Cana­dian anti-dop­ing boss praises Rus­sia ban

Cana­dian agency had been ad­vo­cat­ing for ac­tion to stop sys­temic dop­ing in Olympics

Ottawa Citizen - - FRONT PAGE - WAYNE SCAN­LAN ws­can­lan@post­media.com twit­ter/@hock­eyscan­ner

Canada’s anti-dop­ing watch­dog is de­lighted, and slightly taken aback, that the In­ter­na­tional Olympic Com­mit­tee has fi­nally banned Rus­sia from an Olympic Games.

The IOC ruled Tues­day that Rus­sia would not be al­lowed to com­pete as a na­tion at the 2018 Win­ter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea.

Paul Melia, pres­i­dent and CEO for the Cana­dian Cen­tre for Ethics in Sport (CCES), which over­sees drug test­ing for Cana­dian ath­letes, says he is “pleas­antly sur­prised” by the ban.

“We have been ad­vo­cat­ing for sev­eral months now for the IOC to take this ac­tion,” said Melia, from his Ot­tawa of­fice Wed­nes­day. The CCES, which just moved to a new lo­ca­tion on Lan­caster Road, has for years been cham­pi­oning the cause of clean and fair sport.

Melia, who writes a blog on the CCES web­site, likes to say the cen­tre strives to “el­e­vate the con­science of sport in Canada,” work­ing on be­half of ath­letes, coaches and of­fi­cials to pro­mote val­ues of in­clu­sive and safe sport. The sys­tem­atic dop­ing in­volv­ing Rus­sian ath­letes over the past few years is the very an­tithe­sis of the CCES phi­los­o­phy.

What sparked the IOC ban of Rus­sia? The IOC’s own re­ports and the work con­ducted by Cana­dian lawyer Richard McLaren on be­half of the World An­tiDop­ing Agency helped turn the tide. For­mer ath­letes, in­clud­ing re­tired Cana­dian cross-coun­try ski cham­pion Beckie Scott, also brought pres­sure to bear on the IOC to do the right thing.

Melia called Scott a “true hero” in this story.

“Per­haps they (the IOC) read the pub­lic mood a bit bet­ter than they had in the past and re­al­ized the rea­son­able thing to do would be to im­pose a ban,” Melia said. “Not to do that might be play­ing with fire a lit­tle bit in terms of the pub­lic trust in the IOC and even the Olympic move­ment and its in­tegrity.

“It’s never too late to do the right thing. They did that yes­ter­day, with a few caveats.”

Canada has been at the fore­front of the anti-dop­ing story dating back to Ben John­son’s pos­i­tive test at the 1988 Seoul Olympics. That sparked years of in­tro­spec­tion, the Du­bin In­quiry and the start of the CCES. Out of this move­ment came a cul­ture that fos­ters and takes pride in clean sport.

Melia pointed to the con­trast in Rus­sia’s ap­proach to myr­iad pos­i­tive drug tests. De­nial, blame (es­pe­cially of whistle­blower Grig­ory Rod­chenkov), but no cul­ture change.

Af­ter the Salt Lake City Olympics, a rel­a­tively poor per­for­mance by Cana­dian ath­letes led to fur­ther in­tro­spec­tion and the de­vel­op­ment of the Own the Podium pro­gram lead­ing up to the Van­cou­ver 2010 Win­ter Olympics. Own the Podium pumped re­sources into train­ing, coach­ing, competition and nu­tri­tional sci­ence. The re­sult was a wildly suc­cess­ful Games in Van­cou­ver.

In con­trast, Melia said, Rus­sia’s re­sponse to mid­dling re­sults in Van­cou­ver was to in­vest in sys­tem­atic dop­ing to put on a show at home for the Sochi 2014 Olympics.

“They said, OK, let’s cre­ate a dop­ing pro­gram,” Melia said. “Let’s beat the world anti-dop­ing cause at ev­ery turn and use banned sub­stances. They did that and won 33 medals.

“It’s an in­ter­est­ing con­trast in ap­proach.”

Rus­sia plans to ap­peal the ban, and have fallen back on the fa­mil­iar re­frain that the West has it in for them.

Rus­sian ath­letes who can prove to an in­de­pen­dent panel they are clean will be al­lowed to com­pete in South Korea, but that will be dif­fi­cult given anti-dop­ing of­fi­cers have only been in Rus­sia for about a year and have not had ac­cess to many ath­letes in so­called “closed cities” in Rus­sia.

Melia ex­pects the fi­nal num­ber of Rus­sians al­lowed to com­pete, mi­nus their coun­try’s flag or an­them, will be small. Mean­while, clean ath­letes the world over can breathe eas­ier in their fi­nal weeks of train­ing, know­ing the play­ing field will be more level than in pre­vi­ous Olympics.

“McLaren comes out with his re­port — over a thou­sand Rus­sian ath­letes im­pli­cated across 30 dif­fer­ent sports, so if you’re an ath­lete who’s go­ing to PyeongChang know­ing the ma­jor­ity of Rus­sian ath­letes were dop­ing and you don’t have to com­pete against them, I think you would feel a lot bet­ter about that,” Melia said. “The IOC has your back.”

One com­pelling chap­ter still to un­fold is the threat­ened boy­cott of the PyeongChang Olympics by the KHL, Rus­sia’s top hockey league. Many of Canada’s top players out­side the NHL com­pete in the KHL and are ex­pected to be im­por­tant players for Canada in these Games, given the NHL’s de­ci­sion not to par­tic­i­pate. Ac­cord­ing to IIHF rules, the KHL is bound to re­lease its players for Olympic competition, but Rus­sia might de­cide to make its own rul­ing on the mat­ter.

“If that hap­pened, the qual­ity of the men’s ice hockey tour­na­ment in the Olympics, al­ready sig­nif­i­cantly wa­tered down with­out the NHL, would not be worth watch­ing,” Melia said.

Af­ter the an­nounced ban, Ilya Ko­valchuk, a for­mer NHL star now in the KHL, pleaded with Rus­sian of­fi­cials to al­low hockey players to com­pete.

JEAN LEVAC

Paul Melia of the Cana­dian Cen­tre for Ethics in Sport says he was “pleas­antly sur­prised” by the Olympic ban against Rus­sia.

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