On the face of it Richard McLaren’s report which has revealed rampant state-run doping by the Russians requires the strongest possible action which means an immediate blanket ban of that country’s athletes from the Rio Olympics as has been demanded by the World Anti-Doping Agency and other groups. It’s not as if these are wild accusations without any foundation or that Russian athletes are strangers to doping allegations.
The report was requested by WADA and what appears to be a very thorough investigation was carried out by lawyer McLaren and his team. Doping and sport have, sadly, formed a relationship that hardly shocks us these days, which is appalling in itself, but a state-run system involving the secret service to help athletes in 30 sports get away with cheating in a cover-up that goes back to 2010 and included the Sochi Winter Games in 2015, takes it to a whole new level.
It was no surprise when the Russians reacted to the McLaren findings by saying President Vladimir Putin, had sacked all the officials named in the report, with the exception of Minister for Sport Vitaly Mutko, although his chances of staying in the job for much longer look to be virtually nil and he has already been banned from the Rio Olympics. Russia has been one of the world’s top hosts of major sports events for the past two years and the 2018 FIFA World Cup will be staged there, so its reputation is on the line.
Doping is like a cancer in sport. Once diagnosed it must be cut out without delay. If those who look after the interests of sport are weak and shy away from the harshest of action then the disease will spread and in the end will prove fatal for integrity and credibility and without those sport itself will die which is why there should be the strongest possible action taken against the Russians.
Having said that, the decision by the International Olympic Committee to postpone a decision on whether to ban the entire Russian Olympic team from Rio to explore their legal options was absolutely the right decision. It will be greeted with dismay by those who want to see an instant ban but should not be seen as a weak response. The IOC needs to be completely sure that if they do kick Russia out of the Olympics it is a decision that is watertight so they need to be prepared for the legal challenges that will surely come.
IOC President Thomas Bach will also not want to antagonise Putin who will be quick to turn this into a political issue so they must be seen to be thorough and fair as there are clean Russian athletes who have to be considered, although there is already a way they can be given special eligibility by proving a perfect anti-doping record.
It was also correct for the IOC to take into consideration the Court of Arbitration for Sport’s decision on Russia’s appeal against a ban already imposed by the IAAF on their track and field team which should be announced tomorrow. That doping ban was challenged by 68 Russian athletes and the Russian Olympic Committee but it is thought they have little chance of success.
Although the ultimate decision was put on ice the IOC executive board has started disciplinary action against those implicated in the McLaren report and Russian sports ministry staff are barred from Rio. The IOC has also withdrawn its support for any major event hosted in Russia, including the 2019 European Games and the revelations about cheating at Sochi means the IOC will now retest every Russian sample for manipulation and ask all winter sports federations to stop plans to host any events in Russia.
All these things are fine but the scale of this scandal demands the ultimate sanction. There can be no thought of giving the Russian Olympic Committee a rap over the knuckles thinking that the sacking of a few sports ministry staff is enough. The Olympics already suffers from a credibility problem with interest waning because of suspicions that what is supposed to be the ultimate test of human endeavour is not quite what it seems. As such Bach and the IOC have a responsibility to protect what is left of sporting integrity and the only way to do that and with the evidence they now have before them is to make sure Russia plays no part in Rio.
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