It’s a sad day for clean sport, sport officials, athletes say – USA TODAY
Thomas Bach asserted, reiterated and repeated that, yes, indeed, the International Olympic Committeeâs decision not to ban Russia from the Rio Olympics was in the interest of clean sport. In delegating the decisions about the eligibility of athletes in a state-sponsored doping program, the IOC was respecting the rights of clean athletes.
Few were buying it, though.
While the IOC president hailed the decision, athletes, anti-doping and sport officials derided it, calling it a sad day for clean sport. Russian athletes will compete in Rio, though how many will be determined through a chaotic process played out in 27 international federations over the next 12 days.
Theyâll do so despite revelations over the past three years and in three reports released by the World Anti-Doping Agency in the past nine months that have shown widespread doping of athletes, a subversion of the anti-doping system and the cover-up of positive tests extending to the highest levels of Russian sport.
âItâs pretty disheartening to know I dedicated my life to sport and for me in particular to clean sport,â said Lauryn Williams, a four-time Olympian and two-time medalist in track and field. âAnd it seems like itâs all in vain. I am the person at end of day who has to rest my head on the pillow and say, `I competed clean.â But to know I have no one fighting for me is disheartening.â
Widespread calls for a full-scale ban went ignored, prompting strong and swift criticism of the IOCâs decision.
Rather than ban the country, the IOC left it to the international federations to decide which athletes met the criteria for eligibility for the Games, which begin on Aug. 5. Those decisions must also be reviewed by an expert from the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
It was hardly consolation for those who saw the decision as unable to guarantee Russian athletes lining up in Rio werenât part of the doping system and a stunning lack of consequences for the biggest state-sponsored doping program sport has seen since East Germany.
âThe IOC Executive Committee has failed to confront forcefully the findings of evidence of state-sponsored doping in Russia corrupting the Russian sport system,â said Joseph de Pencier, CEO of the Institute of National Anti-Doping Organizations (iNADO), which had called for a total ban of the country. âAll this is hardly the unequivocal protection of fair play as a fundamental principle of Olympism that the circumstances required. So it is a sad day for clean sport.â
Part of that sadness comes from circumstances many believe to be avoidable in which the IOC was considering such a decision less than two weeks from the Olympics.
Vitaly Stepanov, a former employee of the Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA), first contacted WADA about Russian doping in 2010. Two years later, discus thrower Darya Pishchalnikova contacted the agency to say she had taken banned substances at the direction of Russian officials and had information about the state-sponsored system, the New York Times reported.
In 2013, the Daily Mail in Britain detailed issues with doping in Russian athletics and with the now-discredited Moscow lab. That same year, 800-meter runner Yuliya Stepanova began collecting evidence to help her husbandâs efforts of providing information to WADA.
Frustrated with a lack of progress, they took their evidence to German broadcaster ARD, which aired a documentary in late 2014.
It wasnât until early 2015 that WADA launched an independent commission led by Canadian Dick Pound to investigate the allegations. WADA has said it was limited by its own code, which did not explicitly authorize such investigations until that year.
âEven if you have a good set of tools and regulations, leadership matters. The moral compass of the leaders was tested today and found to be wanting,â said Max Cobb, CEO of US Biathlon. âToday is the conclusion of a long path of decisions which were made and largely protected the Russians as much as was possible by the IOC and WADA.â
The independent commission released its first report in November, detailing widespread doping in Russian athletics. Of all the actions that followed â RUSADA and the Moscow lab were declared non-compliant with the WADA code, and the track and field team was banned from international competition â further investigation was not one, despite calls from several athlete advisory groups to do so based on suggestions in the report of a larger problem.
WADA commissioned an investigation led by Richard McLaren in May after 60 Minutes and the New York Times reported allegations from Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov, the former director of the Moscow lab, of the doping of Russian athletes at the Sochi Olympics and the cover-up of it by swapping out dirty urine for clean urine.
Those allegations were confirmed in the McLaren report released last week, along with a system of covering up positive tests that ran for approximately four years, covered 29 Olympic sports and was run by officials from the Ministry of Sport, Center of Sports Preparation of the National Teams of Russia (CSP), Federal Security Service (FSB) and the Moscow and Sochi labs.
âThatâs what youâve seen every step along the way is the kicking of the responsibility because no one truly wants to address the situation,â said Steve Magness, a track coach and whistleblower who alleged doping by athletes and coaches in the Oregon Project. âI think in terms of the agencies and the governing bodies, what weâve learned is they donât want to or theyâre not apt and able to fulfill the demands that weâve placed on them. We canât have confidence in the IOC, the WADAs of the world to do what theyâve been given instructions to do.
âThe message is sent that this isnât a fair system. Youâre not competing on a clean, level playing field. And thereâs no one in charge who you can have the faith in to be looking out for your back as a clean athlete.â
Bach, of course, disagrees. On a conference call with reporters Sunday, he said the decision âis respecting the right of all the clean athletes all over the world.â
That decision leaves the international federations with less than a fortnight to make determinations many think could have been handled months ago or should have been handled by the IOC.
âThis is a very ambitious timeline, but we had no choice,â said Bach.
The IOC did have a choice on whether Stepanova could compete in Rio, and it opted not to allow her entry. Any Russian athlete who had been sanctioned for doping will be barred from competing, a decision that contradicts a previous CAS ruling.
Bach asserted that rather than sending a bad message to whistleblowers, the IOCâs decision will encourage them. Many disagreed.
âMs. Stepanova was instrumental in courageously exposing the single biggest doping scandal of all time,â said WADA director general Olivier Niggli. âWADA is very concerned by the message that this sends whistleblowers for the future.â
To many, the decision highlighted the inherent conflicts when sport polices itself. The handling of the Russian case has found policies to be lacking â neither the WADA code nor Olympic charter address state-sponsored doping although there is precedent â but more than that, many question the willpower of officials who often have conflicts of interest.
âCertainly, the lack of will and determination to root out this problem has led to this totally unsatisfactory result for clean athletes,â said Travis Tygart, CEO of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency. âThere were numerous junctures going back to when the whistleblowers first came forward where clear decisions for the good of clean athletes, not for politics, would have resulted in a better outcome.â
Now, no matter the quality of the work by international federations to ensure Russians in Rio were not part of the system, a cloud will hang over these Games. Whether one or all of the athletes Russia planned to enter makes it there, skepticism will follow their results.
âFor this to have gone on for so long and to have had so many missteps, itâs really discouraging,â said Williams. âI just hope the athletes who step to the line in Rio wonât have to wonder about their place. Am I really fourth place? Am I really a bronze medalist?
âWeâve already missed a lot of moments. Itâs not fair to miss your moment because another athlete is up there on the podium who shouldnât be.â
Regardless of the IOCâs decision, itâs likely the Olympics will not be clean. They never are, as retesting from Beijing and London have revealed nearly 100 positive drug tests.
And the current anti-doping system has improved policing of sport in the past 15 years.
Yet athletes were looking for more in the decision, for the IOC to issue meaningful sanctions and back up its claims of zero tolerance for doping. For the most part, they were disappointed in the IOCâs message to clean sport â no matter what Bach insisted.
Contributing: Nancy Armour