Sunday 18 March 2018

Olympic integrity in tatters as IOC under fire for pulling punches on Russia

Bach, the former Olympic fencing champion, has been branded Russian president Vladimir Putin’s “poodle” in his native Germany. Photo: AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic
Bach, the former Olympic fencing champion, has been branded Russian president Vladimir Putin’s “poodle” in his native Germany. Photo: AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic

Ben Rumsby

The integrity of the 2016 Olympics lay in tatters last night after more than two-thirds of Russia's team were cleared to compete by the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

The IOC and the World Anti-Doping Agency were condemned over their handling of sport's worst drugs scandal, one which threatened to ruin the Rio Games ahead of tonight's opening ceremony.

In that ceremony hundreds of Russian athletes could march behind the country's flag, making a complete mockery of the IOC's promise to impose the "toughest sanctions available" on the rogue nation after it was found guilty of state-sponsored doping and a corresponding cover-up on a staggering scale.

A final count was expected last night but the head of Russia's Olympic Committee said 271 of what had originally been a 387-strong delegation had already been given the all clear, with more to follow.

That would mean bans having been imposed on only around 50 of the country's athletes - in addition to the 67 track and field competitors already denied entry - far fewer than the IOC had been expecting when it refused to throw the entire Russian team out of the Games.

British double Olympic rowing champion Pete Reed, who will compete in the men's eight, said: "I think the IOC were weak not to make the right decision, which I think was to ban Russia from the Olympics.

"There will be kids who are watching the Olympics and if they are thinking, 'Are they, aren't they [doping]? Is this real?' then what are we?"

The crisis intensified yesterday when the man whose investigation exposed Russia's Kremlin-sanctioned doping programme accused the IOC of twisting his findings.

Canadian law professor Richard McLaren, whose report into the scandal was published less than three weeks before the Rio Games, told the Australian: "My reporting on the state-based system has turned into a pursuit of individual athletes." McLaren also claimed to have had no contact from the IOC since the publication of his report, adding that he had consulted closely with the International Paralympic Committee, which has already provisionally suspended Russia.

It was not just the IOC under attack last night, with the beleaguered president of Wada, Craig Reedie, accused of blocking efforts to expose Russian doping by his own former chief investigator.

Jack Robertson, sacked for leaking a previous report into the scandal, claimed IOC vice-president Reedie preferred to settle matters privately with the country's officials.

A furious Reedie, who had himself called for a blanket ban on Russia, last night branded Robertson's allegations "nonsense".

"I categorically and totally reject the accusations, which have come from - clearly - a disaffected former employee," Britain's most senior sports official said.

IOC president Thomas Bach was also forced to defend himself again yesterday after it became clear how many Russians would be competing in Rio. A three-strong panel of IOC executive board members made the final call on who was eligible and who was not based on submissions made by international federations.

Those federations had been ordered by the IOC to expel anyone implicated in the McLaren report with having had a positive drugs test covered up in a urine-swapping scheme orchestrated by the Russian state.

They were also ordered to exclude any Russians who had been sanctioned for a doping offence following a deal struck between the IOC and the country's Olympic committee, which had been desperate to escape a blanket ban.

At a packed pre-Game press conference, Bach said the decision on whether or not to throw the entire country out of the Games had been "difficult" but he insisted he had applied the principles of "natural justice".

"When you take such a difficult decision, you have to weigh the arguments on all sides and ponder them," said the former Olympic fencing champion, who has been branded Russian president Vladimir Putin's "poodle" in his native Germany.

Bach, who declared he had a "clean conscience", added: "In the end, you have to bring it down to one point, one guiding principle, and for me it was: would I be able to look into the eyes of athletes?

"During my many, many visits to the Olympic Village I have been looking into the eyes of many athletes. In such a difficult situation, you are never going to get 100 pc agreement - there's no way with so many different arguments and so much passion - but we don't have all the facts yet.

"I respect every athlete who may feel disappointed, who may have another opinion, but I can look straight forward into their eyes."

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