Is there really an internecine battle going on between the international federation that governs the flagship sport of the Olympics, track and field, and the International Olympic Committee, which governs the Olympics?
Or is that federation, the IAAF, just grandstanding?
Those are among the questions without answers – and there are many such questions – after the IOC once again expressed its support for the IAAF’s actions in the Russian doping mess but refused to accept the most symbolically significant of those actions.
The IAAF last Friday extended its indefinite ban on the Russian Track & Field Federation. It also said there would be no Russian track team – which means no Russian flag at medal ceremonies, no anthem for winners, no Russian uniforms - at the Rio Olympics while allowing the possibility for some athletes found untainted by allegedly state-supported doping to compete as “neutrals.”
The IOC said Tuesday any of those Russian athletes who are cleared to compete at Rio would be part of the Russian Olympic team because, in the emailed words of IOC spokesman Mark Adams, “The IAAF decides on the technical eligibility for competition. For the Olympic Games it is the NOC (national Olympic committee) which selects team members from this group of eligible athletes.”
Even if only a few athletes wind up with the necessary approval, the symbolic value of their being able to compete in Russian raiment all but erases the impact of the IAAF’s actions. It also means the IOC has delivered an essentially spineless response, as I suggested might happen.
The IAAF, which knew all along that the Olympic Charter (Rule 44.2) says essentially the same thing as Adams, reacted with a statement Tuesday that said it “will now work with the IOC to ensure (its) decision is respected and implemented in full.” The IAAF statement noted that the decision includes having Russian track athletes compete “in an individual capacity as neutral athletes, not under any country’s flag” as long as their federation remains banned.
In the alphabet soup world of international sport, has anyone ever cooked up a broth more bizarre?
How did it come to this Olympic family feud?
A German reporter, Jens Weinrich, long a critic of IOC President Thomas Bach of Germany, pulled no punches as he lambasted the IOC in a tweet for caving in to Russian President Vladimir Putin: “another shameful IOC propaganda maneuver made by Putin's friend Thomas Bach and his handpicked `Olympic Summit’ of toadies and accomplices.”
And a French journalist, Yannick Cochennec, tweeted, “It’s the IOC, not the IAAF, that runs international track. Another beautiful day in the beautiful democracy of sport.”
Me? I’m confused, trying to figure out what the IOC executive board meant in a Saturday statement saying “it fully respects the IAAF position.” The IOC then reiterated that Tuesday, in a slightly different form, in a unanimous declaration of those who attended the Olympic Summit: “To fully respect the decision of the IAAF Council with regard to the specific situation of track and field in Russia as outlined in the report and recommendations of the IAAF Task Force.”
I guess you can fully respect someone while pulling the rug out from under him.
Was Bach’s relationship with Putin a factor? At a Tuesday press conference, the IOC President responded with a laugh and a “no” to a question about whether he had recently spoken to Putin. He added that inferences he and Putin would “agree on an agenda of the Olympic Summit or would have consultations” are “putting a smile on my face.”
Bach’s response was more than slightly disingenuous. Putin had been the first person to call Bach after his 2013 election as IOC president, and the Russian President got his country to pony up on for a $51 billion Winter Olympics five months later, and Russia is a global sports power.
Bach did acknowledge Russia’s stated intention to appeal the IAAF action – either en masse, as the Russian Olympic Committee, or in cases brought by individual athletes - to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, saying it was “the good right of everybody.”
There was a lot more to the IOC declaration and Tuesday’s press conference, some of great importance but seemingly impossible to carry out in a meaningful or expeditious way:
*The IOC called for testing athletes in all 28 Olympic sports from both Russia and distance running power Kenya, both of which have had ineffective weak or corrupt national doping control agencies declared non-compliant by the World Anti-Doping Agency.
"The Olympic summit considers the 'presumption of innocence' of athletes from these countries being put seriously into question," the IOC declaration said. "As a result, every IF (international federation) should take a decision on the eligibility of such athletes on an individual basis to ensure a level playing field in their sport."
How such extensive testing can be done between now and the Aug. 5 opening ceremony of the Rio Olympics remains to be seen. Maybe Diogenes can be resurrected to pitch in, calling on the experience of his cynical search for an honest man.
*The IAAF said it wanted to find a way for Russian whistleblower Yulia Stepanova, who has taken refuge in the United States, to compete again as a so-called neutral. Bach said Tuesday there was no discussion about Stepanova, pending an IAAF decision on her situation.
*Given the many conflicts caused by interlocking relationships between sports bodies and anti-doping agencies (e.g, WADA President Craig Reedie is an IOC vice-president), the IOC called for a full review of the entire anti-doping system with the goal of making all of it independent from sports organizations.
I wrote last Friday that the Russian doping scandal is the greatest credibility crisis the IOC has faced, far more significant than the bid city vote-buying affair. In that column, I concluded that a wishy-washy IOC response to the IAAF decision would mean all the Olympic leaders’ past, present and future statements about their commitment to fight doping were, are and will be window dressing.
What will the IOC say when WADA investigator Richard McLaren delivers next month his conclusions about just how deeply implicated the Russian government has been in corrupting the country’s doping control efforts? After all, McLaren gave the IAAF a preliminary report that found “a mandatory, state-directed manipulation of laboratory analytical results” in the WADA-accredited Moscow lab from at least 2011 through the 2013 track and field world championships in Moscow.
The IAAF’s most recent previous leadership has been found rotten to the core in seeking bribes for doping cover-ups. Who would have thought the IAAF now would be capable of staking out higher moral ground than the IOC?