US criticism of IOC refusal to ban Russia from Rio Olympics

Matt Slater

THE International Olympic Committee's refusal to ban Russia from the Rio Games has been strongly criticised by United States Anti-Doping Agency chief executive Travis Tygart.

Despite wide calls for Russia to be thrown out of the Games for running a state-directed doping programme, the IOC's executive board opted against a blanket ban and asked each sport to vet proposed Russian competitors individually.

This is effectively what athletics, the Olympics' largest sport, has already done, with only one, US-based Russian now likely to take part in Rio's track-and-field programme. But Tygart, who led the investigation that ultimately brought down disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong, believes the IOC should be taking responsibility for ensuring clean sport in Rio and not passing the buck.

"Many, including clean athletes and whistle-blowers, have demonstrated courage and strength in confronting a culture of state-supported doping and corruption within Russia," said Tygart.

"Disappointingly, however, in response to the most important moment for clean athletes and the integrity of the Olympic Games, the IOC has refused to take decisive leadership. The decision regarding Russian participation and the confusing mess left in its wake is a significant blow to the rights of clean athletes."

USADA was one of many anti-doping bodies, including the World Anti-Doping Agency, that wanted IOC-level action against Russia. Tygart fears the other 27 federations that govern sports in the summer programme will simply not have the time or resources to do what the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) spent months planning.

With Rio's opening ceremony less than two weeks away, the IOC's decision means each sport will have to make an "individual analysis" of every Russian competitor, which will then be subject to final approval by an "independent arbitrator" from the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS). Tygart described this as a "glaring conflict of interest" and completely at odds with recent IOC statements that anti-doping decisions should be independent of sports. 

Earlier this month, the American agency proposed some selection criteria to WADA that it could suggest for each sport to follow. The criteria included a minimum number of out-of-competition tests carried out by a credible testing agency over the last year, proof that each athlete had been tested for the full range of performance-enhancing drugs, and normal blood and hormone levels in their biological passport.

With many pundits already wondering how that can be done for the nearly 400 athletes Russia hopes to bring to Rio, IAAF president Sebastian Coe has offered his federation's help to the other sports: "We have created and been through the process," said Coe, referring to his sport's decision last month to uphold its ban of the Russian athletics team for endemic doping.

"We know how hard it is emotionally and rationally to get the process right."

Russian sports minister Vitaly Mutko says Russian athletes have a 'one per cent' chance of going to the Rio Olympic Games. 

How many sports will take up Coe's offer, though, is uncertain, particularly as a number of past officials of the IAAF were shown to have been complicit in the cover-up of positive drug tests by athletes from Russia and elsewhere.

The International Tennis Federation, for example, has already said the players nominated for Rio by the Russian Olympic Committee have been subject to a total of 205 blood and urine tests since 2014, and will be allowed to play.

An ITF statement said: "[We] believe it is right that clean athletes are permitted to compete in Rio 2016 and look forward to welcoming the Russian tennis players, along with all other nominated athletes, to Rio."

This will come as a great relief to under-fire IOC president Thomas Bach, who announced the result of his board's emergency meeting in a hastily-arranged media teleconference. Bach's reluctance to make an example of Russia has been widely commented on over the last year as more information has emerged about the scale of cheating in the world's largest country, and how it was directed by the state with the assistance of the national anti-doping system and secret service.

But the former fencing champion turned Olympic supremo has consistently argued against collective punishments. In defending his board's decision, Bach said: "We have reversed the presumption of innocence for Russian athletes, making them assume collective responsibility.

"But, on the other hand, natural justice requires that individuals have the chance to rebut this reversal. So we have set the bar by establishing strict criteria that every Russian will have to fulfil if they want to compete in Rio. I think we have balanced the desire for collective responsibility against the right for individual justice."

But Bach, a trained lawyer, could have created more uncertainty with the decision to block Russia from proposing any athlete who has served a drugs ban before. This sanction has already been successfully challenged, most notably in 2011 when CAS ruled against the IOC's so-called Osaka Rule that said any athlete who served a ban of six months or more would automatically miss the next Games.

This has already been the focus of much anger in Russia, as commentators have pointed out the paradox of numerous American athletes with history of drug suspensions, such as Justin Gatlin and Tyson Gay, being allowed to compete but Russians whose bans have expired being barred from Rio.

One athlete who may consider fighting the 'double punishment' is Russian 800m runner Yuliya Stepanova, who was one of only two Russians to be cleared to compete by the IAAF but now finds herself banned again by the IOC.

Stepanova and her anti-doping expert husband, who were forced to flee Russia and now live in the US, were the first two whistle-blowers to inform WADA and western journalists about Russia's cheating, but she has served a two-year doping ban.

Bach said the IOC was "expressing its gratitude" to Stepanova by inviting her and her husband to Rio as guests and would also help her with her training and to find a new country to compete for. But Tygart voiced the feelings of many when he said: "The decision to refuse her entry in to the Games is incomprehensible and will undoubtedly deter whistle-blowers in the future from coming forward."

Without whistle-blowers, former WADA boss Richard Pound would not have started his 2015 investigation into Russian doping in athletics and Canadian law professor Richard McLaren's more recent probe into the 2014 Winter Olympics and wider doping conspiracy would have been impossible.

For Russia, the IOC's compromise solution was probably the best they could have hoped for, especially after losing the appeal against the IAAF stance and Friday's decision by the International Paralympic Committee to start the process of banning their team from the Paralympics in September.

"Today, the IOC showed a balanced approach," Russian sports minister Vitaly Mutko said.

"An objective decision has been made as regards our country - it's a just and fair decision and we hope every federation will take the same kind of decision. Doping is a worldwide evil, not only of Russia. I am sure the national team will show good results at the Olympic Games and we will do everything to support them."

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