Outrage as IOC rules out banning Russia from Rio
The credibility of the Rio Olympics was in tatters last night after the International Olympic Committee ruled against kicking Russia out despite the country leading one of the most sophisticated doping regimes in sports history.
Rather than banning the entire Russian team from Rio, the IOC has handed responsibility to the international federations that govern each sport, prompting accusations around the world that it had "bottled" the decision and attempted to wipe its hands of the problem.
The ruling means Russia's fate will now be dealt with on a sport-by-sport basis, with the country's sport minister expecting "the majority" of its 387-strong team to line up in Rio in less than two weeks.
The IOC's decision sparked anger throughout the sporting world with Dick Pound, the former World Anti-Doping Agency president, whose report first exposed Russia's doping programme, saying the decision had exposed the IOC's "zero tolerance for doping, unless it's Russia".
Wada was one of more than a dozen anti-doping organisations to call for a blanket ban in the wake of a report that exposed a government-led Russian doping programme across more than 30 sports between 2011 and 2015.
A number of leading British Olympians condemned the IOC's ruling. Six-time Olympic champion Chris Hoy asked: "What sort of message does this send out? Surely IOC's job is to make crucial decisions rather than passing the buck."
Four-time Olympic rowing champion Matthew Pinsent accused the IOC of a "cop-out" while former heptathlete Kelly Sotherton said Rio 2016 would be "remembered in history for the bottling of the IOC".
The IOC insisted that it has set out "very strict criteria" that every Russian athlete must fulfil if they are to qualify to compete in Rio.
No Russian who has been sanctioned for a doping violation will be allowed to take part - despite no other countries having to adhere to such a rule - while those wishing to be eligible must prove they have been subject to "reliable adequate international [anti-doping] tests" and open to a "rigorous additional out-of-competition testing programme".
Although he acknowledged that the decision "may not please everybody", Thomas Bach, the IOC president, explained: "We had to balance collective responsibility as a concept with individual justice that every human being and every athlete is entitled to. We have set the bar to the limit by establishing a number of very strict criteria which every Russian athlete will have to fulfil if he or she wants to participate in the Rio Olympics."
Asked if he would be happy to compete against Russians in Rio, Bach, an Olympic fencing champion for Germany, said he would feel "absolutely comfortable" to do so.
"An athlete should not suffer and be sanctioned for a system in which he was not implicated and where he can show that he was not implicated," he argued. "It is about the individual athlete. This is what we have to consider. It's fine to talk about collective responsibility and banning everybody but at the end of the day we have to be able to look in the eyes of the individual athletes concerned by this decision. I am really convinced of this decision and fine with it."
The onus is now on federations to move swiftly and conduct the "individual analysis" of every Russian's anti-doping records that the IOC has requested.
The International Tennis Federation became the first governing body to act, clearing all eight Russian tennis players to compete. Other sports, including gymnastics, judo, triathlon and fencing, are likely to be sympathetic to the Russian cause, while weightlifting, in which a number of Russians have failed tests, may act more harshly. The ban imposed on Russia's track and field athletes remains in place.
Questioning whether there was enough time for federations to make their decisions with rigour, Travis Tygart, the US Anti-Doping Agency chief executive, hit out at the IOC's "disappointing" decision. "The IOC has refused to take decisive leadership," he said. "The decision regarding Russian participation and the confusing mess left in its wake is a significant blow to the rights of clean athletes.
"The IOC has stated before that they believe anti-doping should be wholly independent and that is in part why it is so frustrating that in this incredibly important moment they would pass the baton to sports federations who may lack the adequate expertise or collective will to address the situation within the short window prior to the Games. The conflict of interest is glaring."
Yesterday's ruling was greeted with joy in Russia, whose sports minister Vitaly Mutko, who is alleged to have been complicit in his country's doping programme, urged each sport to "very promptly confirm" the right of his nation's athletes to compete in the Games.
"I am absolutely sure that the majority of the Russian team will meet the criteria," he said. (© Daily Telegraph, London)
The key questions
Q. What decision did the IOC make?
A. The IOC decided not to implement a blanket ban on Russia at the Rio Olympics. Instead, it will be up to individual federations to decide on a sport-by-sport basis. The IOC says it has set out “very strict criteria” for every Russian if they are to qualify. They include never having been sanctioned for a doping violation, previously submitting to “reliable adequate international tests” and subjecting themselves to a “rigorous additional out-of-competition testing programme”.
Q. How many Russians will be allowed to compete?
A. This is the big unknown. While 117 Russian weightlifters provided positive drugs tests between 2012 and 2015, there is no evidence of a single Russian gymnast doing likewise. So we could see one sport with a full team of Russians and another with none at all.
Q. When will we know how big the Russian team will be?
A. Again, no one really knows. Every federation will meet in the next few days and make as quick a decision as possible. The IOC requires them to carry out an “individual analysis” of every Russian athlete’s anti-doping record, but the time-frame available puts such lengthy analysis in doubt. Once a decision is made, it will be put to an expert from the Court of Arbitration for Sport for verification.
Q. Does the IOC decision apply to athletics?
A. In short: no. The Russian athletics team were banned by IAAF last November. The two exemptions were Florida-based long jumper Darya Klishina and doper-turned-whistleblower 800m runner Yuliya Stepanova, who the IAAF recommended to compete as “neutral athletes”. The IOC has ruled that Stepanova cannot compete because of her previous doping ban, while it has also ruled out the presence of any “neutral athletes” in Rio. What that means for Klishina is unknown.
Q. What problems could the IOC encounter?
A. Aside from the almost unmanageable time-frame, the IOC could also see some of its judgment challenged on legal grounds. There are also serious concerns over how rigorous international federations will be in their analysis of every Russian athlete competing at the games. (© Daily Telegraph, London)