- The threat of keeping Russia from competing at Rio 2016 is working
- But Thomas Bach and his fellow Olympic heads need to do more
- Bach is the president of the International Olympic Committee
- Other Olympic bosses have been following Bach’s dismal lead
Forget Russia for a minute. Maybe it is the Olympic movement itself that needs to be excluded from next year’s Games. Ban Thomas Bach, president of the International Olympic Committee. Ban the foolish representatives of the European Olympic Committees, too. They are the ones who do not seem to get it.
The threat of keeping Russia from Rio in 2016 is working — it is only those charged with protecting the Olympic spirit who are in denial.
On Friday in Moscow, two Russian athletes suspended from international competition following WADA’s report into systematic doping, gave a press conference. Middle-distance runners Kristina Ugarova and Tatyana Myazina said they would sue their former team-mate and whistle-blower Yulia Stepanova, and bring a libel suit against ARD, the German television station that first broadcast her revelations.
Whether they go through with this or not is irrelevant. More significant are their self-pitying protests.
‘Our team-mates are saying it’s because of us that they cannot compete,’ whined Ugarova, ‘but any athlete could end up in our situation.’
Well, any athlete taped admitting to EPO use, as Myazina was; or recorded stating that runners no longer took EPO, but her coach had given her ‘a course’ instead, like Ugarova. Naturally, both athletes deny the validity of this evidence.
Yet what their mewling victimhood proves, very plainly, is that the ban is succeeding and excluding Russian athletes from competition is having the desired effect. Stigmatising drug use; isolating cheats. Athletes who used performance-enhancing drugs with impunity are now being held to account by their team-mates.
Myazina and Ugarova are facing enormous peer pressure. And that is the strongest weapon WADA have.
Sport must make clean athletes aware that their careers could be blighted by a corrupt regime. They have got to nurture that need to blow the whistle. The IOC should be cheered by this; instead they work against it.
Bach barely waited for Russia’s ban to be confirmed by the IAAF before he prepared to welcome them back to the fold.
Less than 24 hours after the All-Russian Athletics Federation was excluded from competition, Bach held a meeting with Russian Olympic chief Alexander Zhukov. It was promised that Russia, and its bent anti-doping laboratory, would comply with WADA regulations ‘as soon as possible’. This meagre detail was enough for Bach.
Russian middle-distance runners Kristina Ugarova (pictured) and Tatyana Myazina spoke out on Friday
Ugarova and Myazina (pictured) said they would sue ex-team-mate Yulia Stepanova at the press conference
‘We are confident the initiative proposed by the ROC will ensure compliance, to provide participation of the clean Russian athletes at the Olympic Games,’ he said.
Just like that. From dirty and out to clean and in, and all in a day. Bach is precisely the sort of time-serving, realpolitik creep who has hung around sport for too long. Still, it only takes one — and within the week a large gathering of Olympic bosses were following his dismal lead.
On Friday, at a meeting of European Olympic Committee heads in Prague, it was announced that the hosts of the 2019 European Games would be Russia, at the centres of Sochi and Kazan.
This is Kazan where the IAAF World Junior Championships were due to take place in July 2016 — until Russia was banned from international competition. The IAAF’s World Race Walking Team Championships have been removed from Cheboksary in May for the same reason.
Yet against this backdrop of justified rebuke, EOC chiefs decided that what Russia needed was official endorsement. Here, have a championship, they decided; or should we say, have another one, considering Russia has recently hosted global events in athletics and swimming, and is now preparing for FIFA’s World Cup in 2018.
No wonder Vitaly Mutko, Russia’s sports minister and heavily implicated in the doping scandal, adopted an almost contemptuous tone to the IAAF sanction. ‘What will happen? Nothing will happen,’ he said. ‘The guys will train, they will miss maybe one tournament.’
Bach and his fellow Olympic heads should be ashamed by that response. They are the reason Mutko can talk so dismissively of what may be the greatest scandal in athletics history.
Bach held a meeting with Russian Olympic chief Alexander Zhukov (pictured in Moscow on Wednesday)
Vitaly Mutko, Russia’s sports minister, pictured delivering a speech in Moscow on Wednesday
The European Games might be a mocked-up, cash-in of a tournament, last awarded to that bastion of democracy and sporting prowess Azerbaijan, but that is not the way it will be sold in Russia. The prize of hosting will be sold as validation, a decision that betrays the whistle-blowers, the investigators and all those who campaign for clean sport.
And the good guys were winning. Ugarova and Myazina said they hoped other accused Russian athletes would join their legal case, but a collection of drug cheats, whether convicted or suspected, is a pretty unwholesome sight, however smartly attired on the witness stand.
WADA found Ugarova had high haemoglobin and low reticulocyte in her blood tests, an absence of urine samples and personal best times from 2012 that indicated ‘a strong suspicion of doping’. They had tried to contact her for interview three times by email without success. Maybe it will sound better when it is read out in court.
If there is evidence of systematic corruption, national exclusion is appropriate. Yelena Isinbayeva, two-time Olympic pole vault champion, is hoping to compete in Rio de Janeiro beneath the Independent Olympic Athletes banner.
Yet that would defeat the object. The only Russian athletes allowed in should be those who are clean, and contribute to the investigation. Last week, the executive of the International Weightlifting Federation decided 11 failed drug tests was too much, and banned Bulgaria from the Olympic Games. This was another significant step. Bulgaria did not win a medal in the sport until 1952, but are now the fourth most successful weightlifting nation in Olympic history.
Bach and his fellow Olympic heads should be ashamed for allowing Mutko and Co to brush off the scandal
So imagine the reaction of a clean Bulgarian weightlifter to the news that his career has been thwarted by cheating team-mates.
He wouldn’t stand silent or idle around dopers in future, that is for sure. He would report every last suspicion. Exclusion works. What Ugarova and Myazina hate is not the ban, but the judgmental fury of their team-mates. This is WADA’s greatest weapon in the fight against drugs: the stigma of ruining it for everybody.
If only Bach and his cohorts would get with the programme, we could actually win this.