In Depth

Russian doping scandal: What does it mean for Rio 2016?

Despite revelations about its state-sponsored doping programme, Russian competitors are certain to appear at the Olympics

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has come under heavy fire for failing to ban Russia from the Rio Olympics in the wake of an incendiary report from the World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada), which lifted the lid on a huge state-sponsored doping programme covering almost all Olympic sports.

Earlier allegations had prompted the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), the governing body of track and field, to ban Russian athletes from the Games and many expected a blanket ban across all sports in the wake of the report last week.

However, by leaving it up to the individual federations to rule on Russian participation, the IOC has almost guaranteed there will be Russian competitors in Rio as the various sporting bodies are unlikely to have time to assess each athlete before the Games begin on 5 August.

What has Russia been accused of?

A German TV documentary first bought allegations of widespread corruption to the public eye last year, leading to a Wada inquiry and a "damning" report on Russian doping.

The Russian athletics team was banned from international competition, but last week's McLaren report, which was based on the testimony of the former head of the Moscow testing laboratory, Grigory Rodchenko, goes even further.

It makes a series of claims about Russian doping practices between 2011 and 2015 and the Sochi Winter Olympics of 2014 in particular, saying Russia:

  • made positive drug tests disappear from its anti-doping laboratories;
  • destroyed 8,000 doping samples it held dated prior to 10 September 2014;
  • built up a store bank of clean, frozen urine from athletes ahead of the Sochi Games;
  • Swapped positive urine samples for clean negative ones through a hole in a wall at the Sochi testing centre,
  • and used secret service agents disguised as plumbers to tamper with the bottles containing the samples
The IOC response

Despite calls from Wada and other anti-doping agencies for a blanket ban on Russia, the IOC instead ruled that Russian participation in the Rio Games should be decided by the various sporting bodies. That decision came after a court challenge to the IAAF ban failed, allowing the ruling body of athletics to prevent Russian athletes from participating in Rio.

It also banned all Russian competitors with previous doping convictions from competing, although other athletes who have served their punishments - US sprinter Justin Gatlin, for example - will be able to compete. That means whistleblower Yuilya Stepanova, an 800m runner who served a two-year drug ban from 2011 to 2013 and had been expected to compete as a neutral athlete, will be not be allowed to participate at Rio.

"External pressure to do with global politics and sport's utter subservience to money was always going to shape the IOC's thinking when it came to the era-defining decision on whether to cast Russia out," says Paul Hayward of the Daily Telegraph.

"In the end they came up with a feeble compromise, dropping moral responsibility from a great height on individual federations, who have 12 days to run through the legal minefield of considering each Russian case.

"Many will lack the staff, legal-back up and resolve to deal with this legal landslide before the Rio opening ceremony."

Is it just Russia?

Not necessarily. Former Wada president Dick Pound, who oversaw the 2016 investigation into Russia, said the report was just the "tip of the iceberg" and that problems were likely to extend to other countries and other sports.

Russian sports minister Vitaly Mutko, the head of the country's 2018 football World Cup-organising committee, has also been heavily implicated in the scandal.

"The conclusion to be taken from McLaren's report is not that a sizeable minority of Russian Olympic athletes were involved in doping, but that the majority were. That was the basis for the IAAF's decision to ban the track and field team, and for the Court of Arbitration for Sport to give the body legal backing that they were within their rights to do so," says Martyn Ziegler of The Times.

"We can be sure that there are other countries in the world whose governments are similarly enmeshed in the cynical pursuit of glory by enforcing a culture of doping. Sadly, shamefully, the message now is if you get caught you will not suffer as a country."

The finger of suspicion has already been pointed at other nations, says The Independent. "Kenya and Turkey are two countries thought to be heavily investigated, with a high number of athletes banned because of failed doping tests."

However, nothing has been proven and the prospect of an Olympic ban for Kenya remains "slim", says The Guardian.

"The distinction with Russia is worth stressing," it adds. "The Russian Athletics Federation was suspended from international athletics after the country was found guilty of state-sponsored doping. In Kenya's case, Wada's intervention is about forcing the nation's government to provide the £3.5m needed to fund and staff the fledgling Anti-Doping Agency of Kenya."

Diplomatic fall-out

The scandal is in danger of becoming about more than sport and the IOC is widely thought to have buckled under diplomatic pressure from Russia.

"Russia's deep political reach should have told us this would happen. The buddy-act between Vladimir Putin and the IOC president, Thomas Bach, is indicative of a much greater distortion in world sport, which the Russians have used to their advantage," sats Hayward of the Telegraph.

Another under-fire sporting figure, former Fifa president Sepp Blatter, claimed his regime had become the target of Western self-interest and Russia could play a similar card.

So far, Moscow's reaction has been to reject the accusations. A spokesman for President Vladimir Putin has called them "groundless".

The IOC ruling was met with "relief and jubilation but also lingering anger over state-sponsored doping allegations that are viewed as a political attack on the country", says the Guardian.

Last year, Russia's former triple-jump world champion Yolanda Chen said: "With everything happening to Russia now, all the sanctions and bad relations with the West, it's like this is just another link in the chain. If they pressurise us on one front and we don't bend then they start hitting us in our sorest spot – and that is sport."


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