IOC’s de­ci­sion on Russia a let­down

The Hamilton Spectator - - SPORTS - NANCY AR­MOUR

The In­ter­na­tional Olympic Com­mit­tee has sold its soul. Worse, it’s sold out all those clean ath­letes who have been beg­ging for some­one to have their backs, along with the wo­man brave enough to re­veal Russia’s dirty se­crets.

In­tegrity, de­cency, fair play — those are no longer the ideals on which the Olympic move­ment proudly and firmly stands. They’ve be­come chips to be bar­gained away in ex­change for money, sup­port and power. What’s the dis­ap­pear­ance of a few hun­dred pos­i­tive tests among friends when com­pared with $51 bil­lion to fur­ther the myth that the Olympics are a cel­e­bra­tion of the world at its best?

By re­fus­ing to im­pose a blan­ket ban on Russia for the Rio Games, de­spite damn­ing ev­i­dence of a wide­spread dop­ing pro­gram traced to the high­est reaches of its sports ad­min­is­tra­tion, the IOC left no doubt whose side it’s on. And it sure isn’t the ath­letes. “It speaks to the con­flicts of in­ter­est that the IOC has and their in­abil­ity to re­ally stand up and be a leader for ath­letes and clean sport. To re­ally be on our side,” Lau­ryn Wil­liams, a gold medal­list in the 4x100 me­ter re­lay in Lon­don and mem­ber of the World Anti-Dop­ing Agency’s ath­letes com­mit­tee, told USA TO­DAY Sports.

“This just fur­thers the point that this is a busi­ness. It’s not some­thing re­ally built and set in the best in­ter­ests of the ath­letes.”

The Rus­sian dop­ing cri­sis is the big­gest threat to the Olympic move­ment since the boy­cotted Sum­mer Games in 1980 and ’84. When peo­ple don’t trust what they see, they lose faith and then they lose in­ter­est, and that’s the last thing an IOC al­ready strug­gling to con­nect with young sports fans can af­ford.

Yet when strong, de­ci­sive lead­er­ship was needed most, the IOC lost its back­bone. First it spent years ig­nor­ing al­le­ga­tions that the Rus­sians were cheat­ing. Then, when it came time to make the tough call on Russia’s par­tic­i­pa­tion in Rio, it shirked its du­ties and told the in­ter­na­tional sports fed­er­a­tions to do it.

Oh, IOC pres­i­dent Thomas Bach talked a good game, blus­ter­ing about the “high­est hur­dles”

that Rus­sian ath­letes will have to clear be­fore they’ll be al­lowed to com­pete in Rio.

But years from now, all any­one will re­mem­ber is that the IOC caved.

This was not an in­di­vid­ual ath­lete or two cheat­ing or even a dirty train­ing group. This was a mas­sive dop­ing pro­gram spread across win­ter and sum­mer fed­er­a­tions, with the McLaren re­port find­ing that pos­i­tive tests were made to dis­ap­pear in 29 dif­fer­ent sports.

Bach can claim all he wants is that the Rus­sian Olympic Com­mit­tee wasn’t ac­tively in­volved in the scheme, but you’d have to be blind, deaf and dumb to think some­thing this au­da­cious could have been done with­out the ROC hav­ing some inkling it was go­ing on.

If ever there was a time for the IOC to send the mes­sage that cheat­ing will not be tol­er­ated, this was it. That there will be harsh penal­ties if you wil­fully and brazenly sub­vert the sys­tem, no mat­ter who you are.

But come Aug. 5, Rus­sian ath­letes will march in the open­ing cer­e­mony.

Rus­sian ath­letes will com­pete in sev­eral sports. Rus­sian ath­letes will win medals and hear their na­tional an­them played. The Rus­sian flag will fly at the Games.

It will be al­most as if this whole mess never hap­pened, which is surely how Russia and Bach want it.

“For a man who said that he wanted to pro­tect the rights of clean ath­letes and had zero tol­er­ance for dop­ing, this de­ci­sion to­day stands as (Bach’s) ac­tual legacy to the Olympic move­ment in to­tal con­trast to his sup­posed zero tol­er­ance for dop­ing,” said Max Cobb, CEO of USA Biathlon and staunch dop­ing critic.

As dis­ap­point­ing as the IOC’s de­ci­sion was, its to­tal aban­don­ment of whis­tle blower Yu­lia Stepanova was down­right chill­ing.

The mid­dle-dis­tance run­ner won’t be al­lowed to com­pete in Rio be­cause she was pre­vi­ously banned for dop­ing. Never mind that she’s served that ban, or that the Rus­sian dop­ing cri­sis didn’t come to light with­out her and her hus­band, a former em­ployee in Russia’s an­tidop­ing agency.

By ban­ning her from Rio, the IOC told any­one else think­ing of speak­ing out about dop­ing not to bother. The IOC doesn’t want to hear it.

“We know this is not the full dop­ing scan­dal, we know this is not the only coun­try,” Wil­liams said. “There are other peo­ple who are try­ing to get the courage up and, see­ing the lack of sup­port, I think it is go­ing to be very dis­cour­ag­ing for fu­ture whis­tle blow­ers.”

The whole thing is dis­cour­ag­ing. The IOC had a chance to take a stand, to de­fend both its prin­ci­ples and the peo­ple who abide by them.

In­stead, it sold them out, ev­ery last one of them.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS FILE PHOTO

IOC Pres­i­dent Thomas Bach, left, and Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin watch the clos­ing cer­e­mony of the 2014 Win­ter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

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