Russian doping and corruption revelations prompt arbitration rush ahead of Rio Olympics

Ruth GreenMonday 1 August 2016



Revelations about the extent of the Russian government’s involvement in orchestrating and concealing doping across many sports – including during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi – has rocked the sporting world in the run-up to the 2016 Olympics and Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro.

The revelations came in a report, released on 18 July, following an intense two-month inquiry by lawyer and investigator Professor Richard McLaren, who was commissioned by the World Anti-Doping Agency to investigate allegations of Russia manipulating the doping control process. McLaren was also part of the team led by Dick Pound that exposed systemic doping in Russian athletics in November 2015, and, in doing so, revealed the involvement of senior officials from the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) in the cover-up.

Speaking exclusively with Global Insight, McLaren said even he was shocked by the outcome of the latest inquiry. ‘Although my mandate was to follow up any evidence that came out of Sochi, we ended up with something much larger than Sochi itself – I wasn’t expecting that when I took on the task, I don’t think anybody was,’ he said. I began to realise it was a unique aspect of something which had been going on regularly since at least late 2011 or early 2012 in the Moscow laboratory across all sport and that totally surprised me.’

In June, the IAAF and the International Olympics Committee (IOC), which has the final word on which countries and sports participate in Olympic events, banned Russia’s track and field athletes from competing at Rio. Following McLaren’s report, WADA urged the IOC and the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) to ban Russia’s entire Olympic and Paralympic teams. The IOC decided to delegate the decision to each sport’s governing body, while the IPC announced it was opening suspension proceedings against Russia’s Paralympic Committee.

Rob Wyld

Rob Wyld, co-chair of the IBA’s Anti-Corruption Committee

Rob Wyld, co-chair of the IBA’s Anti-Corruption Committee, believes the IOC’s response is wholly inadequate. ‘[This] is a sad indictment on the Russian sports ministry, the Russian Olympic sports’ organisations and on the Russian State itself,’ he says. ‘What is worse in my opinion, is the hopelessly weak response from the IOC to what McLaren described as a systemic, state-sanctioned corruption scheme tied in with the abuse of all standards of fairness in sport in order to pursue winning at any cost. The IOC, while professing support for clean athletes, has completely failed to demonstrate any leadership or to come down hard on a country that has torn up the rules, stuck its finger up at the world and the IOC, and has decided it will drug its athletes in order to win at any cost. It refused to make a stand, no doubt worried about boycotts and financial losses and taking on a State with an autocratic ruler. Frankly, that is appalling and sets a terrible example for the future.’

Some people though, including McLaren himself, have not been surprised by the IOC’s stance: ‘The IOC decided that they shouldn’t be banned and that was their decision to make. They had the information I provided as a basis to discuss how they should react and that’s what they chose to do. Did I think they would have gone as far as to enact an outright ban? No, I wasn’t surprised, but I never expressed that before they made their decision, I kept silent on the matter and just gave my report, which is factual and I know that everything I’ve said has met a standard of beyond reasonable doubt, which is a well-known and understood criminal evidentiary barrier to accepting evidence and you do with it what you need to do with it.’

‘‘The IOC, while professing support for clean athletes, has completely failed to demonstrate any leadership or to come down hard on a country that has torn up the rules

Rob Wyld, Co-chair, IBA Anti-Corruption Committee

When asked whether the IPC’s response raises questions about the IOC’s decision, McLaren says it simply highlights the complexity of the issue. ‘I think it shows you that it’s a very close call,’ he said. ‘They’re both operating from the same basic information, which is my report, and they came to different conclusions and different decisions as a result of the information. I think that illustrates the validity of every party’s point of view in the debate and there are other possible, different outcomes held by different organisations, which are equally as valid and equally as strong. I think that’s quite a legitimate outcome and if there was some third or fourth body that had to make a decision they might well come out with slightly different views to either of the two that have expressed theirs.’

More than 100 Russians have now been banned from competing in events such as athletics, weightlifting, swimming, rowing, canoeing and sailing. The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) has already rejected appeals by 68 Russian track and field athletes to compete at Rio and is handling at least eight appeals by other banned Russian sportsmen and sportswomen. More than 250 Russians have been cleared to participate and the IOC has established a three-person panel to make the final decision on their eligibility to compete. 

The McLaren report identified Russia’s athletics and weightlifting teams – the latter subsequently received an outright ban by the International Weightlifting Federation – as the worst offenders. However, McLaren warns that gaps in his team’s data may mean some sports are not receiving the scrutiny they deserve. ‘While there are a number of sports that aren’t included in our report, it doesn’t mean that they’re not involved in these types of practices, it simply means we either didn’t have any information or enough information that met our standard of being beyond reasonable doubt to be included in the report,’ he said. ‘This is because the database that we have is not comprehensive and of course we did not have access to many Russia-based databases.’

Time is of the essence though as the Olympics kick off on 5 August. On 7 August the IPC announced it was banning Russia’s entire Paralympics team from taking part in this year’s Paralympics, which starts on 7 September. Russia now has until 28 August to appeal the decision to CAS.

Akira Kawamura, former IBA President and a member of the IAAF’s Ethics Board, says the current legal wrangling highlights the need to establish protocols to avoid similar obfuscation in future. ‘Given the widespread doping suspects revealed just weeks before Rio, it seems to me that the IOC’s recent decision was necessary and realistic,’ he says. ‘I would nonetheless hope that more time and fair process be assured for all of the parties involved. We should continue to work hard to establish the precedents for future cases.’