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Why All Criticisms of the IOC’s Refusal to Ban Russian Athletes are Wrong

The IOC decision was the only proper one and shows that the West's hold on world sport is slipping.

The sound and fury of the Western media following the IOC’s decision not to proceed with the proposed blanket ban of Russian athletes is a wonder to behold. 

As is now standard with anything concerning Russia there is ugly talk of cowardice and wholly unwarranted hints the decision was made corruptly.  A number of articles have appeared hinting darkly that the IOC President Thomas Bach made the decision because he is a personal friend of Putin’s, though the extent to which Bach and Putin really are personal friends is open to doubt. 

There are also angry complaints that athletes from other counties will not now know whether the Russian athletes they are competing against in Rio are competing honestly. It is also being said that the various sports federations that must now decide whether to ban Russian athletes simply do not have the time or the resources or in some cases even the inclination to make the decision properly before the Games begin in less than 2 weeks time, and that the procedure for making the decision, despite the practically unreported involvement in the procedure of the Court of Arbitration for Sport, is somehow unclear.

Meanwhile there is fury at the supposedly unfair treatment of Stepanova, who it is alleged is being prevented from competing in Rio because of the IOC’s decision to impose lifetime bans on Russian athletes found to have been engaged in doping (as she has admitted having done).  It is being said this decision is bizarre given that she was supposedly instrumental in exposing the doping in the first place, and that by preventing her from competing the IOC is punishing a “whistleblower”, which will deter other potential whistleblowers from coming forward.  It is also being said that the ban on Stepanova is discriminatory and illegal since no lifetime bans have been imposed on athletes from other countries who have previously been found to have used drugs, and the Court of Arbitration for Sport has previously ruled that such lifetime bans are illegal.

All these claims and arguments are false and/or mendacious.

Firstly the IOC’s decision was unanimous.  It is clear that the proposal for a blanket ban came up against overwhelming opposition from the various sports federations.  Whilst Thomas Bach clearly agrees with the decision, it is absurd to say he made it himself or that he somehow unilaterally imposed it on everyone else.

The IOC statement makes clear that the key sticking point was that the IOC was not prepared to set aside the presumption of innocence for those Russian athletes who have never been found to have used drugs.  As I have discussed previously, it is overwhelmingly likely the IOC was legally advised that the presumption of innocence quite simply cannot be set aside, and that there would be extremely serious legal and moral consequences involved in doing so.  This is an obvious truth which ought to be obvious to everybody.  It is dismaying that so few people in the West seem able to understand or acknowledge it.

As for the question of whether or not any Russian athletes who will now go to Rio may still be cheating and the supposed difficulty for sports federations to ensure they are not, it remains the case that not a single article I have read about the scandal in the British media has reported that Russian track and field athletes’ samples are now being tested in Britain, and that British officials are now involved in every stage of their collection and testing.  No one has explained how Russian track and field athletes – who remain collectively banned from Rio – can cheat in these circumstances.  Whilst I do not know for a fact that the same system is used to test all Russian athletes and not just track and field athletes, I presume that it is.

This question however goes to the heart of the whole problem with this scandal.  What is the objective here?  Is it to mete out punishment for cheating that is alleged to have happened at previous Games?  Or is it to prevent cheating at the Rio Games and at any future Games?  There has never been proper clarity on this question, probably because those who have been campaigning for a blanket ban know that any demand for a ban couched in clearcut terms of punishment would inevitably involve punishing innocent athletes for the earlier misdeeds of other – guilty – athletes.  As the IOC has said, punishing the innocent to spite the guilty is unacceptable, and it is right.

Those who think the precautions already taken to prevent cheating by Russian athletes at Rio are insufficient despite involving British scientists and British officials should in fairness say so, and should also say what they think should be done over and above what has already been done to make cheating by Russian athletes in Rio impossible.  That is what proponents of the campaign do not do, but it is what the IOC – very properly – is now trying to do.  That it has been left so desperately late – with all the undoubted problems that will cause – is not the fault of the IOC or indeed of the Russians.  It is the fault of those like WADA who have wasted months of time campaigning for an illegal blanket ban instead of proposing a legal and workable solution to the problem, which the Russians could have worked towards.

To be clear, this is not to give Russian athletes and sports officials who have previously cheated a free pass.  In any rational world what ought to have happened is that when Stepanova’s and Rochenkov’s allegations became public a full and proper investigation ought to have been set up, with all the witnesses examined and represented by legal counsel, and with the forensic evidence examined by a variety of scientific experts, who could have been cross-examined and whose reports would have been made public.  

Since this would have taken time – a year at least – arrangements of the sort now set up by the IOC should have been made in the meantime to ensure that there was no cheating by Russian athletes at Rio.  Given the scale of the allegations and the suspicion of state involvement in the doping, this would inevitably have involved barring Russian athletes already found to have cheated from competing in Rio, harsh though that is.  At the end of this process the investigation would have delivered a proper report – not like the deeply flawed report provided by McLaren – either confirming or refuting the allegations, and making specific recommendations to prevent the problem arising again.  These might have included proposals for lifetime bans and criminal prosecutions of any individuals shown to have done wrong – including incidentally Rodchenkov and Stepanova if they were found to have given false testimony maliciously.  

None of this happened, and it is difficult to avoid the feeling that this was because WADA and those behind the campaign were not genuinely interested in finding a solution to the problem of doping in Russian sports, but were instead using the problem to further an agenda to exclude Russia from the Olympic Games.

Which brings me to the question of Stepanova.  It is simply not true that she is being barred from the Rio Olympics because the IOC has imposed an illogical and discriminatory lifetime ban on all Russian athletes who like her have previously been caught doping.  It is because the IOC’s Ethics Commission decided she has acted unethically.  I provided the full text of the IOC’s statement in an earlier article, but the key words of the advice provided to the IOC by its Ethics Commission are these:

“…..the sanction to which she was subject and the circumstances in which she denounced the doping practices which she had used herself, do not satisfy the ethical requirements for an athlete to enter the Olympic Games.”

(bold italics added for emphasis)

The IOC statement clearly says that when deciding Stepanova’s case it accepted this advice of its Ethics Commission.  Whilst it did refer to its ban on Russian athletes who have been caught doping, it says it only took this ban “into consideration” when deciding Stepanova’s case.  Implicit in this phrase – and indeed in the IOC’s whole statement – is that the IOC had the power to make an exception in Stepanova’s favour and would have done so had the Ethics Commission advised differently.  The IOC did not make that exception because the Ethics Commission advised that Stepanova had acted unethically.

These words are very interesting because, as I also pointed out in my previous article, they strongly suggest that the IOC and its Ethics Commission – having examined Stepanova and her evidence – is distinctly unimpressed by her, and shares many of the doubts about her expressed by Andrey Fomin in his excellent article about the scandal which The Duran published previously.  That is why the IOC and its Ethics Commission not only say Stepanova acted unethically, but have lumped her together with all the other banned Russian athletes.   WADA – which relied heavily on Stepanova’s evidence – undoubtedly can see that, which is why the IOC’s decision has made it so angry. 

Which brings me finally to the question of the doping allegations themselves.  I do not know whether they are true or not.  However – and not for the first time in a case involving Russia – I cannot see how anyone else thinks they can know either.  The Western media is reporting the allegations as if they have been proved and are therefore definitely true.  As Andrey Fomin and I have previously said, the grossly defective way they have been investigated and the tainted nature of the sources shows that this is simply not the case.

That is not just Andrey Fomin’s view and mine.  It is fairly obvious from the IOC’s statements and what has been said by various other sports officials from around the world (including Europe) that it is also the opinion of many other people in world sport as well.  As in the cases of MH17 and Litvinenko some people in the West decided on the strength of certain accusations, incomplete evidence and an inherently biased process to declare the Russians guilty of something, and have spent the time since then trying to shout down anyone who disagrees with them.  On this occasion – to their great anger – it didn’t work. 

What that suggests is that the West’s hold on world sport is no longer as strong as it once was and as those behind the campaign thought it was when they set out on it.  That is probably the single most important fact to take away from this whole affair.

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Alexander Mercouris
Editor-in-Chief atThe Duran.

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