Saturday, June 18, 2016 at 3:53 PM

Track Officials Ban Russians from Rio Olympics for Doping

Posted by Anthony L. Hall

poistogovasavinovaolympics12Last November, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) published a report, which found that Russia perpetrated state-sponsored doping to enhance the performance of Track and Field athletes. It made two major recommendations:

  1. The International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), the sport’s governing body, should suspend all Russian athletes from international competition.
  2. The Russian Athletic Federation (RusAF) should take a probationary period to implement reforms to better prevent or catch doping among its athletes.

I commented back then under the telling title, “In Putin’s Russia Even Athletics Is a Criminal (Doping) Enterprise,” November 9, 2015. Here is an excerpt.

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Not since Adolf Hitler presided over the 1936 Berlin Olympics has a leader been so determined to see his country win the overall medal count. Only this fanatical nationalism explains Putin dispatching members of his special police to ensure that no Russian athlete tests positive — no matter how dedicated that athlete’s doping for Sochi.

Nevertheless, I do not agree with WADA’s recommendation to ban all Russian athletes from international competition, including the 2016 Rio Olympics.

_84623138_gatlin_gettyThere’s no evidence indicating that governments in other top-performing countries (e.g., Jamaica for Summer Games or the United States for Winter Games) have aided and abetted doping the way the Russian government did. But there’s more than sufficient prima facie evidence to suspect that athletes from those countries engage in doping just as much as athletes from Russia do…

WADA should enlist the governing bodies of all major sports to ban Russia from hosting any sanctioned competition, so long as Putin remains in power. Because, no matter their representations, officials in Putin’s Russia will never implement the reforms WADA deems are necessary to eradicate this systemic doping. As it happens, soccer’s governing body, FIFA, is in a similar doghouse. And, ironically, nothing would show its determination to implement the reforms Western governments deem are necessary to eradicate systematic corruption quite like withdrawing Russia’s highly coveted hosting gig for the 2018 World Cup.

But WADA should not stigmatize and penalize Russian athletes – who subjected themselves to independent testing and never tested positive – with collective punishment.

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Unsurprisingly, the IAAF complied with WADA’s recommendation and suspended all Russian athletes pending review; RusAF did not and failed to implement the reforms. Russian officials reportedly spent most of their probationary period trying to cover up their doping schemes.

920x920Therefore, RusAF left the IAAF no choice but to ban Russian athletes, indefinitely. Here is how IAAF President Sebastian Coe announced the decision to do so after a special meeting in Vienna yesterday:

So although good progress has been made, the IAAF Council was unanimous that Russia had not met the reinstatement conditions and that Russian athletes could not credibly return to international competition without undermining the confidence of their competitors and the public.

As a result Russia has not been reinstated to membership of the IAAF…

While Russia remains suspended, no other representatives of Russia (i.e., officials, athletes, support personnel) should take part in international competition or in the affairs of the IAAF.

(BBC, June 17, 2016)

This implies that no Russian Track and Field athlete will be allowed to participate in the Rio Olympics, which begin on August 5. But the IAAF did not completely ignore pleas to avoid collective punishment.

Rusanova of Russia competes during the woman's 800 metres semi-final heat 1 at the IAAF World Championships in DaeguFor it left open a “back door” for innocent athletes to pursue “individual justice.” Notably, this applies to famous doping whistleblower Yulia Stepanova (née Rusanova), as well as others who have trained and been tested regularly outside of Russia.

But this poses the spectacle of these athletes competing in Rio under a “neutral” flag, while their compatriots in other sports compete under the Russian flag. The insult to this country’s vaunted pride would be unbearable, for all Russians. Not to mention that such an arrangement would mark these “neutral athletes” for life as traitors … with all that portends.

If they are innocent, I say let them compete for their country, Russia!

71f07908-e4c7-4e0b-b4a5-f4a2e0952b39Apropos of Russian pride, it is noteworthy that President Vladimir Putin made quite a show of weighing in yesterday – before the IAAF announced its decision. Not least because he clearly knew the federation had already assigned collective guilt and intended to mete out collective punishment:

That is unjust and unfair…

There are universally recognized principles of law and one of them is that the responsibility should be always personified – if some of the members of your family have committed a crime, would it be fair to hold all the members of the family liable including you? That is not how it’s done.

(Sky Sports, June 17, 2016)

Of course, as indicated above, the problem with his analogy is that he lords over a nation that functions eerily like a mob family. Therefore, it is entirely just and fair to hold all members liable for any crime any member commits in furtherance of the family’s organized crimes. In this case, those crimes relate to systematic doping (i.e. across all sports) for national glory.

Screen Shot 2016-06-18 at 4.04.12 PMThis is not a case where “one bad apple don’t spoil the whole bunch.” Instead, the doping at issue is the fruit of a poisonous tree. Put another way, it’s not just that something is rotten in the state of Russia; the state of Russia itself is rotten.

Again, unless an athlete can prove he/she has trained and been tested outside Russia for an extended period, there’s no avoiding the stigma of doping and penalty it incurs.

But Putin is too full of himself to appreciate the irony, if not hypocrisy, inherent in his eleventh-hour admonition to the IAAF. After all, this is the man who invited collective punishment upon all Russians, in the form of U.S. and EU sanctions, when he annexed Crimea.

Never mind that U.S. and EU companies have systematically undermined those sanctions by doing business in Russia. Putin made mocking, vindicating and self-satisfying reference to this fact yesterday — as he presided over the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, at which Western companies joined in an orgy of deal making totaling over $15 billion. (I presaged the porous efforts to impose sanctions against Russia in “Checkmated on Crimea, Obama Plays for Rest of Ukraine,” March 14, 2014.)

What’s more, he might have the last laugh in this context. After all, nothing would fill Russians with more national pride than Putin reclaiming Soviet-era sphere of influence over Eastern Europe; nothing would facilitate this reclamation quite like the disintegration of the EU; and nothing would trigger the disintegration of the EU quite like the “Leave” campaign winning Thursday’s Brexit referendum. But I digress….

For now, Putin says he will appeal to the International Olympic Committee (IOC), which meets in Lausanne on Tuesday to discuss the IAAF’s unprecedented ban:

I hope there’ll be an appropriate response from the International Olympic Committee.

(Reuters, June 18, 2016)

14661972700The problem, however, is that the IAAF enjoys exclusive authority to determine eligibility for international Track and Field competitions. Therefore, it would take an extraordinary usurpation of that authority for the IOC to overrule the IAAF.

Yet people can be forgiven suspicions that Putin might make the IOC an offer it can’t refuse. Not least because Russia probably bribed more IOC officials to win hosting rights for the 2014 Sochi Olympics than the number of FIFA officials Qatar bribed to win the same for the 2022 World Cup. And the infamous boondoggle Sochi turned out to be only lends credence to those suspicions. (I wrote about this in “Putin Turns $51 Billion Sochi Olympic Park into Racetrack?! October 15, 2014.)

Incidentally, this plainly venal relationship with Putin is why I suspect IOC officials are currently targets of the same kind of joint FBI-Interpol investigations that led to so many FIFA officials being arrested on a battery of corruption charges.

Meanwhile, I suspect Track and Field athletes are being punished for the sins of Russian athletes in every other sport. After all, it beggars belief to think that Russia used systemic doping to enhance the performance of these athletes, but left those in every other sport to rely on their natural abilities.

In any event, to better appreciate the significance of this IAAF ban, or the success of the doping regime it’s targeting, recall that Russia was second only to the United States in the medal count for Track and Field at the 2012 London Olympics. It clearly has a lot to lose.

Hence the spectre of saving national face, which the image-is-everything Putin is undoubtedly more interested in doing than saving any innocent athlete’s career. Except that he might have to order all Russian athletes to boycott the Rio Olympics to do so. Because bribing the IOC to overrule the IAAF would win him nothing but fool’s gold.

Stay tuned….

Related commentaries:
Russia state-sanctioned doping
Checkmated on Crimea
Putin turns Sochi

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