Pass on pun­ish­ment?

Will IOC again look the other way for one coun­try’s wide­spread dop­ing scheme?

Saskatoon StarPhoenix - - SPORTS - SCOTT STINSON sstin­son@post­media.com

The scene at the Ea­ton Cen­tre re­cently was the type that the Olympics loves to pro­mote. Team Canada un­veiled its uni­forms for PyeongChang 2018, schoolchil­dren waved the maple leaf and cheered var­i­ous Olympians, a moose mas­cot posed for pho­tos in his Canada jer­sey and gave ev­ery­one a thumbs-up.

The ath­letes were ex­cited for the Games, they looked sharp in their new duds, and Team Canada showed some love for its cor­po­rate part­ners: all very Olympics.

Up on stage af­ter­ward, Dustin Cook, an alpine skier who ex­pects to be com­pet­ing in South Korea, spoke of his pride in con­tin­u­ing the Crazy Canucks leg­end on the slopes. He’s ex­cited to get his sea­son go­ing, and lock down his place on Team Canada.

But, ask about the Rus­sians, and the smile fades. “I think the whole sit­u­a­tion is kind of ridicu­lous, and the fact that they are able to com­pete is a lit­tle ridicu­lous,” Cook says.

Well, yes. There is that.

It has now been 34 months since a Ger­man tele­vi­sion doc­u­men­tary al­leged wide­spread Rus­sian dop­ing, a scheme or­ches­trated by the coun­try’s top anti-dop­ing sci­en­tist. That led to a World Anti-Dop­ing Agency in­ves­tiga­tive com­mis­sion, which led to the Rus­sian sci­en­tist spilling his goods to U.S. me­dia, which led to an­other WADA probe, which ul­ti­mately saw the agency call for a to­tal ban on Rus­sian ath­letes from Rio 2016. The In­ter­na­tional Olympic Com­mit­tee de­murred, and most Rus­sians still com­peted in those Games.

And now, de­spite a month­s­long in­ves­ti­ga­tion by Cana­dian lawyer Richard McLaren that found a state-spon­sored Rus­sian dop­ing pro­gram and coverup “that op­er­ated on an un­prece­dented scale,” one that doc­u­mented how dozens of medal-win­ning ath­letes at Sochi 2014 took part in a pro­gram in which agents of the for­mer KGB swapped out dirty urine sam­ples in the dead of night, we are now trundling to­ward PyeongChang with noth­ing hav­ing been done.

A Rus­sian mem­ber of the IOC said last month that he ex­pects all of his coun­try’s ath­letes to com­pete in South Korea. The IOC, ap­par­ently un­will­ing to take WADA at its word, is try­ing to repli­cate McLaren’s find­ings with its own in­ves­ti­ga­tions. It re­ceived up­dates on those at a meet­ing in Peru last month, but they are on­go­ing. Richard Pound, the Cana­dian founder of WADA and an IOC mem­ber, was in Lima for those meet­ings and said in an in­ter­view that Rus­sia and dop­ing was not a ma­jor part of the agenda.

“The ele­phant in the room re­mains un­no­ticed,” he said. Or the bear, in this case. Asked if he thought it was pos­si­ble that the IOC, as it did in Rio, would pass on tak­ing broad ac­tion against Rus­sia, Pound said: “I sure as hell hope not.”

Ex­pect­ing the IOC to do the right thing, though, has not his­tor­i­cally been the safest of bets.

Its re­luc­tance in this in­stance is due in part to the un­usual na­ture of the charges against Rus­sia. Nor­mally, dop­ing vi­o­la­tions are a sim­ple and struc­tured thing: a test is failed, a backup sam­ple is tested, and if that also fails then pun­ish­ment is as­sessed. It’s an ab­so­lute li­a­bil­ity of­fence: how the drugs came to be in an ath­lete’s sys­tem is of no in­ter­est to anti-drug au­thor­i­ties.

But the Rus­sian story isn’t one of failed tests. It’s one of a whole sys­tem where test re­sults were ma­nip­u­lated by the same peo­ple charged with con­duct­ing them, a scheme so broad and ex­ten­sive that sev­eral years’ worth of neg­a­tive re­sults can­not be trusted.

In­stead of ev­i­dence in the form of pos­i­tive tests, WADA’s con­clu­sions rely on thou­sands of pages of doc­u­ments, much of it pro­vided by Grig­ory Rod­chenkov, the for­mer Moscow lab di­rec­tor who says he de­signed the dop­ing sys­tem at the be­hest of the Min­istry of Sport. Rod­chenkov’s role in all of this has al­ways been some­what murky, but a re­cent doc­u­men­tary, Icarus, fills in much of what was un­known about him.

A U.S. film­maker con­sulted with the Rus­sian in 2014 dur­ing work on what was orig­i­nally sup­posed to be a project about dop­ing in cy­cling, and in the midst of it the Ger­man tele­vi­sion re­port aired and WADA started pok­ing around his Moscow lab.

By the fall of 2015 the film­maker, Bryan Fo­gel, brought Rod­chenkov to Cal­i­for­nia, and in the spring of 2016 he de­cided to go pub­lic, telling the New York Times, 60 Min­utes, and a New York grand jury what he knew. One of his rea­sons for go­ing rogue was the death that Fe­bru­ary of Nikita Ka­maev, the head of the Rus­sian Anti-Dop­ing Agency. He died sud­denly, at 52, of a heart at­tack, which nat­u­rally made his friend Rod­chenkov ner­vous. Telling his story would, sim­ply, make it less likely that Rus­sia would kill him. He re­mains in hid­ing in the U.S., with his fam­ily still back home.

Rod­chenkov comes across in Icarus — a Net­flix doc­u­men­tary — as be­liev­able, if a bit goofy. He has a pen­chant for Skype-ing while shirt­less and also quot­ing Or­well’s 1984 at length. Rus­sian of­fi­cials, up to and in­clud­ing Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin, have waved his al­le­ga­tions away as the rant­ing of a liar, but the scope of what he has pro­vided is not the work of a sim­ple traitor with a grudge. His stuff has checked out. He told in­ves­ti­ga­tors that Rus­sian agents had fig­ured out a way to tam­per with “tam­per proof” bot­tles, and closer study found that there were tiny scratches around the lids — ev­i­dence they had been opened and re­sealed.

He told them that cer­tain urine sam­ples had been hastily alerted when Rus­sia dis­cov­ered that WADA of­fi­cials were about to seize them from the Moscow lab, and fur­ther study found some of those sam­ples con­tained phys­i­o­log­i­cally im­pos­si­ble salt lev­els.

As McLaren pointed out in his fi­nal re­port last year, if any of Rod­chenkov’s ev­i­dence pro­vided demon­stra­bly false, he would have been de­ported to Rus­sia, to an un­cer­tain fate.

The IOC might wish that it was deal­ing with pos­i­tive tests and dirty sam­ples, but that was the whole point of the Rus­sian sys­tem: pos­i­tive re­sults were switched to neg­a­tive, and dirty sam­ples were swapped for clean.

More test­ing won’t help. As cheat­ing goes, it was a top-notch sys­tem. The money quotes from Rod­chenkov in Icarus, as in­ter­viewed by Fo­gel:

“Does Rus­sia have a statewide dop­ing sys­tem in place to cheat the Olympics?”

“Yes.”

And: “Did Rus­sia swap out dirty urine for clean urine?” “Al­ways.”

This is what makes it the IOC’s choice both dif­fi­cult and ob­vi­ous: how can it not ban Rus­sia when its en­tire anti-dop­ing regime was bo­gus?

Cook, the Cana­dian skier, says he knows that a blan­ket ban isn’t ideal, “but I don’t think there’s enough be­ing done, for sure.”

“I lit­er­ally had a dop­ing test this morn­ing at 6 a.m. be­fore this event,” he said at the uni­form un­veil­ing. “We get tested all the time. And those guys have a sys­tem-wide dop­ing scheme? It’s ridicu­lous.”

And, as Pound puts it, Rus­sia still hasn’t re­ally paid for any­thing that the var­i­ous re­ports and in­ves­ti­ga­tions have un­earthed.

The track-and-field team was banned from Rio, as was the whole Par­a­lympic team — the IPC show­ing the spine that the IOC did not — but Rus­sia still won 56 medals in 2016 and will likely fin­ish near the top of the ta­ble in PyeongChang if it fields a full team. It was at the Win­ter Olympics where Rus­sians lit­er­ally drilled a se­cret hole in a lab­o­ra­tory wall so their agents could swap out urine sam­ples. And the whole team will be wel­comed back?

McLaren, in his fi­nal re­port, reached this con­clu­sion: “I would urge in­ter­na­tional sport lead­er­ship to take ac­count of what is known … and cor­rect what is wrong.” It has been more than 300 days since that re­port was re­leased. The 2018 Olympics be­gin a few months from now.

VALENTIN FLAURAUD/KEY­STONE FILE/VIA AP

Lawyer Richard McLaren, in­ves­ti­ga­tor and re­port au­thor for WADA, said Rus­sian Sports Min­istry of­fi­cials de­cided which ath­letes to save by cover­ing up failed drug tests, and swapped sam­ples con­tain­ing banned sub­stances at the 2014 Win­ter Olympics.

Dustin Cook

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