Monday 24 October 2016

Even Dr No might have struggled to hatch some of the ruses in the report

Swapping dirty samples for clean ones just the tip of the iceberg

Oliver Brown

Published 19/07/2016 | 02:30

Darya Klishina - seen here after winning gold in the 2013 European long jump Photo: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
Darya Klishina - seen here after winning gold in the 2013 European long jump Photo: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE

Little did the Queen realise, when she agreed to be chaperoned by Daniel Craig for her London 2012 skit, how grimly apt the James Bond theme would be.

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With all eyes trained upon the Olympic Stadium that balmy summer's evening, neither she nor any person present could have suspected that a small army of Russian scientists and bureaucrats were concocting their diabolical plan to steal away with tainted blood samples in the dead of night.

It was a heist, pure and simple, with the loot being the spirit of fair competition.

Dr Richard McLaren's full exposure of their mendacity, exercised with the full connivance of the state, has tipped this scandal into 007 territory.

Even Dr No might have struggled to hatch some of the ruses documented in McLaren's incendiary 103-page report. Positive urine samples passed through a mouse-hole in a Sochi laboratory wall, then swapped for clean ones?

Leading athletes at the London Games doped up on a cocktail of steroids and Chivas whiskey? All were products of a devious mind and a diseased soul.

This was East Germany all over again, a State Plan 14.25 for the 21st century.

There can no longer be the faintest doubt: the Russian flag must not fly in Rio this summer. Their duplicity is unbounded, their disgrace total. A cornerstone of any civilised nation's criminal law system is the presumption of innocence, but Russian athletes have just forfeited their right to it. For theirs is not the culture of a couple of doctors going rogue. It is, as McLaren demonstrates, one mired in a vast cover-up, an institutional fraud that infects every layer of the Russian chain of command.

No fewer than 580 positive tests were squirrelled away - a symptom of what McLaren calls "the disappearing positive methodology" - across 30 sports. Against that backdrop, there is not a single Russian performance at next month's Olympics that could be believed.

So, kick them to the curb. Weightlifters, wrestlers, judokas, synchronised swimmers: all must go. For the bitter truth is that we have, after four years of state-sponsored corruption on a grotesque scale, not the slightest clue who the clean Russians, if any, might be. In Rio, every race or repechage, every heat or decider involving a Russian would effectively need an asterisk beside it. This is not a shadow that the International Olympic Committee can risk casting across a Games already creaking under the weight of its own crises.

Unless there are individuals who can prove with some haste that they have undergone rigorous testing, far from the auspices of the Russian regime - Yuliya Stepanova, the original whistleblower, and long-jumper Darya Klishina being two cases in point - the ban must be a blanket one.

Their cheating was calculated to the tiniest degree. In their Sochi laboratory, an extension of an Olympic project designed purely to buttress Vladimir Putin's image, they would even add table salt and distilled water to the supposedly clean samples to make them appear legitimate.

It was a plot years in the making, ever since the edict went out to rectify Russia's "very abysmal" medal count of 15 at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

In response, they ensured that they would hold the gold medal for cheating in perpetuity.

Ben Johnson, Marion Jones, Lance Armstrong? As reprehensible as these sinners were, their crimes seem mere pinpricks on the dark and sprawling canvas of Russian malfeasance. The echoes of the East Germans, who administered drugs in such huge quantities to their Olympic prospects that one, shot-putter Heidi Krieger, had to change sex as a consequence, are eerie. Both the German Democratic Republic of Erich Honeker and the more bellicose Russia of Putin prioritise not rigid central control but an iron grip over the young and impressionable. If you are told that your only chance of success can come through the concoction of drugs put in front of you, do you really dare refuse? It is the essence of dictatorship.

Even some of the substances stayed the same. Where the GDR became infamous for its little turquoise pills of Oral-Turinabol, a performance-enhancing anabolic steroid, re-tests found metabolites of the same drug in the samples of eight Russians who competed in London in 2012.

There is no plausible Russian defence for how profoundly they have polluted the sporting well. Putin's verdict last night on the McLaren findings, arguing that "we are seeing politics interfering with sport", verged on parody given that this is precisely what Russia stands accused of: namely, the hijacking of sport via the apparatus of the state. And we can forget, for good, the weaselly excuses of Vitaly Mutko, the Russian sports minister, who painted the doping investigation as a Western conspiracy, before McLaren declared yesterday that it was "inconceivable" he could not have known about the manipulations carried out under his nose.

The imperative now is for the International Olympic Committee to take the course that McLaren implicitly mandates, by turfing Russia out of Rio.

Thomas Bach, the IOC president, is a lawyer and a former Olympian himself, having fenced for Germany in Montreal in 1976, so can have no misunderstandings about the weight of responsibility that rests on his desk this morning.

It will be far from an easy decision for Bach to make, as he has shown at times, to put it kindly, a lack of curiosity about the extent of Russia's scheming. As recently as February, when approached by reporters about the issue at the Winter Youth Games in Lillehammer, he snapped: "I don't know what you want to create here."

He has frequented many a banquet with Putin, whose £35bn splurge in Sochi was rather useful to the IOC's coffers, and appointed Alexander Zhukov, the head of Russia's Olympic Committee, to his evaluation commission for Beijing 2022.

Bach has a record of cosying up a touch too closely to Russia, but he cannot be blind to the necessity to act. For this is the call that will define his presidency. He is desperate, naturally, not to harm innocent athletes, but on this score he is damned if he does and damned if he does not.

A ban on Russia would hurt those who happen to be clean, but it is far graver, surely, to let in a country whose entire philosophy and modus operandi are built on a lie, thus betraying thousands of Olympians who have played fair to reach their moment in the sun.

While the IOC is terrified of a return to the age of boycotts, the answer on Russia is clear. Their ultimate crime requires nothing less than the ultimate punishment. Throw them out, one and all.

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