It’s been a while since my last article on this blog. I’ve been busy with a few other things. But let me assure you that it’s not because nothing has happened in the world of sport in the meantime. Quite on the contrary… So I will take my time to catch up and talk to you about some of the things that happened during the last months that seem to be of special importance to sport in general or to me personally.
Starting with… Russia!
Oh, not again, you might say. And I couldn’t blame you for that. In fact I’m feeling the same way. I’m fed up with this! I’m sick and tired of hearing about “new revelations”, IOC officials being “shocked” by the “unprecedented scale” of the scandal, Russian officials blaming “political interests” behind the accusations. But actually the ones to blame for all of us having to hear these things over and over again, are not the media reporting it but the bunch of corrupt, selfish, criminal individuals and organizations that are threatening the very existence of organized sport and of the Olympic Movement.
A short while ago, Canadian law professor Richard McLaren published the second part of his devastating report on Doping in Russia. Just the same story again, you think? The same old accusations? How could the situation be even worse in any way than it already was?
Well… Guess again! I’m reading the words of the report but even with the little tad of advanced knowledge that I might have acquired during the last years, it’s hard for me to comprehend fully what I am reading.
Russia not only orchestrated a state-run Doping scheme, but an entire system with all the necessary infrastructure, man-power and intelligence services available to manipulate all kinds of international events on a large scale. More than 1000 (in words: one thousand!) athletes have now been implicated as having been directly involved in the system or benefitted from it. A large number of summer, winter and paralympic sports (more than 30 in total) are affected, as are several medal winners of the Sochi 2014 and London 2012 Games. Russia is cited as having “manipulated and corrupted on an unprecedented scale” several international events, including the Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, the Games of the XXX Olympiad in London, the 2013 IAAF World Championships in Moscow and the 2013 Universiade in Kazan. Several names of individuals involved are mentioned openly in the report, including notably Russian Deputy Prime Minister and former Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko.
Another major step in comparison to the first part of the report is that this time written evidence is provided. The report does not rely on witness statements only but on written documents, supporting the findings in detail. All athletes mentioned in the report and the documents are referred to by a number, with their names redacted. However these names have already been submitted to the relevant IFs and the IOC or IPC for further (disciplinary) proceedings.
The reactions from the IOC (“deeply shocked”, “need to work together”) and Russia (“total nonsense”, “politically motivated”) have been, well, quite foreseeable as they have been the same throughout this entire scandal. So, I don’t really want to talk about them right now…
The reactions of some IFs have been far more interesting and diverse. Following growing pressure from athletes from several nations, the International Bobsleigh and Skeleton Federation (IBSF) has decided to move next year’s world championship from Sochi to a different location (outside of Russia, obviously). A move which has been met with harsh criticism and demands for compensation from Russia, and praise and support from virtually everywhere else.
The International Biathlon Union (IBU) was the next to take action, albeit again with a little pressure from teams like the Czech Republic (with Gabriela Koukalova) and Norway (with Ole Einar Björndalen) and this time even with assistance from the Russians who withdrew themselves from hosting the world cup events and Junior World Championships in Tyumen this season. While IBU is currently investigating to possibly (and hopefully!) move the recently awarded world championship in 2021 from Tyumen as well, IIHF’s president Rene Fasel has voiced his support for keeping the 2018 U-18 ice hockey world championships in Russia, even though several members of Russia’s Women’s ice hockey team from Sochi 2014 are implicated directly in the report.
Other federations, like Judo (IJF) whose president Marius Vizer, to put it that way, hasn’t exactly been at the forefront of criticising Russian (sports) authorities, are even more reluctant to take serious consequences. I could mention in this context that Vladimir Putin himself is an “Honorary President” of the IJF, but I’m sure that’s a mere coincidence…
And FIFA… oh well, they just keep being FIFA…
As you can see, the reactions in international sports are quite similar when it comes to condemning the findings and voicing “shock” and, in some cases, “anger” at those involved. They differ however significantly as far as the willingness to take actual consequences is concerned. In this situation some kind of leadership should be expected from the one body who is, according to its charter, obliged to provide this leadership, the IOC… I think you know why I wrote “should” instead of “can” or even “will” or a similar term…
I do not have high hopes that a large number of IFs and the IOC (and it’s president!) will now have a change of mind and suddenly take some really significant steps. What steps would that be?
Well, let’s see…:
- the IOC, IPC, IAAF, FISU (University Sports) and other IFs and organizations involved to disqualify and sanction all individual athletes and teams directly implicated in the report and found to be in breach of the World Anti Doping Code (WADC),
- this includes a withdrawal of medals and diploma, won at the Sochi 2014 or London 2012 Olympics or any other event affected,
- IFs specifically affected by a significant number of cases under their jurisdiction to suspend the membership of the respective Russian sports federation and ban all Russian athletes from competing in any international events,
- this should be adjusted depending on the actual extent of these cases under the IFs jurisdiction. A good guideline could be the rule implemented by the IWF (Weightlifting), suspending a country for one year if three or more athletes are found to have been in violation of the WADC during the retests from Beijing and London.
- for more serious cases, i.e. in sports with an even larger number of cases, the suspension should be indefinitely, and should only be lifted once different structures have been implemented within Russia that ensure compliance with the WADC (similar to the rules imposed by IAAF and the IPC),
- IFs to implement the request made by the IOC back in July(!) to refrain from awarding hosting rights to Russia or any Russian city or region for any international events, and immediately withdraw hosting rights already awarded to Russia for any future international events, including the FIFA World Cup 2018, the Biathlon World Championships 2021, any other World or continental Championships and any World Cup events,
- the IOC to suspend the membership of the Russian Olympic Committee (following the example set by the IPC), and to refuse entries from Russian athletes for any Olympic competitions, until structures have been implemented within Russia that ensure compliance with the WADC,
- this will most likely include a ban from the 2018 Olympic Winter Games
- the IOC to take action within its powers against IFs who are refusing to take steps mentioned above, including a possible suspension from IOC membership, withdrawal from the Olympic Programme, suspension of IOC recognition.
As I’ve said before, I don’t really expect these things to happen in the near future. The only problem is: what is at stake here is the future of the Olympic Movement, the future of sport. The IOC and far too many IFs have lost a great deal of credibility over the last months and years. The choice is theirs to make: win it back (which I still consider possible!) or destroy even the small rest of integrity, of credibility, of Olympic spirit, that is left.
PS. It should be noted that the Russian Olympic Committee is still not mentioned in the report as being in direct connection with the Doping scheme. To me, there are only two reasons possible for that: 1. there is a connection but McLaren just wasn’t able to find it, because it’s so elaborately hidden, or 2. there is no connection because not the ROC but the Russian government is really in charge of sports in Russia (which would be enough reason to suspend the ROC anyway, see the Kuwait-case). Either way, each NOC is accountable to the IOC about what’s happening in their country’s sports system. That’s why I proposed to suspend the ROC’s membership in the IOC.
PPS. There is one reaction from Russia that I would still like to share with you. It is from State Duma deputy Igor Lebedev. You may have heard of him defending Russian hooligans after violent clashes during UEFA Euro 2016 (“there’s nothing wrong with fans fighting”, “keep up the good work”)… While still claiming that the findings of the report were “not based on facts” and “politically motivated”, he put his trust in one man, who has been entrusted with much more power recently than he should ever have: “I hope Mr. Trump will put an end to this.”