Exclusive to The Middle East Online
Edited by Nelly Tawil
Russia has been suspended from international competition, an unprecedented move that left the world shocked. The powerful county’s athletes may not be able to compete at sport’s greatest event, the Olympic Games, after a damning report by a Wada independent commission found evidence of state-sponsored doping.
The IAAF Council is set to meet on 17 June where they will decide whether the country will be set to participate. Since then, Russia has been in a race against time, with an IAAF independent task force monitoring its efforts to rebuild its anti-doping operation.
Veering from defiance to contrition, Russia has attacked, then apologized, and insisted it has done all that has been asked of it. All potential Olympians have been subjected to extra doping controls, the leadership of anti-doping agency Rusada and athletics federation Araf have been overhauled, and testing has been run by UK Anti-Doping (Ukad).
Russia has pointed out that doping is not a problem limited to its country and is in fact a global problem. Respected Olympic writer Alan Abrahamson recently argued that the whole US track and field team was not banned from the 2004 Athens Games because of the Balco scandal, and few even suggested it at the time. No one is calling for the country’s cycling team to miss Rio because of the doping programme of Lance Armstrong and his US Postal team.
Despite this, the steady streams of negative news stories that are coming to light are receding chances of Russian readmission, including but not limited to Scores of Russian athletes failed tests for the newly banned heart disease drug meldonium.
Shocking allegations from a former head of Russia’s anti-doping laboratory, Grigory Rodchenko, that the federal security service and government officials actively helped Russian athletes hide doping activity during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. Wada is now investigating the claims.
Twenty-two Russian athletes have now been tested positive in the re-analysis of samples from the Beijing 2008 and London 2012 Olympics. And Ukad has complained of a lack of co-operation when their testers have tried to do their jobs.
With all this in mind it is easy to see from the IAAF’s perspective and sympathise with their decision to leave the country out in the cold. The critics simply do not believe the country can be trusted so soon.
Should the IAAF be inclined, Russia’s exile could be extended and, politically speaking, enable the IAAF and its president Lord Coe to demonstrate they have teeth. Those actions would be a clear dismissal to the critics who doubt they are really serious about cracking down on doping, and make a big statement of intent after the governing body’s credibility crisis following its own corruption scandal.
Coe is under mounting pressure from athletes like Britain’s Olympic long-jump champion Greg Rutherford, who wants Russia banned, and javelin thrower Goldie Sayers, who said she has considered boycotting Rio if Russian athletes are allowed to compete.
In fact, some believe that such is the gravity of Russia’s cheating; the question should not be whether its track and field athletes are excluded from Rio, but whether Russians in any sport should be there at all.
And yet forcing Russia to miss a first Olympics since the Soviet Union boycotted the Los Angeles Games in 1984 is not a decision to take lightly.