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Non-decision from the IOC

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Olivia Gerstenberger
July 24, 2016

Russian athletes can take part in Rio - provided they prove they're clean to international authorities. With this, says DW's Olivia Gerstenberger, the IOC is forlornly trying to pass the buck and also save face.

Symbolbild - Olympische Ringe
Image: Getty Images

It was the first real acid test while in office for the German president of the International Olympic Committee, Thomas Bach. And he flunked it. Instead of reaching a clear decision on how to deal with the Russian Olympic Committee, he's leaving this for individual international sports federations to decide. They should now decide whether a given Russian athlete was part of the state-sponsored doping program or not. That's more than a move designed to leave a back-door entry to Rio - Bach might as well be paving the road there.

Thinking about individual, innocent sportsmen and women, you could take refuge in the Latin of the courtroom: In dubio pro reo - where in doubt, for the accused. That's precisely the line which Bach took.

"The fundamental question was: to what extent can an individual athlete be held responsible for a system in a country?" Bach asked, speaking of the "presumption of innocence," and stressing the "strict criteria, which every Russian athlete must meet." He came close to lauding the IOC decision, "because clean athletes will not be punished for a system they were not party to." Now, he said, they're at liberty to prove just this to international doping testers.

Cover-ups are costly in the end

But how intensive, how unified can these investigations now be? Even these new criteria aren't entirely clear: for instance, it's said that numerous negative tests must be provided at an international level - only it's not clear how many that is. More to the point, perhaps, there's only two weeks now until the Games start in Rio. Which specialist sports federation will willingly exclude its own stars now? Tennis, for instance, has already made it clear that all seven nominated Russians will be going to Rio.

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DW's Olivia Gerstenberger believes the decision's not really fair on anyone

It's impossible to really call Sunday's decision a just one. For, if you follow Bach's own argumentation, then there could well be Russian track and field athletes who are clean - but they still face the IAAF'S blanket ban. That also affects any Russian sports stars who have doped in the past, like for instance the star witness Yuliya Stepanova. As a confessed former doper, she helped to unveil the extent of the Russian scandal. But, by the IOC's standards, she now doesn't meet the IOC's "ethical" criteria. Former dopers from other countries who have served their suspensions, meanwhile, can compete. Stepanova was at least invited to come and watch the Games - from the stands. What a message that sends to potential whistleblowers of the future.

A convenient non-decision

A "zero-tolerance strategy," which Bach forever expounds, is something really rather different. You can't help but wonder what would have been necessary for the IOC - ultimately the organizers of the entire Olympics - to actually act. It allows Russia, a country that has demonstrably doped with state support for years now, to take to the field in Rio - under the Russian flag, too. This will put the Olympic ideal to a very tough test, or it could simply render it risible.

In any case, this is a slap in any clean athlete's face. For which of them would not feel a bitter aftertaste, if sharing a Rio podium with a Russian competitor? The IOC, and by extension Thomas Bach, should have followed the clear recommendation of the World Anti-Doping Agency. They really should have shown some backbone and made a clear statement in the worldwide fight against doping. With this decision, the credibility of the organization is shattered once more, while that of state-sponsored doping actually receives a minor boost.

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