Saturday 16 December 2017

Ban them from Rio, then take World Cup away too

Canadian law professor Richard McLaren at yesterday's press conference Photo: Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP
Canadian law professor Richard McLaren at yesterday's press conference Photo: Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP

Ian Herbert

For a real sense of how tooled-up Russian thugs beat almighty hell out British football supporters in the name of national pride at Marseilles, four weeks ago, speak to the senior British police who have just finished piecing together video footage of the attack.

The forensic investigations had revealed how one of the English on the receiving end was sitting quietly with friends - no flag of St George; no chanting about the England football team - when he saw the Russians arriving, got up from his seat and made to leave.

The man had his feet kicked from underneath him and, prostrate on the pavement, was then put into a coma by repeated kicking to the head by about five Russians. This was the attack that Vladimir Putin later joked about. "I don't know how 200 Russian fans managed to crush several thousand English," he said to applause, at an economic forum in St Petersburg a few days after the attack.

Welcome to the twisted twilight world of Russia: a place where the desperate, perverted strivings for national honour have plunged to such decrepitude that the intelligence services worked through the night to manipulate urine samples of doped Winter Olympics competitors - just so that the country to improve on its pathetically poor showing at the 2010 Vancouver Games.

It is an eagerness to cheat across all platforms that has now been revealed: the feeding of a three-drug cocktail of banned substances, mixed with liquor, to at least 14 cross-country skiers, bobsledders, runners, jumpers, throwers, footballers - a practice subsequently obscured with the help of those same old friends from the Russian intelligence services.

The story of those officers' night-time work in a shadow laboratory - lit by a single lamp, breaking into supposedly tamper-proof bottles and passing replacements with clean urine through a hand-size hole in the wall, to be ready for testing the next day - is the most chilling illustration yet of Russia's state-sponsored cheating corruption.

A modicum of appreciation of owed to Grigory Rodchenkov, director of that laboratory, for bringing this information to the wider world. Yet there is still something extremely discomfiting about him being the one who has helped throw daylight across Russia's twilight cheating and criminality. Only after Rodchenkov had been forced to resign by Russian officials - amid the national humiliation of the World Anti-Doping Agency's excoriating report into the Russian track and field cheats last November - did he turn informer. That still makes Rodchenkov no less than a cheat of ghastly proportions.


He left Russia for the west coast of the United States in fear of his life and we now know he was wise to do so. Two of his close colleagues from Russia's co-called 'anti-doping' agency Rusada - Nikita Kamayev and Vyacheslav Sinev - died unexpectedly within weeks of each other in February.

Kamayev apparently had a heart attack at home after feeling chest pain while cross-country skiing. This is what any Russian predisposed to describe that cocktails of drugs is up against.

Such is the world of Russian 'sport'- a space stalked by criminality, threats, death. And yet it is a place that sport continues to legitimise in so many ways. The Olympic movement awarded Russia the Sochi Games after football's FIFA had handed over the keys to the 2018 World Cup, thus presenting Putin with another chance to swagger. It is increasingly the dictatorships and autocracies who buy up these events, because they need fear no tide of opposition to millions being ploughed into such forms of self-aggrandisement, rather than to the millions of impoverished.

So insipid and half-hearted is the resolve to bring change that when an IAAF report revealed last month that Russia was 18 to 24 months off full compliance in drug testing, Sebastian Coe's organisation still saw fit to allow some of Putin's track and field athletes access to Rio by a back-door appeal process.

So, let that loophole be closed. And then let every single prospective Russian competitor at Rio be excluded. Because only when they all of them - the complicit and the innocent - are made to feel what it is to be a pariah might a wellspring of revulsion take hold among athletes when the dopers arrive with their little bags of cocktails and their promise of medals.

And then let the wider sport world come together to broaden Russia's exclusion, too. Would football award North Korea or Zimbabwe a World Cup? So why, then, are we allowing a nation up to its neck in state-sponsored cheating to stage football's elite event, a mere two years from now. Only when the exclusion from the sporting realm is absolute - encompassing Olympics, World Championships, World Cups - might Russia and Putin begin to see that sport's sanctity is non-negotiable; towering above them and their wretched, violent, Narcissistic vanity.

Irish Independent

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