Paul Lewis: Say no to any Russian doping deal

By Paul Lewis

Yelena Isinbayeva will bid to show the IAAF's ruling is in "violation of her human rights". Photo / Getty Images
Yelena Isinbayeva will bid to show the IAAF's ruling is in "violation of her human rights". Photo / Getty Images

So Russian track and field athletes are banned from Rio, eh? Let's see whether the International Olympic Committee has the spine to keep it that way.

Anything other than upholding the ban confirmed today by the International Association of Athletics Federations will be a travesty, a body blow for the Olympics and international sport.

But there are suspicions the IOC, who control the Olympics and who meet on Wednesday (NZT) to discuss the IAAF ban, will find some sort of milky compromise. The IOC are philosophically, traditionally, financially and politically locked into a state of inclusion, bound by their own existence to keep the Olympic "family" from becoming a broken home.

Russia's PR offensive (using the clean athletes, barred from the Olympics along with their cheating brothers and sisters, as a kind of political human shield) also tried abject apologies and injured innocence as they protested they had done all they could, all aimed at the IOC and their flexible backbones.

The unanimous decision by the IAAF, themselves castigated for looking the other way before Russian transgressions became horribly obvious, noted it was impossible to tell if any Russian athletes were clean because the system had not been sufficiently reformed.

Russian Olympic Ban: What you need to know

"The deep-seated culture of tolerance (or worse) for doping that got the Russian Athletics Federation suspended in the first place appears not to have changed materially to date," they said.

"The head coach of the Russian athletics team and many of the athletes on that team appear unwilling to acknowledge the nature and extent of the doping problem in Russian athletics; certain athletes and coaches appear willing to ignore the doping rules."

Russia has been accused of systemic doping, which many claim ruined the 2012 London Olympics. Since then, scores of Russian athletes have failed tests for the heart-disease drug meldonium, banned at the start of the year, including Maria Sharapova.

Most damning were claims from a former head of Russia's anti-doping lab that internal security and government officials helped Russian athletes hide doping activity during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. Twenty-two Russian athletes tested positive in re-analysis of samples from the 2008 Beijing and London Olympics. Drugs testers have since complained of a lack of cooperation when trying to do their jobs.

The evidence is overwhelming, the path clear for the Olympic authorities - the doping is so bad many feel the right thing to do is not just to ban the Russian track and field team from Rio but Russia itself, the first time it would miss an Olympics since it boycotted the 1984 summer Games in Los Angeles.

The IAAF's decision has opened up a legal minefield, and some Russian athletes may take their case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport to win the right to be in Rio.

But it also gives the IOC an opportunity for a compromise allowing, for example, some Russian athletes to compete if they can show they are clean in additional, independent drugs tests - in addition to the IAAF's offer that a few Russians training outside the country could compete under a neutral flag. What a pathetic sop that would be.

Maybe the IOC won't do that. But part of Russia's PR offensive has been the heartfelt protest by iconic double Olympic gold medallist Yelena Isinbayeva.

The pole-vaulter has never failed a drugs test and is the acceptable face of Russian sport. She says a ban would infringe her human rights and is prepared for a legal fight. Marion Jones never failed a drugs test, either - 160 of them.

There is no suggestion Isinbayeva has transgressed but the issue here is wider than individual rights.

Russia also contend countries like Kenya, Ethiopia and Jamaica are said to have had similar doping activity going on but no action has been taken against them. One Russian government source recently said the IOC had "50 billion reasons" to help Russia (US$50 billion being what Russia spent on the Sochi Winter Olympics). The brooding presence of Vladimir Putin is in the background and the IOC are well aware little good comes of poking the Russian bear.

The other reason there could be some sort of weasel-worded, flatulent compromise is the murky world of international sporting politics. The IAAF and their boss, Lord Sebastian Coe, one of the great Olympic champions, have been able to show they are serious about punishing the cheats, maybe knowing they could be overturned by the IOC.

The 1984 Olympics were one of four I have attended. Russia's absence did not detract from a successful and well-run Games. What is needed now in the Olympic movement is leadership, protection of the Olympic ideals and a demonstration dopers will not be tolerated - and neither will those who know it is happening and say nothing.

If that doesn't happen, the cheats will yet again have prospered.

- NZ Herald

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