Tuesday 6 December 2016

Paul Hayward: The white flag of capitulation flies over Olympic body

Paul Hayward

Published 25/07/2016 | 02:30

The Olympic flag and Russian flag. Photo: Paul Gilham/Getty Images
The Olympic flag and Russian flag. Photo: Paul Gilham/Getty Images

They were searching for a way not to throw Russia out of the Olympics - and they found one, dumping the decision on the individual sports and banning a Russian whistleblower while also inviting her to Rio as a special guest.

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The white flag of capitulation flies over the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

Russia's deep political reach should have told us this would happen. The buddy-act between Vladimir Putin and the IOC president, Thomas Bach, is indicative of a much greater distortion in world sport, which the Russians have used to their advantage. External pressure to do with global politics and sport's utter subservience to money were always going to shape the IOC's thinking when it came to the era-defining decision on whether to cast Russia out.

In the end they came up with a feeble compromise, dropping moral responsibility from a great height on individual federations, who have 12 days to run through the legal minefield of considering each Russian case.

Many will lack the staff, back-up and resolve to deal with this legal landslide before the Rio opening ceremony.

Hiding behind the right of individual athletes not to be lumbered with collective responsibility for a state-sponsored doping programme, the IOC wants us to believe it has defended due process against the mob.

It has done nothing of the sort - and the clue is Yuliya Stepanova, who turned whistleblower on doping in Russian track and field but has been told she cannot compete in Rio, unlike dozens of other cheats, who will hope that international federations run out of time to decide their fate properly.

There is some truth in the assertion that the Canadian lawyer Richard McLaren's explosive report on systematic Russian doping has not been tested in court. It is a report rather than a court conviction. But this is not why the IOC delivered the monumental hospital pass of giving 27 federations less than a fortnight to sprint through complex individual cases, many of which could be subject to challenge by Russian athletes.

The real reason is that the IOC backed away from Russian power and influence, and took a gamble on the global audience not backing away in disgust. Again, Russia is not the only country where doping is widespread.

It is, however, the only nation we know of where ministers, administrators, secret agents, athletes and coaches have conspired to defraud sport on a scale that makes the East German model of the 1970s look miniscule.

"State sponsored" is the element that moves a doping scandal to a different level; one where a whole country becomes complicit and therefore ineligible to compete. With its disingenuous emphasis on individual rights, the IOC hoped we would forget that Russian cheating appears to be a political policy, like road building or defence.

The contradictions are legion. Arbitrarily, the IOC has banned Russian athletes who have served a doping ban, "even if he or she has served a sanction", but will allow convicted cheats from other countries to line up.

Imagine the Russian indignation if Justin Gatlin, say, were to win the 100m.

How does Bach think he could defend such a random ruling against legal challenge from a Russian athlete who returned from a doping ban five years ago?

The whole judgment has the look of cop-out designed by people with only one real aim in mind: to keep Russia in the opening ceremony at Rio, and avoid a confrontation with Putin, whose implied threats and cosying up to Bach have now paid dividends.

There is carrot as well as stick with Putin, whose country is a major backer of global events and increased its financial contributions to the World Anti-Doping Agency around the time the whistles started blowing.

Wada's slowness to act on the early allegations helped compress the time frame in which the weekend's dubious judgments were made.

In this double-think world, the IOC refuses to let a whistleblower compete but would "like to express its appreciation for Mrs Stepanova's contribution to the fight against doping and the integrity of sport".

Meanwhile, it opens the door to probable cheats in Russia's 387-strong team who pass through the hurried sifting by the individual federations. This is a colossal failure of governance and lends further weight to the belief that world governing bodies are now detached from their obligation to govern and cannot (or will not) control the vast deal-making industries of which they are part.

They are deluding themselves if they think public trust can withstand any scandal. The bond between spectator and spectacle is further weakened by this abrogation of duty. Often the cry will go up in Rio, louder than ever: "what are we watching, what kind of fraud of this?".

(© Daily Telegraph, London)

Telegraph.co.uk

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