Russia and Kenya face an Olympic ban. Given that the manipulations of the laws were so extreme, IOC president Thomas Bach has suggested collective exclusion. But there remain loopholes.
The sun reflects off the water of Lake Geneva, a marmot scurries across the lawn in front of the Olympic Museum on the shore. There are camera crews all around reporting on the IOC’s decision to revoke the right for Russian and Kenyan athletes to compete in Rio after breaching anti-doping rules.
Russian commentators criticized the decision as a political punishment against Russia, who have been handed economic sanctions and could yet be stripped of the 2018 World Cup. Commentators in Western Europe, however, have called for the IOC to follow the example set by the World Athletics Federation the IAAF and ban all athletes from the respective nations.
The end of the presumption of innocence
An important decision is needed. For the first time, athletes from two countries are suspected of widespread doping – and it’s for good reason. In Kenya, runners have not been required to provide blood tests in the country, which is effectively a free pass for a doper. In Russia, there are controls but they have been manipulated, as the former head of the Moscow laboratory, Grigori Rodshenkov, admitted.
Russian athletes also systematically avoided several tests that have been carried out since November by the British anti doping agency on behalf of WADA. The WADA secretary general Olivier Niggli described the situation: “They trained in so-called ‘closed towns’ to which the Russian secret service refused us access. The sports federations usually inform doping agencies before 24 hours before the start of an event, and because many competitions take place in remote areas, there is hardly any possibility of control. Coaches and staff are often very hostile to the inspectors.”
The situation has become bad enough for IOC president Thomas Bach to state: “Because the anti-doping sytem in Russia and Kenya is non-compliant and because of the serious doping accusations leveled at Russia, the presumption of innocence for athletes from these nations must be questioned. Now all athletes from the two nations must prove that they are clean.
This decision is a consequence of the failure of the anti-doping system. Those who were ‘smart enough’ to take substances well dosed and disguised in the ‘submission’ phase hardly fear the unmasking.
Room to manoeuver
There may not be a blanket ban on all Russian and Kenyan athletes, with Bach suggesting that he is leaving the back door open. Athletes who are capable of showing they were outside of the corrupt test practices of their countries and are clean themselves, can apply to compete in Rio.
“The international professional associations are responsible,” insisted Bach, whose statement is correct, but also cleverly evasive. He has condemned both nations but transferred responsibility to the associations.Rather than blaming Vladimir Putin, he has left the potential for outrage at the doorstep of Sebastian Coe.
Then comes the issue of which types of control must be implemented in the future. The modern doper can evade one or two tests, but it takes much longer to analyse hormone and blood counts. Checks in the summer provide no indication as to whether heavy doping in winter and spring has built the foundations for this level of performance. Stronger leadership from the IOC would have been good here as we face a first ever Olympic disqualification.