Opinion: Russians have right to be jubilant after IOC and WADA farce | Sports| German football and major international sports news | DW | 01.02.2018
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Opinion: Russians have right to be jubilant after IOC and WADA farce

The evidence is clear - there was a systematic doping program in some Russian sports. But tying the wrongdoing of a nation to individual athletes was always going to be hard. The IOC now faces another huge crisis.

The fact a major sporting nation had been trying to cheat at a Winter Games it hosted was bad enough for the International Olympic Committee.

But now the IOC is arguably facing an even bigger crisis, with its own integrity called into question by a Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) ruling which says the IOC failed to prove that 28 individual athletes were part a state-run doping scheme at the Sochi 2014 Olympics.

The Russians have been crying foul for months over a report commisioned by the World Anti-Doping Agency and written by Canadian lawyer Richard McLaren, which said that urine bottles from Russian athletes at Sochi had been tampered with by Russian secret service officials. Urine tests were allegedly switched and the anti-doping system therefore compromised. 

There seems too much evidence in the McLaren report, including markings on the urine bottles, for the allegations to be false but linking that scandal to each individual athlete was always going to be complicated.

Just because a Russian agent had switched your sample does not necessarily mean your original sample - presumably now lost - would have failed a doping test. 

Meadows Mark Kommentarbild App

DW Correspondent Mark Meadows

That is the crux of the matter for CAS, which legally needs a high standard of proof of doping to uphold a ban against an individual athlete.

"This does not mean that these 28 athletes are declared innocent," CAS secretary general Matthieu Reeb told reporters, emphasizing that the situation is the same as in a court of law. A defendant may be heavily suspected of wrongdoing but if the evidence is merely circumstantial, the defendant can not be convicted.

An IOC statement shows how shocked the Olympic movement is by the CAS verdict and it is still adamant that the cleared athletes cannot automatically be invited to South Korea.

"This may have a serious impact on the future fight against doping," the IOC said. That may be true but legal proof remains legal proof. 

Bach under pressure

Following its own probes, triggered by the McLaren report, the IOC decided a blanket Russian ban from next week's Pyeongchang Olympics was the best course of action. But it gave itself some wiggle room by allowing Russian athletes who could prove their innocence to compete under a neutral flag.

IOC President Thomas Bach was heavily criticizied by some in the sporting community even for this concession, with many calling for a complete Russian ban all along. German Bach was seen by Western critics as being too friendly with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Bach may wish he never allowed Russia to host the 2014 Games, first given the overarching doping scandal and now because of the complex legal fallout which has left Russian athletes feeling vindicated. He was damned if he did and damned if he didn't.

Malaysia Thomas Bach in Kuala Lumpur (picture alliance/AP Photo)

IOC President Thomas Bach faces a crisis

Now the IOC, WADA and those across sport clammering for the toughest sanctions have been exposed for failing to properly live up to the most important element of any legal process  - an individual cannot be punished unless they can be proven guilty. The CAS statement is utterly damning. 

"In 28 cases, the evidence collected was found to be insufficient to establish that an anti-doping rule violation," it read.

This is not just an isolated case, 28 is a huge number. Did the IOC rush its processes because of the public outcry?

It could be argued that the IOC was slow to react to the initial McLaren report in July 2016. They did launch their own investigations rather than just rely on McLaren but could they have started them earlier and poured in more resources? That would have given them more time to properly analyze each individual case from Sochi rather than rushing to conclusions because of the general allegations against the Russian Olympic Committee. 

There was no blanket ban for Russians at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in August, just a month after the first McLaren report, yet the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) issued its own ban on Russian track and field athletes in Rio following a separate WADA Commission report from 2015. Could the IOC have done more at this early stage even before the McLaren report?

If there were problems in athletics, other sports needed to be investigated earlier. But the IOC is now painfully aware that even that might not have been enough, given what matters legally is the actions of an individual athlete.  

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