Friday 9 December 2016

'We cannot speculate' on Russian Olympic ban - IOC president Thomas Bach

Matt Slater

Published 18/05/2016 | 14:01

The Olympic flag flies next to the Russian flag
The Olympic flag flies next to the Russian flag

International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach has refused to speculate on Russia's chances of being thrown out of the Rio Olympics completely.

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Bach, a former Olympic fencing champion, said Russia's Rio chances hinged on the issue of individual versus collective responsibility and will depend on what facts a new World Anti-Doping Agency investigation unearths.

The Russian track and field team is already suspended from global competition after last year's incendiary report from WADA's independent investigation into doping within athletics.

A decision on whether to reinstate them or not will be announced by Lord Coe, the president of International Association of Athletics Federations, on June 17 but calls are growing to exclude all Russian Olympians from the Games.

The initial WADA investigation hinted at problems beyond athletics but its remit was limited to that sport.

Since then, allegations have emerged of systematic cheating throughout Russian sport and last week US media outlets reported shocking details of state-sponsored doping at the 2014 Winter Olympics, which were staged in Sochi on Russia's Black Sea coast.

On Tuesday, the IOC announced it had asked WADA to start a "fully-fledged investigation" into these claims and WADA promptly announced it was putting Mathieu Holz, a former Interpol agent and major in the French Gendarmerie, in charge.

But the 62-year-old Bach, a trained lawyer, would not be drawn on possible sanctions for Russia during a 30-minute conference call with international journalists on Wednesday.

"We cannot speculate on what the decision will be, we have to take it based on the facts of individual justice versus collective responsibility," he said.

"(Any sanction) for a wider community depends on the degree of involvement of such a community.

"If the allegations are true, we'll apply zero tolerance, but we'll make decisions based on facts."

Bach earlier wrote, in an editorial carried by both the Daily Telegraph and USA Today: "We would have to consider whether in such 'contaminated' federations, the presumption of innocence for athletes could still be applied, whether the burden of proof could be reversed."

News of a fresh WADA investigation into Russian doping was followed by reports that the US Department of Justice will start its own investigation, looking for evidence that American athletes were defrauded or that offences took place on US soil or were facilitated by its financial system.

Bach said he knew nothing about this investigation.

He also could not offer any further information about how long the WADA inquiry would take and could only repeat his message that athletes and their entourages caught cheating could face life bans, with financial penalties and suspensions possible for individual governing bodies.

The 62-year-old German, however, did try to reassure clean athletes that the comprehensive programme of retesting samples from the 2008 and 2012 Games, which the IOC announced on Tuesday, would keep cheats out of Rio.

Bach said the 454 samples that have been retested from Beijing and the 250 samples that are currently being retested from London are "part of the effort to protect clean athletes and the integrity of the Olympic competition in Rio".

He explained that the process started in August with an intelligence-gathering exercise to target certain athletes and sports, with the retesting done in March.

The IOC's medical and science director Dr Richard Budgett added that the first adverse analytical findings, or formal notices of positive tests, will be issued in early June, with 31 athletes from 12 countries set to be banned.

Budgett said the testers were not looking for a newly discovered drug but the detection methods are now more sensitive than they were in 2008, particularly for the use of steroids and blood-boosting drugs such as EPO.

Sadly, it is unlikely the legal wheels will move fast enough for athletes to receive reallocated medals in Rio, as Bach said any athlete getting a medal will also have to go through retesting.

Both Bach and Budgett said it was probably too soon to start using the gene-doping detection methods recently developed in Australia, as they remained unverified by WADA, but they could be used in the future to retest samples.

On the other various issues facing the Olympic movement at the moment, Bach gave little away.

He said he had been reassured by interim Brazilian president Michel Temer that Rio would be ready to stage a Games that would be a "success for Brazil and the entire Olympic movement".

And he said the IOC had been in regular contact with the authorities in Japan and France with regard to the French investigation into claims that the successful Tokyo bidding committee for the 2020 Games paid a bribe to former IAAF president Lamine Diack via a Singaporean holding company.

Press Association

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