Does the International Olympic Committee bar all Russian athletes in every sport from competing at the 2016 Olympics?
And then what happens if the Court of Arbitration for Sport rules in favor of the 68 Russian track and field athletes who have petitioned to overturn their international federation’s decision barring them from the upcoming Summer Games?
And even if the IOC takes the strongest possible action and the CAS decision essentially supports it, will that do more than apply a cold compress to the unremitting migraine of doping in sport?
Those are the key questions following Monday’s release of the report of a World Anti-Doping Agency investigation into allegations that Russia had a state-sponsored plan to protect doped Russian athletes at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.
The independent investigation went beyond Sochi, outlining how the alleged anti-doping lab in Moscow corrupted testing results from 2012 through 2015 and depicting Mother Russia as a reincarnated Ma Barker of international sport.
Despite time constraints (57 days to investigate and report) and access to only relatively small amounts of data, the investigators found Russia had covered up more than 500 positive tests in 30 summer and winter Olympic sports, plus 35 in Paralympic sports and 37 in non-Olympic sports. It also found credible a Russian whistleblower’s claims about the elaborate deception in place at the anti-doping lab in Sochi.
The report's author, Canadian lawyer Richard McLaren, chose not to have the report make any recommendations of what actions international sports bodies might take against Russia.
But WADA called for the IOC and the International Paralympic Committee “to consider” barring Russian athletes from Rio and to deny Russian government officials “access to international competitions, including Rio 2016.” That is tantamount to calling for a ban.
The IOC reacted with a statement from its president, Thomas Bach, which said:
“The findings of the report show a shocking and unprecedented attack on the integrity of sport and on the Olympic Games. Therefore, the IOC will not hesitate to take the toughest sanctions available against any individual or organization implicated.”
The IOC said its executive board would meet Tuesday via conference call and could decide on “provisional measures and sanctions” that would apply to Rio.
The evidence in the report would support THE toughest sanction, giving the boot to Russia. Not doing that would mean that the IOC’s noble words about integrity and about protecting clean athletes are nothing but empty promises. Doing it could mean long-term enmity between the IOC and Russia, notwithstanding Russian President Vladimir Putin’s Monday announcement that top officials implicated in the McLaren report will be suspended.
(That presumably would include the minister of sport, Vitaly Mutko, and his and deputy minister of sport, although Putin later said Mutko would not be suspended because he was not named. There were, however, many references to involvement of the minister of sport and the ministry of sport. Predictably, Putin wrote the report off as an attempt by the United States to undermine Russia.)
After reading all 97 pages of a report some will cite as reason for condemning Russian sport to eternal damnation (or maybe self-immolation in its bonfire of the medal vanities), I kept thinking I had seen this before.
In the movies.
Becket. Dr. Strangelove. Casablanca. The Avengers.
*Like Henry II’s knights, who took their king quite literally when he asked, “Will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?” it appears some top officials in the Russian government got a mite carried away after their de facto king, Putin, expressed his discontent over Russia’s poor results at the 2010 Winter Olympics. Goodbye, Becket. Goodbye, integrity. Hello, Soviet-style doping program straight out of Stanley Kubrick….
*To ensure a better medal count at their 2014 home games in Sochi, the Russians created a doping and doping cover-up plan the report described in terms that could have come from the fertile imagination of Dr. Strangelove’s screenwriters: the “failsafe strategy” and the “Disappearing Positive Methodology.” That is, if a test on a Russian athlete schooled to beat the system still turned up positive in the Moscow lab, just make it disappear by declaring it negative.
*The report’s details are delicious (the “Duchess Cocktail” of quickly undetectable PEDs, the state security agent listed as a “sewer engineer” who helped protect doped Russian athletes in Sochi). Its assertions “beyond a reasonable doubt” that top Russian government officials were complicit are powerful.
Yet when I read the IOC statement, I could not help but think of Captain Renault’s professed shock that there was gambling at Rick’s Café Américain in Casablanca. Three years of media reports – beginning with Britain's Mail on Sunday in July 2013 – and official investigations had clearly outlined the parameters of a problem that had been festering for several years.
*There are no superheroes to avenge clean athletes (yes, some exist) in the anti-doping battle. The agencies empowered to police PED use are essentially toothless, and their independence is compromised by conflicts of interest (WADA President Craig Reedie is an IOC vice-president who presumably will be on that IOC conference call Tuersday).
It's likely that Marion Jones and Lance Armstrong still would be hailed as champions had the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency and the feds not been able to use the leverage of criminal prosecution to get Jones and witnesses against Armstrong to tell the truth.
Yes, Russia has behaved very badly here. But much of the sports world lives in a glass house when it comes to doping. State-run cheating may be worse than individual cheating, but both are cheating.
That is why U.S. Olympic Committee chief executive Scott Blackmun was wise to react Monday by reiterating his dismay that the anti-doping system is broken rather than to throw stones at Russia. After all, the U.S. is sending a track team to Rio with three sprinters who have served doping bans and are cleared to compete again, including gold medal contender Justin Gatlin.
Bar Russia from Rio, but remember that holier-than-thou works only for saints. And even some of them were reformed sinners. Thomas of Becket included.