young democracy reveals, in an exclusive Q&A exchange, that this major project is an ambition. This could ease long-term IOC strategies.

As author of the soon-to-be-updated edition of “The Official History of the Olympic Games and IOC”, I have just visited Moscow to assess Russia’s urgent collaboration with WADA and the IOC. Re-establishing Olympic eligibility for next year’s Winter Olympic Games at Pyeongchang, South Korea, following widespread doping infringements and three damaging enquiries, is imperative for international equilibrium.

The IOC is in a panic about potential host cities, and contemplating a double election at September’s Session in Lima, Peru for two Summer Games of 2024/28, simultaneously accepting both Los Angeles and Paris. With a new WADA-compliant Russian anti-doping agency imminently scheduled, these were my questions:

David Miller (DM): “Might Moscow contemplate a bid for 2028?”

Putin: “I would rather speak of Russia generally, not necessarily about Moscow. Apart from the capital of our country, we have a number of cities which could potentially host Summer Olympics. There is Sochi, of course, but also St Petersburg and possibly Kazan. We are not going to make any specific statements, yet. In 2014, our country successfully hosted the Winter Games in Sochi. However, I do not rule out the possibility that Russia will decide to enter in bidding process for the right to host another Olympics.

“Regarding Los Angeles, it is not for us to estimate the city’s chances. This must be done by the IOC. USA is one of the leading sports countries in the world, and I believe had good chance of getting the honor of hosting the Games. It is well known that LA hosted the Games in 1984 and the USSR team unfortunately did not participate – just like the US team which did not come to Moscow in 1980. No-one benefited from this.”

DM: “In Russia’s cultural, social and political global relationships, how important is return to the front line of Olympic competition and international prominence?”

Putin: “Russia always has been, and I hope always will be, one of the leading international sports countries. What kind of return to the front line are we talking about? Our athletes still produce great results in international competition, set new records and win gold medals. Yes, like any country, we might have experienced certain ups and downs with regard to results, but in no way does this cast any doubt on Russia’s status as one of the leading countries in sport.

“You know, I always had a problem when someone was trying to place sport in social and political context. Sport is a separate and unique kind of human activity, which functions under its own rules and principles. It has nothing to do with the political agenda, and neither it should. When politics interferes with sport, unjust things happen, like the story of Russia’s Paralympic athletes who were banned from international competition where they have a right to participate like anyone else.

“Once it became clear that our Paralympians would miss the Rio Games through no fault of their own, I decided to meet with the athletes. My goal was to support them, to have a simple talk with them. Once the meeting was over, I was particularly proud for these people, because it was evident that they will not give up – they will stand up to the challenge.”

DM: “How confident are you that both Russian athletes and Russian society will acknowledge and support the necessity for strict anti-doping compliance – provided WADA is effective worldwide?”

Putin: “We are currently developing a completely new system in the fight against doping in Russia. We have established an Independent Public Anti-Doping Commission. The Russian anti-doping agency RUSADA and the (testing) laboratory are no longer controlled by the state and the Ministry of Sport, but gaining full autonomy – just like in many other countries. I believe that positive processes which we have started, to reform anti-doping structures, are irreversible. We must listen to what WADA has to say, because we have to admit that we have several cases of proven doping violation. This is unacceptable. We will do everything to organize efficient and fruitful work with all our partners, including WADA and the IOC. I hope they have the same intentions.

“At the same time, it is important to understand that the international anti-doping system is not perfect. This fact is admitted by the leaders of the Olympic Movement. One of the most serious issues is therapeutic use exemption (TUEs). We do not want sport to become competition between different kinds of stimulators, most of which are highly dangerous for athletes’ health, do we? Russia is ready for an open and consistent participation in work to establish an accomplished global anti-doping system. Once again, I would like to reiterate something that we have always stated: Russia never had, and I hope never will have, a state-backed system of doping support. On the contrary – we will fight doping.”

DM: “In recognition of the threat to global public affection for Olympic sport caused by doping offences in many countries, might Russia consider offering a donation to WADA to extend scrutiny facilities to ensure fair competition?”

Putin: “As I said, we are open for co-operation with the IOC, WADA and other international organizations who can assist us in developing our own new anti-doping system. In fact, we believe that we can launch the system only in successful collaboration with WADA and the IOC. In our relations with WADA, we adhere, and will continue doing so, to the principles and rules of this organization, including financial obligations towards the Olympic Movement.”

By David Miller for the Sport Intern

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.

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