The International Olympic Committee just cast a devastating shadow over its own showpiece event that will linger long after the world’s athletes return home from Rio.
Faced with a clear-cut case of institutionalized, systematic cheating, the IOC was too pathetic to enforce its Olympic charter. Sports’ most cherished guiding principles were first written out by hand in 1898. This weekend, we might as well toss them away.
By allowing the Russian flag to be paraded around the Maracanã stadium in downtown Rio in 12 days’ time, spineless Olympic bosses are publicly acknowledging what we all feared: The Olympic Games are dirty; drug cheats will prosper; and the IOC is no fit custodian of the greatest event on Earth.
The world’s leading anti-doping agencies spent recent weeks pleading with the IOC to finally show that they care about the integrity of the Olympics.
Russia’s cheating was so egregious, so blatant that the anti-drug officials thought they had a case strong enough to force the IOC to pull its head of the sand at last. On Sunday, those hopes were dashed.
IOC President Thomas Bach announced that the committee would not implement an outright ban on Russia competing at the Games, despite the clear evidence that Russian secret agents orchestrated one of the biggest programs of state-sponsored cheating in the history of sport.
The head of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency said the ruling was “frustrating” and “incomprehensible.”
One of the Russian athletes who will be banned: Yuliya Stepanova, one of the whistleblowers who exposed the Kremlin’s deplorable plot to corrupt the Olympics. She had hoped to compete in Rio as a “neutral” athlete.
Not only have Bach and the IOC refused to face down the darkest forces in sport, they have thrown the build-up to the Games in every individual sport into chaos.
Bach said each federation (IF) would now be responsible for a thorough audit of any Russian competitors’ drug test history and must make their own legally sound ruling on whether individual athletes are clean in less than two weeks. The track and field authorities have already banned all Russian athletes.
As quadruple gold medal winner Matthew Pinsent said: “So the IOC have hospital passed that all to the IF’s. ‘No, YOU decide. We don’t want to.’ What a cop-out.”
The IOC has also banned any Russian athlete from Rio if they previously failed a drug test; an arbitrary ruling similar to one that has previously been struck down by the Court of Arbitration for Sport. Under the IOC’s previous attempt to turn some drug bans into lifetime bans, the likes of U.S. sprint star Justin Gatlin, who will race against Usain Bolt this summer, would not be able to compete.
In a rambling conference call, Bach admitted on Sunday that his hotchpotch solution “may not please everybody.”
He certainly pleased the Russians.
Russia’s Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko said he was “grateful” that the IOC had rejected the advice of 14 anti-doping agencies who wanted Russia banned.
“I hope that the majority of international federations will very promptly confirm the right of [Russian] competitors in different types of sports to take part in the Olympic Games,” he said.
Mutko estimated that 80 percent of the Russian team would be free to compete for medals in Rio. This is a man who was fingered for his personal involvement in covering up the tests in the World Anti Doping Agency report published last week.
Former Olympic fencer Bach reportedly has a close personal relationship with President Vladimir Putin. His sport of fencing has benefitted greatly in recent years from the lavish investment of one of Putin’s billionaire allies, Alisher Usmanov.
Travis Tygart, CEO of the United States Anti-Doping Agency, said he was baffled by Bach’s announcement.
“Many, including clean athletes and whistleblowers, have demonstrated courage and strength in confronting a culture of state-supported doping and corruption within Russia,” he said. “Disappointingly, however, in response to the most important moment for clean athletes and the integrity of the Olympic Games, the IOC has refused to take decisive leadership. The decision regarding Russian participation and the confusing mess left in its wake is a significant blow to the rights of clean athletes.”
Even Bach admitted the federations were going to find it difficult to make a ruling on hundreds of individual athletes within such a tight timeframe.
He concluded, however, that “the result today is one which is respecting the rules of justice.”
It seems Bach has little respect for the ideals laid out in those early versions of the Olympic charter. “The International Olympic Committee [must] take all proper steps to conduct modern athletics in the right way, by fostering the spirit of chivalry [and] love of ‘fair plays,’” proclaimed the 1933 edition.