Collective punishment could be only way to go


The main caveat is that a window is open for Russian athletes and their support personnel to participate in the Olympic Games and other major events during that four-year period, provided that the athlete can prove on balance that he or she isn’t implicated in what the CRC has labelled “an extremely serious case of non-compliance”.

Factors to be taken into account in determining whether an athlete can prove their “innocence”, include whether they’re adversely mentioned in those 24 terabytes of Russian doping data (or the Golden Book version of what’s left of it), and whether data pertaining to them specifically has been manipulated or corrupted.

How exactly did we get here? And what happens next? Well first, a bit of recent history …

In late 2015, World Athletics (the now-rebranded International Association of Athletics Federations) banned ALL Russian athletes from competing in international track and field competitions. That decision was provoked by the publication of an acidulous report by a WADA independent commission of inquiry into allegations of the systemic doping of Russian athletes. The report’s findings: endemic, nefarious, state-sponsored drugging of athletes on a scale exceeding anything seen since the exploits of East Germany during the 1970s and 80s.

In the months after and in the lead-up to the 2016 Olympics in Rio, further damning revelations came to light concerning doping in Russia. Dozens of athletes – Maria Sharapova included – tested positive to the banned substance Meldonium.

Insiders, including the former head of Russia’s anti-doping laboratory, Dr Grigory Rodchenkov, blew the lid on state-organised practices, including the development of undetected cocktails of prohibited substances, and the expunging of hundreds of “dirty” urine samples. Over 20 Russian Olympic medallists from the Beijing and London Games failed a 2016 re-analysis of their urine and blood samples, taken after having “won” medals.

For its part, WADA recommended that Russian athletes should be excluded from the Rio Olympics. The International Olympic Committee failed to embrace such a guillotine-like approach, instead leaving up to the international federations to decide whether to allow Russian teams to compete at the Games.

Eventually, a total of 282 athletes competed under the Russian flag in Brazil; only the IAAF refused to allow a Russian team to compete at all (long jumper Darya Igorevna Kilshina was permitted to compete under the neutral, Olympic flag because she’d resided and trained outside the Russian system for a number of years). The Russians who competed took home 56 medals, including 19 gold.

At the same time it recommended that Russia be banned from the Olympics, WADA declared that the Russian Anti-Doping Agency was “non-compliant” based on the failings, skullduggery and blatant cheating already described. Thereafter, over a period of two years up to September 2018, WADA enacted a compliance monitoring system in relation to RUSADA, culminating in the latter’s conditional reinstatement.

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During the period of declared non-compliance, Russia was effectively excluded from international sport. A critical condition of RUSADA’s reinstatement as a compliant authority, determined under the WADA Code, was that RUSADA and the Russian Ministry of Sport was to deliver up to WADA’s CRC its authentic information management system data and the complete underlying analytical data of the RUSADA’s laboratory.

What Russia decided to do next was anything but comply with the reinstatement requirement. The findings of the CRC – which form the basis of the recommendations to be considered by the WADA ExCo next Monday – include that the RUSADA data delivered to the CRC is neither complete nor authentic. Moreover, the CRC’s findings are that hundreds of presumed positive doping tests have been wiped clean from the lab’s database; and that related raw data has been manipulated, or destroyed. Who could know how many cheats have been “green-lighted”?

While some of these positive test results were obliterated or corrupted in 2016 and 2017, significant deletions and alterations were effected in December 2018 and January 2019 – that is, AFTER it was decided that RUSADA would be “let back in the tent”, albeit with conditions. Russian operatives attempted to conceal these nefarious activities including by back-dating computer systems and data files.

The CRC forensic analysis of the database handed over reveals that other fabricated material was uploaded to the RUSADA systems, to make it look as though the entire shitshow had been orchestrated by the Janus-faced whistleblower, and former head of RUSADA’s Moscow laboratory, Dr Rodchenkov (he of Icarus “fame”).

These are treacherous times for WADA and for the integrity of sport more generally. Whereas there’s ample evidence to prove that State-sanctioned, indoctrinated doping programs have operated by stealth in Russia for years, there’s no evidence to demonstrate that all of Russia’s Olympic-standard athletes took part. Moreover, many athletes who were involved may have only tangential knowledge of this fact, at best. Others could have no clue what happened to them.

There’s little doubt that, if permitted to do so, many (but not all) athletes representing Russia over the next four years will be clean. Conversely, the allegations pertaining to doping in Russia are so serious that it is impossible to conclude with any confidence that any particular athlete is beyond the control, manipulation and infection of the state.

Maria Sharapova tested positive to Meldonium.Credit:Clive Brunskill

It’s a desperately unacceptable reality of the Olympic Games, for example, that cheated athletes must sometimes wait years to receive medals which should rightfully have been awarded to them at a Games, but for doping. Indeed, some athletes never attain that level of rectification.

Yet it’d be a monstrously harsh and individually unfair position to take: to exclude a nation’s entire delegation from an Olympic Games. Causing Russia’s clean athletes to become collateral damage could on the other hand be the necessary consequence of the state-orchestrated cheating, if they can’t prove their innocence. If doping programs involving Russian athletes have operated, as claimed by WADA, then some who can’t prove they weren’t a pawn in the game might be the only reasonable outcome.

Where to draw the line? Even a skerrick less than WADA’s ExCo full endorsing and embracement of the recommendations of its CRC – including the exclusion of Russian delegations at the Olympic Games and world championship events through to the end of 2023 – will need to be accompanied by an incredibly robust explanatory memorandum.

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