The International Olympic Committee has said it “regrets very much” that 28 Russian athletes have had their doping bans from the 2014 Winter Games overturned on appeal.
It has also warned that the Court of Arbitration for Sport’s (CAS) decision could have a “serious impact” on the fight against doping.
In a decision announced on Thursday, CAS confirmed the anti-doping rule violations of 11 Russian athletes at Sochi 2014 but said there was insufficient evidence to prosecute the other 28. Those 28 will now have their bans overturned and their results reinstated.
The 11 who saw their violations upheld will have their lifetime Olympic bans reduced to just cover the 2018 Winter Games, which start in Pyeongchang on February 9.
In a statement, the IOC said it had taken note of the CAS decision with a mixture of satisfaction and disappointment.
“On the one hand, the confirmation of the anti-doping rule violations for 11 athletes because of the manipulation of their samples clearly demonstrates once more the existence of the systemic manipulation of the anti-doping system at the Olympic Winter Games Sochi 2014,” it said.
“On the other hand, the IOC regrets very much that the panels did not take this proven existence of the systemic manipulation of the anti-doping system into consideration for the other 28 cases.”
This, it continued, is because CAS required a higher burden of proof than the IOC disciplinary commission that awarded the bans, which “may have a serious impact on the future fight against doping”.
CAS has not yet released the reasoned decisions, or full judgements, of the two panels of experts who listened to the Russian appeals in Geneva last week. The IOC has said it will analyse those decisions “very carefully” to consider its options, which may include an appeal through the Swiss federal courts.
More pressingly, the IOC reiterated that the successful appeals do not mean those 28 Russians will be able to compete at this month’s Games.
Olympic chiefs suspended the Russian Olympic Committee in December, which means only Russians invited by the IOC can compete in Pyeongchang and they do so as neutral ‘Olympic Athletes from Russia’ (OARs) and only after they were carefully vetted by a panel of anti-doping experts.
The list of 169 invited OAR athletes was confirmed last week and none of those who have been successful on appeal at CAS is on it.
“The result of the CAS decision does not mean that athletes from the group of 28 will be invited to the Games,” the IOC statement added.
“Not being sanctioned does not automatically confer the privilege of an invitation. In this context, it is also important to note that the CAS secretary general insisted that the CAS decision ‘does not mean these 28 athletes are declared innocent’.”
The CAS decision was announced via a press release and among those successful at appeal are men’s Olympic skeleton champion Aleksander Tretiakov, the current women’s European and World Cup skeleton champion Elena Nikitina and Olympic cross-country gold medalist Alexander Legkov.
Aleksandr Zubkov, the double Olympic bobsleigh champion and Russian flag-bearer in Sochi, failed to overturn his ban, however, as did three members of Russia’s second unit in the men’s four-man bob in 2014, which means Great Britain’s upgrade to bronze should be a formality.
The 39 appeals were heard in two batches in Geneva last week, with all but two athletes attending in person. They were heard via video link.
Also appearing via video, were their two chief accusers, the former head of the Moscow anti-doping laboratory Dr Grigory Rodchenkov, who fled to the United States in 2015 and is the main whistleblower in the Russian doping scandal, and Professor Richard McLaren, the legal expert who examined Rodchenkov’s claims on behalf of the World Anti-Doping Agency.
McLaren’s report, published in December 2016, revealed documentary and forensic evidence to corroborate Rodchenkov’s story of an increasingly sophisticated conspiracy to dope more than 1,000 Russian athletes, across 30 sports, over at least five years and two Olympic Games.
Converting that evidence into individual doping cases, however, has proved very difficult, as the IOC has just discovered, despite setting up two bespoke disciplinary commissions to build on McLaren’s work and prosecute athletes.
In a statement, CAS said: “Both CAS panels unanimously found that the evidence put forward by the IOC in relation to this matter did not have the same weight in each individual case.
“In 28 cases, the evidence collected was found to be insufficient to establish that an anti-doping rule violation (ADRV) was committed by the athletes concerned. With respect to these 28 athletes, the appeals are upheld, the sanctions annulled and their individual results achieved in Sochi 2014 are reinstated.
“In 11 cases, the evidence collected was found to be sufficient to establish an individual ADRV. The IOC decisions in these matters are confirmed, with one exception: the athletes are declared ineligible for the next edition of the Olympic Winter Games instead of a life ban from all Olympic Games.”
Rodchenkov’s US-based lawyer Jim Walden reacted angrily to the CAS decision.
In a statement, Walden said: “Dr. Rodchenkov testified fully and credibly at CAS. His truth has been verified by forensic evidence, other whistleblowers, and, more recently, recovery of the Moscow lab’s secret database, showing thousands of dirty tests that were covered up.
“This panel’s unfortunate decision provides a very small measure of punishment for some athletes but a complete ‘get out of jail free card’ for most.
“Thus, the CAS decision only emboldens cheaters, makes it harder for clean athletes to win, and provides yet another ill-gotten gain for the corrupt Russian doping system generally, and (Russian president Vladimir) Putin specifically.”
Former marathon world champion, and current marathon world record holder, Paula Radcliffe believes world records could fall at Friday’s Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon.
“I think it’s going to be a very quick race,” she said yesterday in Dubai. “They’ve made the start an hour earlier – or half an hour earlier than last year – so the conditions will be cooler and more conducive to running fast. It’s a very fast course, very flat, everything is tailored towards that.”
Radcliffe believes fast times are one of the reasons the world’s elite marathon runners head to Dubai.
“I think the athletes come here ready to race” she said. “This is a race that they know is known for fast times, so they come here expecting that and prepared to go out and commit to it.
“It is important because a lot of places they’ll go to and they’ll talk about “Yeah I want to run fast” but they are just there to win the race. Here they do want to come and run fast.”
The three time winner of both the London and New York marathons said the key to breaking the records was the first half of the race.
“It is all about how quick they go in the first half,” she said. “If you go too fast you can overcook it. If you get that right then you can run very fast here.
“It’s 2hours 2 min 57secs (the men’s WR). I think if they went out not too fast, not too fast is fast, but like 61 and a half or something like that and then tried to come back quicker then I think that it is possible.
“We don’t want the wind to get up too much, which is why they are starting it earlier, (but) when it is a long out and back stretch, the risk is that if the wind gets up that can cause havoc. I think if it doesn’t get up till later in the morning then (the time) could be very very quick.”
The reigning men’s champion Tamirat Tola, who ran a personal best of 2:04:11 last year, is expecting another fast race tomorrow.
“If we work together I have the chance to run another personal best,” said Tola. The world record is currently held by Kenya Dennis Kimetto set in Berlin in 2014.
“From what I have learnt so far, the course is flat and fast to achieve a world-record time. But no one has run on it to really know,” continued Tola.
“I hope to do my best, and I can’t say if the best will be enough to establish a new world record. It’s something yet to be achieved and we’ll see what happens on the race day.”
But it could be in the fiercely contested women’s race where Radcliffe’s own world record of 2:15:25, set in London in 2003, could be most at risk.
“On the women’s side you have (Worknesh) Degefa,” noted Radcliffe. “But it’s also going to be Mare Dibaba and (Aselefech) Mergia who are in very good shape and also (Gelete) Burka could run and could surprise a few people.”
But they have plenty of work to do to catch Radcliffe. Mergia’s personal best is 2:19:31 (set in Dubai in 2012), Dibaba’s 2:19:52 (China 2015), Degefa 2:22:36 (Dubai last year) and Burka 2:26:03 (Houston 2014).
Radcliffe now puts the Dubai marathon right up with the top in the world, although she feels that Dubai should become a member of the Marathon majors – Tokyo, Boston, London, Berlin, Chicago and New York City.
“Definitely in terms of the course, (it’s right up there). If people want to run a fast race Dubai is up there alongside Berlin, possibly Chicago.
“In terms of the history, the lure of the marathon majors, it could do with joining those majors. To be able to actually have that history of the people who have gone before winning the race makes New York, London, Boston a special place. Dubai is getting there but it needs to be patient.”
British athletics legend Paula Radcliffe has declared that the war on doping “is not won” and called for sterner action to be imposed immediately on countries where alleged systemic doping of athletes is still occurring.
“I don’t think it’s any secret of the levels of doping that have been uncovered in the likes of Ukraine, Belarus, Turkey, Morocco, East Africa,” said Radcliffe, who is in the UAE for the Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon on Friday.
“The levels of violations are starting to come through, but it wasn’t shown to be systemic as it was, and as state controlled as it was in Russia – that’s why the actions that have been taken against Russia have been like that.
“But I think if it’s above a certain number then that country has to take responsibility, take ownership of it and do something to try and help the fight and move forward and show that its not something that is tolerated in their country and it won’t be accepted and tolerated within our sport.”
The 2005 marathon world champion and gold medalist at the 2002 Commonwealth games in Manchester says that the actions of these countries and athletes have “tainted” the sport.
“It’s something that I feel has tainted a sport that I love very much” said the 44-year-old, “and I think by association the credibility of the athletes who work very hard day in day out is tainted by that minority.
“And unfortunately it’s a minority that’s too big but it is a minority and it’s something we need to do more (to stamp out). I’d like to do more to give back to protect those clean athletes to protect the sport.”
Radcliffe, who now resides in Monaco, said she felt sympathy for clean Russian athletes, who have also been banned from the upcoming Winter Games in South Korea.
“Any athlete would have sympathy for athletes in that position,” she said. “It’s very unfair that any clean athlete would be put in a situation where they’re not able to take part (in the games). Unfortunately because of the severity of the infractions that were taken part in by the Russians (that has been the result).
“But we have to underline that there are other countries that are probably getting close to that (level of doping), there are other people that elsewhere in the world that are cheating like that – they need to be punished in the same way and they need to be got after. In the same way.
“We have to underline that it won’t be accepted in our sport and we have to make the deterrents greater and that means for Russia at the moment, that there was so much evidence of the state backed system and the systemic doping system that was going on, the manipulation and the undermining of the rules of our sport, the dis-respect for the other athletes and our sport – this was the step that had to be taken.”
While the Russian doping scandal is now, finally, accepted as fact, the IOC and other bodies, including FIFA, are half-hearted at best in action. Sport is broken, as is anti-doping. And you should have zero confidence it will change.— Nick Harris (@sportingintel) January 23, 2018
Radcliffe called for greater financial sanctions on countries found to be cheating.
“As I say there are other countries that need to have the same sanctions imposed and I’d like to see more of a financial sanction imposed on all cheats, so they pay back more to our sport and that goes into the anti-doping budget.
“And when federations surpass a certain number of doping (violations), or when it’s shown to be systemic as it was in Russia, then fines are paid before they are able to come back and compete.
“The battle against doping is definitely not won – it’s moving forward but I think it needs a lot greater investment.
“It needs a lot better education and the deterrents need to be bigger so that when, unfortunately, there is always going to be that incentive to dope, we have to make it harder and harder for them to get away with it and work harder to protect the majority of the athletes who are the clean athletes because they have a right to be protected and to be able to compete on a fair and level playing field.
“Not to suffer because of the action of other people around them.”