A baker’s dozen thoughts about the international track and field federation council’s unanimous and quasi-Solomonic Friday decision to extend its ban on Russian athletes in that sport through the 2016 Olympics yet leave a path for some to compete in those Rio Summer Games:
1. The ultimate resolution of this issue was always going to be up to the International Olympic Committee, even if the Olympic Charter leaves eligibility issues up to each sport’s international federation.
2. In a Tuesday meeting, the IOC will discuss “collective responsibility and individual justice.” Translated, that means IOC President Thomas Bach must weigh how much he is willing to anger Russian President Vladimir Putin, a great financial friend of the Olympics, against the avalanche of criticism that would follow an IOC action to water down the international track federation (IAAF) ruling (click here for the IAAF statement.)
If it softens the blow to Russia, the IOC risks looking very bad when Richard McLaren issues his report on the Sochi doping lab skulduggery, especially given what McClaren told the IAAF Taskforce (below) and his statement today.
3. Yes, Russia does have an enormous doping issue, including what an independent investigator, Rune Andersen, said in his report to the IAAF Council was a “deep-seated culture of tolerance (or worse) for doping.” But anyone from another country who is justifiably outraged by Russia’s behavior would be wise not to adopt a holier-than-thou position.
4. After all, the United States track team could have a men’s 4 x 100-meter relay in Rio with three athletes who have served doping suspensions (Justin Gatlin, Tyson Gay, Michael Rodgers) coached by a man who served a doping suspension (Dennis Mitchell.) Yes, they are completely eligible again under the rules...but, just sayin’.
5. In the case of Russia, the difference is alleged involvement of sports and possibly government authorities. As the report said: “There are detailed allegations, which are already partly substantiated, that the Russian authorities, far from supporting the anti-doping effort, have in fact orchestrated systematic doping and the covering up of adverse analytical findings.”
6. But, even given the individual responsibility involved for any athlete who knowingly uses performance-enhancing drugs, is it worse for an athlete to break the rules under pressure from sports authorities or to do it on his or her own under internal pressure to run faster, jump higher or throw further? Who has the moral authority to answer that?
7. The IAAF said no Russian athletes will compete in Rio (or other international competitions) under the Russian flag as long as its ban is in place. Andersen made it clear legal ramifications led to a rule that would allow Russian athletes to apply to compete in the Rio Olympics and other events as neutrals if they “can clearly and convincingly show that they are not tainted by the Russian system because they have been outside the country, and subject to other, effective anti-doping systems, including effective drug-testing.”
8. If Putin stamps his feet publicly or privately over having no track and field athletes wearing Russian uniforms or having no chance to hear the Russian anthem played at the sport's medal ceremonies, how will Bach’s IOC react?
And what of other sports, after Andersen said the Russian system was so tainted by doping from the top down it was impossible to "trust that what we call and what other people might call clean athletes are really clean"?
9a. No matter what happens, clearing Russian athletes quickly will be a bureaucratic nightmare. The Russian Track and Field Federation has more than 4,000 registered athletes. Even if the vast majority would not be eligible for Rio because they have not met Olympic qualifying standards, the IAAF may have to deal with dozens of appeals before the Aug. 5 Opening Ceremony.
9b. What does “not being tainted” mean? It couldn’t just be no positive drug tests. Remember that Marion Jones and Lance Armstrong were negative on drug tests throughout their careers (or, in Armstrong’s case, cleared on a positive by a therapeutic use exemption.) What does being outside the country mean? Tennis star Maria Sharapova has trained and lived outside Russia for years. She still tested positive for a banned drug in 2016 and has been suspended for two years.
10. Good for the IAAF to hear a louder and louder outcry and give Russian whistleblower Yuliya Stepanova a chance to run as a neutral, saying her “case should be considered favorably.” Stepanova, her husband and fellow whistleblower, coach Vitaly Stepanov, and their son had to run from Russia to an undisclosed location in the United States out of fear for their lives. Without the Stepanovs, none of the charges against Russia may have emerged.
11. The issues of whether Sebastian Coe should remain as IAAF president and whether the World Anti-Doping Agency turned a deaf ear to whistleblowers for the past six years remain unresolved – in Coe’s case, there are new stories saying he was privy to messages alleging IAAF bribes to suppress doping positives and used a corrupt IAAF consultant to help him become president.
12. The idea that a top IOC official also is a top official of WADA – in this case, Craig Reedie of Great Britain, IOC vice president and WADA president – is indefensible if WADA really wants to be independent. WADA’s argument that declaring the conflict of interest resolves the problem is equally indefensible, because it does not end the conflict.
13. The Russian doping scandal is the greatest credibility crisis the IOC has faced, far more significant than the bid city vote-buying affair. Who really cares if a city corrupted IOC members? But when people feel competitive results are corrupted by officials’ turning a blind eye to doping or being complicit in covering it up, then the public may no longer care about the Olympics. A wishy-washy, politically motivated IOC response to the IAAF decision would mean all its past, present and future statements about the fight against doping were, are and will be window dressing for a glass house.