Sunday 18 March 2018

'I'm all for it' - Usain Bolt backs decision to ban the Russian athletics team from Rio

Usain Bolt
Usain Bolt

Matt Slater

Usain Bolt has given a "thumbs up" to the decision to ban the Russian athletics team from the Rio Olympics because of widespread doping.

The IAAF, world athletics' governing body, banned the Russian team last month and today that decision was rubber-stamped by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).

The Swiss-based body rejected an appeal against the hard-line IAAF stance by the Russian Olympic Committee and 68 individual athletes.

Speaking ahead of Friday's Muller Anniversary Games in London, the 29-year-old Bolt said the situation was "sad" but the decision would send a powerful message about clean sport.

"For me, if you have the proof and you catch somebody, I definitely feel you should take action," Jamaica's six-time Olympic sprint champion said.

"If you feel like banning the whole team is the right action, then I'm all for it.

"Rules are rules and doping violations in track and field (are) getting really bad, so if you feel like you need to make a statement, and this is how you feel like you need to make a statement, then thumbs up."

But the view from Russia is very different.

Double Olympic pole vault champion Yelena Isinbayeva told the TASS news agency that the verdict was "the funeral of track and field" and dismissed it as politically motivated.

Earlier this week, a second major WADA-funded investigation revealed that Russia's doping was run by the Ministry of Sport, facilitated by the secret service and anti-doping set-up and encompassed almost every Olympic and Paralympic discipline.

Official Russian reaction to the CAS decision has been defiant, with President Vladimir Putin's spokesman telling TASS it was "hardly acceptable" and Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko calling it "biased and politicised".

But the big question now is whether the ruling from sport's highest court will persuade the International Olympic Committee and International Paralympic Committee to issue a blanket ban for the entire Russian delegation in Rio.

That is what a coalition of anti-doping agencies and athletes' groups have been calling for but the IOC said on Tuesday it needed more time to consider its options.

Its executive board is holding its second emergency meeting of the week on Sunday and has promised to make a final decision about a complete ban for the Russian team by Wednesday.

The IPC's board is meeting tomorrow and is understood to be less reluctant than the IOC to consider such a radical and unprecedented step as throwing an entire country out for doping.

In the meantime, the federations that govern sports in the Olympic summer programme are meeting today to discuss their response to the crisis, with several believed to be on the verge of following the IAAF's lead in banning their Russian member association.

When asked if it was important for sport to send clear messages on the consequences of cheating, Bolt said: "I always feel like it's a good message to show that if you cheat or you go against the rules then we're going to take serious action.

"This will scare a lot of people or send a strong message that the sport is serious about cleaning up."

Other leading sportsmen agree with Bolt that the CAS verdict was the right call for sport in general.

Four-time Olympic rowing champion Sir Matthew Pinsent said the decision should give the IOC and sports federations "firm legal ground" to act.

But the 45-year-old Englishman posed the question on everybody's lips, what action will the IOC decide to take?

Speaking at the launch of his documentary about South African swimmer Chad le Clos, 'Unbelievable', Pinsent said: "I hope they'll take courage from the fact there will not be a legal comeback to these decisions.

"You have an open choice now."

He added that his sport, rowing, needed to get the names of those Russian rowers who had positive tests covered up from Richard McLaren, the author of the second WADA-commissioned report, and "strike out" any of them who are heading to Rio, although he acknowledged that could cause problems for the competition as late call-ups might be impossible.

On the subject of whether the IOC would issue a blanket ban for entire team, Pinsent, who chaired the IOC's athletes commission between 2001-04, said it had got to the point "where any other option will be a nonsense".

"It's just awful," he added.

"The only glimmer with these doping things is that it's better that you caught them.

"Same with Lance Armstrong, even if you can't unpick who did win those Tours.

"It's better in the fullness of time that you know it wasn't right because the Olympics is still a magical thing."

Press Association

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