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Amidst all the discussion of the Russian Olympic Doping scandal, one point which has not been made is that those who have tried to use the scandal to expel Russia from the Rio Olympics and from the Olympic movement have made a colossal mistake.
Anyone who spends any time in Russia quickly learns two things: that Russians take sport very seriously and that they take great pride in their country’s success in it. I suspect that those who were behind the campaign know this perfectly well and pressed their campaign in the knowledge that being expelled from the Olympics would be something that to Russians would really hurt.
If so then then they have made a huge mistake. Not only did the campaign ultimately fail in its plan to get Russia expelled from the Olympic movement. It has made the Russians very angry as they have watched their national team and their athletes – sporting heroes for many Russians – abused and humiliated in the most cruel and unfair way.
As for unfairness consider the treatment of the British cyclist Lizzie Armitstread who is being allowed to compete in the Olympic Games in Rio despite missing three drugs test. Even the Daily Telegraph has been driven to ask “Would we be as forgiving to Lizzie Armitstead for missed doping tests if she was Russian?”. The short answer to that question is of course no. A Russian cyclist who had missed three dugs would not be forgiven, and would not be allowed to compete in Rio even if like Armitstread her previous record was completely clean.
Though there is nothing more that can be done before the start of the Rio Olympics on Saturday, no-one should be under any illusions that the Russians will take this lying down. Like any other people who have been bullied and discriminated against they will be burning with the desire to vindicate themselves and to turn the tables on their tormentors. Moreover in contrast to the Magnitsky affair, the Litvinenko affair and MH17, this time they have the means to act on that desire. Both Monaco and Switzerland, the homes respectively of the IAAF and of the IOC, are signatories to the European Convention of Human Rights and have laws that prohibit discrimination. Already Russian athletes who were barred unfairly from competing in Rio because of the decisions of the IAAF and the IOC are saying they will bring cases in court, which will presumably be based on discrimination and lack of due process. Though there will no doubt be many legal obstacles to overcome, they will have the full backing of the Russian state which all but guarantees that they will have access to the very best lawyers who are all but guaranteed to find ways round.
If or rather when these cases are brought to court the grotesque unfairness and lack of due process that has marked this whole affair will be brought into stark relief. Moreover the evidence that appeared in the two WADA reports will finally be brought under proper scrutiny. Should that evidence unravel claims for compensation could be large. At that point the damage those behind the campaign might suffer would go well beyond mere embarrassment.
Possibly because the IOC knows this it is hurrying to distance itself from WADA, which it is now openly blaming for the whole affair. Though they were barely reported in the West IOC President Thomas Bach made the following comments about WADA on Tuesday. They suggest that WADA’s days – at least in its present form – are numbered:
“Recent developments have shown that we need a full review of the WADA anti-doping system. The IOC is calling for a more robust and efficient anti-doping system. This requires clear responsibilities, more transparency, more independence and better worldwide harmonisation.”
WADA for its part has cancelled a press conference it was due to hold on Friday. Its reasons for doing so – that the IOC decision made the press conference unnecessary – do not seem very convincing. Possibly it is becoming concerned by the criticism it is coming under from the IOC and was advised by its lawyers to cancel the press conference in light of the pending court cases.
Though as is usual with most cases that go to court it is unlikely that we will hear much about them for many months or even years, there is no doubt that over the next few weeks the Russian legal counter-offensive will start. Though Team Russia will get to Rio in severely truncated and demoralised form, this is not the end of the affair. On the contrary it has only just begun.