Jason Smyth gives his view on Russia's Paralympic ban
IRELAND'S two-time Paralympic double gold medallist Jason Smyth says he is “surprised but not surprised” by the news that Russian athletes have been banned from competing at the Rio 2016 Paralympics.
The International Paralympic Committee (IPC) had opened suspension proceedings following the McLaren report, published last month, revealed a state-sponsored doping programme operated by Russia. The report identified 27 samples relating to eight para-sports, five of which are summer sports.
The action is in contrast to that of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) which decided against handing Russia a blanket ban from the Olympic Games: “The anti-doping system in Russia is broken, corrupted and entirely compromised,” said IPC president Philip Craven at a news conference last Sunday.
“The Russian Paralympic Committee are unable to ensure compliance with and enforcement of the IPC anti-doping code and the world anti-doping code within their own national jurisdiction and they can not fulfil its fundamental obligation as an IPC member.”
Jason Smyth has attended two Paralympics and several World and European championships. He says that he has seen no first hand evidence of Russians doping but then again points out that they do generally keep themselves apart and do not mix with other nationalities.
“I’m surprised, and not surprised, in that there is evidence of state-doping in Russian sport and it is no surprise that decisive action has to be taken,” said Smyth who is now based in Belfast after a sojourn in London for several years.
“What is surprising that the IPC are imposing a blanket ban when the mainstream Olympic committee have allowed some sports and individual athletes to compete in Rio.”
Craven also said at the news conference that: “The Russian government has catastrophically failed its para-athletes. Their ‘medals over morals’ mentality disgusts me. The complete corruption of the anti-doping system is contrary to the rules and strikes at the very heart of the spirit of Paralympic sport.”
However, while the Derry Track Club athlete may have had doubts about certain individuals over the years, he has always felt he was competing on a level playing field. Smyth firmly believes from his experiences’ that Paralympic sport is essentially clean: “When it’s state-organised [doping], anything is possible. I don’t know about countries, as in what they do; as an individual, my honest opinion would be that a lot of people aren’t [doping] simply the big factor being the rewards aren’t the same.
“Winning a gold medal isn’t life-changing in any respect. The risk isn’t worth it, so I think, as an individual anyone going out of their way to cheat is very unlikely. There’s no money, there’s no money to have all the things in place to do it. But if an organisation wants to get behind it, well then that is possible.”
The IPC allowed the Russian Paralympic Committee to present its case before it decided on the ban. The Russians will now reportedly appeal against the decision to the Court of Arbitration for Sport. The Rio 2016 Paralympics begin in less than a month, on September 7, and 267 Russian athletes across 18 sports will now miss the Games.
Among the better known Russians now excluded from the Games include Margarita Goncharova who won the T38 100m gold medal at 2012 Paralympics; Evgenii Shvetsov who won three golds in the T36 category in London and Olesya Vladykina, a multi-medallist in swimming over a number of years.
Jason Smyth and Belfast middle-distance runner Michael McKillop, who took four golds between them in London, again carry Ireland’s medal hopes in Rio although both only have one race on the attenuated programme of events this time.