Russia’s tainted athletics

Updated - November 17, 2021 04:40 am IST

Published - July 23, 2016 12:16 am IST

Ever since the German broadcaster ARD released a documentary, titled ‘Top-secret doping: How Russia makes its winners’, in late 2014, skeletons from the Russian closet have been > tumbling out at an embarrassing rate . The documentary had alleged that Russia was funding an “East German-style” doping programme and that an elaborate network was in place to cover it all up. In November 2015, a report by Dick Pound, > a former president of the World Anti-Doping Agency , corroborated most of the revelations. Mr. Pound uncovered what he called a “deeply-rooted culture of cheating”.

The International Association of Athletics Federations then suspended the Russian track and field team from international competition and last month > refused to overturn the ban , not satisfied with Russia’s efforts at overhauling its system.

Even as the IAAF left the door open for individual athletes to prove that they had been training outside Russia, and therefore be allowed to compete as neutral athletes at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics, the IAAF’s doping review board rejected all but two of the applications. A subsequent appeal by the affected athletes to the Court of Arbitration for Sport has now been turned down, with another report, this time by Richard McLaren, a highly respected Canadian law professor, released just before the CAS ruling, proving to be the final nail in the Russian coffin.

It confirmed that dope-tainted urine samples > were substituted with clean ones during the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, in collusion with the Russian Sports Ministry, the Russian security service FSB, and the Centre of Sports Preparation of National Teams of Russia.

Coming as it does on the eve of the Olympics, the pinnacle of sporting excellence, fair play and credibility, this episode raises troubling questions. The main finding of the McLaren report is that Russian athletes “from the vast majority of summer and winter Olympic sports” had benefitted from the doping programme. For this reason alone, it is difficult to argue against a total ban on the 387-member strong Russian Olympic contingent.

The International Olympic Committee, owing to the overlapping worlds of geopolitics and sports, might well leave the decision to individual sporting bodies, but the overwhelming stench is something the quadrennial extravaganza could do without. Russia has argued that “collective responsibility is hardly acceptable” and that its own system should be trusted to deal with such transgressions.

Fingers have also been pointed at disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong to prove that the West does not have a clean record either. There is a difference. It was, in fact, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency that was instrumental in exposing Armstrong. In Russia’s case, > there was active collusion in the wrongdoing .

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