Sports governance under scrutiny as Russian track and field banned from Rio

Ruth Green

Ruth Green

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The long-awaited decision on Russia’s participation in the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro finally came on 17 June when the world athletics governing body slammed Russia’s athletics federation for categorically failing to meet the readmission criteria.

 The decision by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) came seven months after it suspended its Russian member following the release of a damning independent report commissioned by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), which exposed state-sponsored doping in Russian athletics. WADA also suspended the accreditation of the suspect Moscow laboratory and declared Russia’s anti-doping agency, RUSADA, non-compliant.

Despite the IAAF’s bold decision, it was a tantalising four-day wait until the International Olympic Committee (IOC) – which has the final say over which countries and sports are eligible to take part in Olympic events – announced it was also upholding the ban on Russia’s athletics federation, RusAf (known previously as ARAF before changing its name in January 2016). 

Olivier Niggli, Director General, WADA

However, in a statement, the IOC added that any individual track and field athletes from Russia still wishing to compete at Rio would need to undergo additional testing to prove they’re drug-free. The same requirement will be applied to Kenyan athletes, whose anti-doping system has also been declared non-compliant by WADA.

The IOC has doubled its budget for pre-Olympic testing ahead of Rio. In addition, it called upon Russia and Kenya’s international sports federations to make use of other reliable adequate testing systems in addition to national anti-doping testing, given the absence of a positive national anti-doping test could not be considered sufficient.  

IOC President Thomas Bach said any Russian athletes that are deemed eligible would be allowed to compete under the Russian national flag.

On Wednesday 22 June WADA suspended the laboratory in Rio de Janeiro that is handling drug testing for the Olympics, saying it had failed to conform with international standards and was prohibited from ‘carrying out all anti-doping analyses on urine and blood samples’. Just six weeks before the Games’ opening ceremony, WADA said that, while the suspension remained, any samples would be transported securely to other WADA-accredited laboratories worldwide.

Results of an investigation into doping allegations relating to the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics are due by 15 July and will prompt the next question: could other Russian sports also be banned from Rio? 

‘‘If the report’s allegations are that doping might be organised at a state level, well then obviously this may concern a lot of other sports

Olivier Niggli
Director General, World Anti-Doping Agency

During a press conference in London on 20 June – coincidentally nestled between the IAAF and IOC decisions – WADA President Sir Craig Reedie told journalists that WADA would take ‘precedent-setting’ action if the investigation, which is being led by veteran sports arbitrator and investigator Richard McLaren, revealed state collusion in doping across other sports.

‘We are encouraged that the IAAF recognises their responsibilities,’ he says. ‘They suspended the national federation in Russia because of code breaches. If there is clear evidence of other sports being involved, then clearly you would hope that other international federations might take the same view.’

Speaking to Global Insight, Olivier Niggli, former General Counsel and now Director General of WADA, agreed that McLaren’s report could have dramatic implications for the country’s other sports.

‘The IAAF decision in itself doesn’t have an implication for other Russian sports,’ he says. ‘It certainly sets a good example of what could happen when compliance is not met and anti-doping programmes are not satisfactory, but in itself it concerns the sport of athletics. If the report’s allegations are that doping might be organised at a state level, well then obviously this may concern a lot of other sports.’

As for athletes appealing Russia’s ban at the Court of Arbitration for Sport, Niggli says their chances of success are unclear.

‘I don't know, we will see,’ he says. ‘I think the ban is based on fairly well-reasoned grounds that were highlighted by the IAAF Taskforce that had the task of looking at that. So this was not a decision that was made without very in-depth thinking from the IAAF, but we'll see the arguments that athletes can raise.’

Akira Kawamura, former IBA President and a member of the IAAF’s Ethics Board, says the IAAF ban is a wake-up call for the athletics world.

Michael Beloff, Chair, IAAF Ethics Board

‘I would take it positively that the IAAF Council meeting decided to send a very strong message to Russia’s athletics federation, rather than to each individual athlete,’ he says. ‘The IAAF Ethics Board Chair, Michael Beloff QC, correctly points out that these issues are mushrooming under the circumstances where the sports industry has grown to be one of the largest global industries and has outgrown the self-control mechanisms of sports governing bodies. I share his view. The message would naturally be sent to RusAf as it is primarily responsible for reforming its own governance.’

As Kawamura acknowledges, doping and corruption are not isolated to Russia, but are symptomatic of a widespread, global problem afflicting sport.

‘Given the timeframe of the Rio Olympics, people may wish to avoid further disclosure of the problems,’ he says. ‘I think we should not hesitate to open the issues to the public debate and keep the momentum to clear up the ethical questions in the sport industry.’

Meanwhile, whistleblowing, which has played such a key role in exposing the failings of anti-doping systems in Russia and elsewhere, is firmly on WADA’s agenda.

‘We have no power to compel anybody to come and talk to us,’ says Niggli. 'That’s where having a good whistleblower programme is so important because we need to encourage people to come and talk.’

Niggli says a fully-fledged whistleblower programme – a nod to the last remaining recommendation outlined in the report by WADA’s independent commission – is due to be implemented by November 2016.

Whistleblowing is reaping results in other major sports. Speaking during a session on whistleblowing at the IBA Anti-Corruption Conference in Paris on 16 June, Hans-Joachim Eckert, Chairman of FIFA’s Ethics Committee's adjudicatory chamber, said FIFA’s mechanism to encourage whistleblowers to come forward was already paying off.

‘FIFA's Ethics Committee installed a whistleblowing internet site,’ he said. ‘It's extra, nobody from FIFA is able to go on the site – only the chairmen of the investigatory chamber of the independent Ethics Committee have access to the site. I can assure you there are lots of whistleblowing comments on there and I think this is the way forward – you must go to the media, offer the internet and then whistleblowers will come.’   

Although Beloff was unable to comment on the IAAF’s decision on Russia, he told Global Insight in a recent interview that whistleblowers need greater protection if corruption is to be eradicated from sport once and for all.

‘We very much have to rely on cooperation and importantly of course on whistleblowers,’ he says. ‘This is really where I think the development of the law and developing processes to protect anonymity [should go], even perhaps in future like they have in the FBI – giving people safe houses and new identities and so on. It seems a sort of macabre world but that’s the direction in which I fear we may have to go if we’re to rule out culture of this kind.’