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David Leggat: IOC dropped the ball on Russia ban

By David Leggat

The International Olympic Committee had the chance to make a decisive, substantial statement on Russia's state-sponsored doping programme today and dropped the ball.

Faced with strong, wide ranging calls to rub Russia out of the Rio Olympics altogether, they vacillated, not once but twice.

First they sat on their hands last week when presented with an opportunity to deal swiftly and emphatically with Russian doping; today they effectively delivered a hospital pass to individual international federations.

So it could be that while, for example, rowing decided not to accept any of the five Russian entries remaining in the fields for Rio, tennis or gymnastics could say, fine Russia, in you come.

Now consider what if an athlete finishes fourth, then looks up at the podium and sees a Russian standing there.

Would they feel cheated, or at least feel they may have been cheated out of medal? As they're thinking that, they should also be wishing a hex on the IOC.

There was a simple course of action for the IOC, a blanket ban on Russian athletes competing in Rio. Yes, that may have scooped up clean athletes as well but, sorry, that may be a price to be paid.

However those who have argued those athletes need to stand up to their sports' and force a change in thinking, and get rid of the doping programme have never lived in a country when rules are meant to be obeyed, not challenged. Do that, and there can be consequences.

However those who have argued those athletes need to stand up to their sports' and force a change in thinking, and get rid of the doping programme have never lived in a country when rules are meant to be obeyed, not challenged. Do that, and there can be consequences.

And by the by, the New Zealand Olympic Committee response - fully supporting the weak, flabby IOC decision - should be no surprise. It's not a good idea to poke a stick at the boss. But it contrasts starkly with the reaction of Drugfree Sport New Zealand, who dished out a slap to both the IOC and NZOC.

DSNZ boss Graeme Steel not only called the IOC decision ''extremely disappointing" and had ''failed absolutely" to uphold the integrity of sport, but added he could not understand how the NZOC approves of the response.

He pointed out that earlier in the year, the IOC had said sports federations should not be involved in anti-doping work. Now that's exactly what they have asked of them. Ridiculous.

The IOC claim they have laid out stringent guidelines for Russian athletes to be accepted, including not accepting merely a positive anti-doping test as sufficient reason on its own for an athlete being allowed into the Games; and that each federation had to do an analysis of all athletes' anti-doping record, using only ''reliable adequate international tests" and done in a way to ''ensure a level playing field".

The Russian Olympic Committee is barred from entering any athlete who has failed a drug test.

The IOC prides itself on dispensing even-handed justice.

In the words of IOC president Thomas Bach the organisation have ... ''balanced on the one hand the desire and need for collective responsibility versus the right to individual justice of every individual athlete".

For all this, no one should kid themselves that Russian athletes are the only doping transgressors. It's just they're the only ones to have been caught, and on such a scale.

If you think Russia is grateful for at least having the Rio door jimmied open, if only a few inches, listen to their sports minister Vitaly Mutko. He upset at the ban on Russians who have tested positive for performance-enhancing substances because ''we know dozens of athletes from well-known countries who will compete at Rio with just such a history".

Mutko might just be missing the point a touch.

The head of the ROC, Alexander Zhukov, called it a ''compromise decision made under ''colossal pressure". Rather than enjoying the presumption of innocence, Russian athletes will now have to prove they are clean.

Russia gave up that right when the McLaren report was published in all its damning detail last week.

It's less than a fortnight until the start of the Olympics.

You might well imagine the international federations, reading the IOC response and muttering, 'gee thanks guys".

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