Amidst all the debate about the IOC decision to reject calls for a blanket ban on the whole Russian Olympic team, one decision of the IOC must be applauded. This is the IOC’s rejection of the truly outrageous proposal that Russian athletes should only be allowed to compete in Rio – after they have proved their innocence – as “neutrals” and under the Olympic flag.
This was in effect a demand that Russian athletes, as the price of competing in the Olympics, deny their own nationality and their own country.
It is nothing short of astonishing that this profoundly racist and discriminatory proposal should have been seriously proposed at all and that it was not strongly and universally condemned when it was. Sadly that has however been true throughout the whole affair. A very ugly tone of anti-Russian prejudice has been there from the start. Consider for example these words dehumanising Russian athletes in a recent article by Jeanette Kwakye in the Guardian:
“The Russian athletes seemed dispensable, almost as if there was another athlete ready to come off the production line and replace them if they didn’t do the job required of them.”
Russian athletes it seems are not really athletes or even people. They are dispensable machines – Ivan Drago types – mass produced in some top secret factory presumably hidden somewhere in Siberia or the Urals by a country intent on victory at any cost.
Would Kwakye or anyone else in Britain be allowed to write in the Guardian about athletes of any other nationality in this way?
Another decision of the IOC that also deserves to be applauded is its refusal to allow the so-called “whistleblower” Yuliya Stepanova to compete at the Rio Olympics and to do so moreover under a neutral flag. Andrey Fomin in his outstanding article on the McLaren report has discussed in detail Stepanova’s huge role in this whole affair.
Stepanova’s admission to the Games would have been outrageous given her admitted use of performance enhancing drugs – supposedly the reason the blanket ban on Russian athletes was sought in the first place. It would have meant that whilst innocent Russian track and field athletes who have never tested positive for any drugs were being prevented from competing in the Rio Games, the one Russian athlete who had not only tested positive for drugs but who has actually admitted using them was being allowed to do so.
In the event that was too much for the IOC. Its statement concerning Stepanova is politely scathing, openly casting doubt on her motives, and making clear the doubts many senior sports officials must have about her role in the whole affair:
“The IOC EB further studied the request by the Russian track and field athlete, Mrs Yuliya Stepanova, to compete in the Olympic Games Rio 2016 as a “neutral athlete”. Since Mrs Stepanova declined to compete as a member of the ROC Team, the IOC EB had to consider the question of whether an exception to the rules of the Olympic Charter is possible and appropriate. Since this request has important ethical aspects, the IOC EB had asked the IOC Ethics Commission for its advice. The Ethics Commission has heard Mrs Stepanova and IAAF and ROC representatives.
Mrs Stepanova is basing her request on her role as “whistle-blower” with regard to the manipulation of the anti-doping system and corruption involving the WADA-accredited Moscow Anti-Doping Laboratory, the All-Russia Athletic Federation (ARAF) and the IAAF. The Ethics Commission applauds the contribution of Mrs Stepanova to the fight against doping. It put this contribution into the perspective of Mrs Stepanova’s own long implication, of at least five years, in this doping system and the timing of her whistle-blowing, which came after the system did not protect her any longer following a positive test for which she was sanctioned for doping for the first time.
After a careful evaluation of the arguments, the Ethics Commission gave the following advice to the IOC EB:
“While it is true that Mrs Stepanova’s testimony and public statements have made a contribution to the protection and promotion of clean athletes, fair play and the integrity and authenticity of sport, the Rules of the Olympic Charter related to the organisation of the Olympic Games run counter to the recognition of the status of neutral athlete. Furthermore, 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.”
The IOC EB accepted the advice of the IOC Ethics Commission, also taking into consideration its above-mentioned decision not to allow any Russian athlete who has ever been sanctioned for doping to participate in the Olympic Games Rio 2016. Therefore, the IOC will not enter Mrs Stepanova as a competitor in the Olympic Games Rio 2016.”
(bold italics added for emphasis)
Anyone who henceforth looks to Stepanova for “information” about doping in Russian sport – be that German documentary film makers or sections of the US and British press – should pay careful heed to these words. Sadly they are unlikely to do so.