Interested in International Security, Terrorism and Geopolitics. Constantly on the look out for my next travel adventure.
Published in the Telegraph 07.06.2016
As if further proof were required, the news that 14 Russian athletes slated to compete at this summer’s Olympic Games have returned positive urine samples for banned substances should now put the debate to bed: there is absolutely no way Russia’s track and field stars can be allowed to compete in Rio this summer.
Rocked by recent revelations of Russian doping at the 2014 winter games in Sochi, and following in the wake of Dick Pound’s damning independent report, released earlier this year, which accuses Russia of “state-sanctioned” doping, the International Olympic Committee were correct to order the re-testing of 454 urine samples taken at the 2008 games in Beijing. The latest advanced testing techniques uncovered evidence of doping in the samples of 32 athletes, 14 of whom were Russian.
We have also now learnt that 23 athletes from the 2012 London Olympics – which the World Anti-Doping Agency has said was “more or less sabotaged by Russian athletes” – have failed drug retests. Again, eight were Russian. The Russian Sports Ministry has suggested that the athletes themselves are solely to blame, but it’s important to remember the Pound Report concluded it would be “naïve in the extreme to conclude that activities on the scale discovered could have occurred without the explicit or tacit approval of Russian government authorities” and that it was “impossible” that the Russian Sports Minister, Vitaly Mutko, “was not aware of the problem”. The Russian government has never apologised for its role.
Russia is not the victim of doping, it is the protagonist. This is a country where a “shadow lab” was set up in order for dirty samples to be switched in the dead of the night during the Sochi 2014 games. It is a country where a training centre linked to 25 doping cases is still part of Russia’s track and field system. The coach, Viktor Chegin, may have fallen from grace, but several of his athletes are still competing and would be in the running for medals if they are allowed to go to Rio. Are we seriously saying that they were part of a different culture to the dopers they trained alongside every day? Pull the other one.
The Russian authorities have had the opportunity to prove they were serious about their pledge to “uphold the highest standards in sport” but have blown it. Since the Russian Anti-Doping Agency was declared non-compliant by Wada last year, our Anti-Doping Agency, Ukad, has been hired to do their testing. Somewhat predictably, they’ve been frustrated at every turn: athletes under suspicion haven’t been able to be located; 99 of the 247 tests due to take place simply haven’t; and the forcibly applied caveat, in some cases, that athletes be given 30 days’ notice of testing completely scuppers the principle of ‘surprise testing’. Add to the mix reports of three heavily armed FSB officials threatening one anti-doping officer with deportation and a picture forms that is a long way from a country desperate to learn from its mistakes and committed to carrying out the measures it wants the world to believe it is adopting.
In fact what we have seen is little more than Russia attempt to buy the good name of UK Anti-Doping so they can tell the world they have worked with an independent, credible agency to resolve their issues, while doing nothing of the kind.
Russia’s athletics team are currently barred from competition, with a decision on whether they should be reinstated set to be made by athletics’ world governing body, the IAAF, on June 17. The Russian sports ministry has been loudly trumpeting the reforms they have begun to enact, but their words ring hollow, particularly given the ignominious context in which they are being spouted: as many as nine Russian medallists may about to be stripped of their titles from Beijing, plunging the credibility of athletics to new lows – if that is even possible.
Athletics finds itself at a crossroads and its integrity, and the trust of its fans, are on the line. If the Rio Olympics are to leave a more credible and enduring legacy than the last two games –which Russian athletes have done so much to tarnish – the Russian track and field team should be barred from any involvement.