Sport Soccer

Wednesday 21 August 2019

Gold medal for breathtaking cynicism

Former International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) president Lamine Diack
Former International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) president Lamine Diack
Eamonn Sweeney

Eamonn Sweeney

What a difference a week makes. This time last week the Russian doping scandal seemed like one of those seismic stories with the ability to rock a sport to its foundations. Not only were the Russians apparently guilty of operating a state-sponsored doping programme, their anti-doping officials were extorting money from athletes to cover up positive drug tests and they had allegedly bribed the IAAF president Lamine Diack to help them get away with it all.

There was even talk of the Russians being excluded from the Rio Olympics, and also some odd talk about a 1984 Olympics-style boycott if this happened, presumably from people who haven't noticed that Russia doesn't actually rule many foreign countries these days. Who was going to pull out along with them? The Crimea? Chelsea? Meanwhile, the Russian government came out with the expected defence that this was all a Western conspiracy.

It looked like there was no way back for the Russians. After such knowledge, what forgiveness?

But this week things look a bit different. Yes, the IAAF have voted to suspend Russia but their approach can be summed up by this comment by an IAAF spokesman: "Everyone within the IAAF will work tirelessly with authorities in Russia on the reinstatement of the All-Russia Athletics Federation as soon as possible as this is the best outcome for the athletes. This is the first and only priority right now for the IAAF and for Russia."

The mind boggles. The 'first and only priority' is to get the Russians back within the fold, a process Vadim Zelchenok, the acting president of ARAF, says should take "two or three months". Zelchenok may be a bit optimistic there as the IAAF have said they won't make a decision on reinstatement until after the World Indoor Championships in March. That's when a five-man inspection team will report back to the IAAF on whether the Russians are now 'compliant'. Never mind what happened in the past, if the Russians punish the officials and athletes involved in doping then everything will apparently be tickety-boo and they can start again with a clean slate. Result.

Despite attempts to portray Russia's probable exclusion from the world indoors as some kind of humiliation, the fact is that, considering what we've learned about a doping programme which, given the involvement of state security services, must have been sanctioned at the top level, this is lamentably weak stuff. The inspection team is already under pressure by knowing the priority is returning Russia to international competition.

International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach seems disposed to find Russia innocent before the inspection even begins. "I welcome the fact that the Russian Olympic Committee expressed its commitment to protect the clean athletes and to sanction all the doped athletes and officials. We are confident that the initiatives being proposed by the ROC, with the responsible international organisations, WADA and the IAAF, will ensure compliance as soon as possible in order to provide participation of the clean Russian athletes at the Olympic games."

Given that the most eye-catching part of the World Anti-Doping Authority report which sparked the current crisis was the fact that the Russians had "sabotaged" the last Olympics by the systematic nature of their doping programme, Mr Bach's faith is touching.

There's not a word from the Russians about Western plots now. Both Vladimir Putin and his sports minister Vitaly Mutko are now talking about the need to tackle doping, something they also feel can be done in a couple of months or so. Expect lots of suspensions for athletes and officials who are expendable in these matters. And nothing else being said about Russia's role in the whole thing. The cynicism is breathtaking.

The great American 400m hurdler Ed Moses sounded a note of decency rare in this saga when he told WADA's board meeting in Colorado Springs on Wednesday that "the only sanction is to say that enough is enough. It is to state loudly and clearly that the Russian athletics team cannot go to Rio. I had many close friends who had irreplaceable moments stolen from them. My hope is that there is not another generation of athletes who have their dreams stolen from them."

Most normal people would agree with him but at the top level of the IAAF it seems that the needs of a Vladimir Putin will always trump those of an Ed Moses. Who cares what Ed thinks? He was only a runner.

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