IOC bides time before decision on Russia's Olympic participation

The International Olympic Committee has postponed a decision on whether to ban the entire Russian Olympic team from the Rio Games but has announced a raft of measures in response to Monday’s report of state-directed doping.

The World Anti-Doping Agency had joined calls from national anti-doping agencies and athletes’ groups for the IOC to issue a blanket ban to Russia but its executive board has asked for more time to consider its options.

After a four-hour meeting, Olympic bosses said they would “explore their legal options with regard to a collective ban of all Russian athletes... versus the right to individual justice”.

They added that they also wanted to take into consideration the Court of Arbitration for Sport’s decision on Russia’s appeal against the ban imposed by athletics’ world governing body the IAAF on the Russian track and field team.

That appeal started on Tuesday and a decision is expected tomorrow.

This reluctance to immediately heed the calls for a radical and rapid response to Russia’s flagrant cheating will frustrate many but IOC president Thomas Bach is mindful of legal challenges and the risk of antagonising an Olympic superpower.

It is also worth noting that Bach is at least now considering a “collective ban” having spoken mainly about “individual justice” in recent weeks.

That was, of course, before Richard McLaren’s 103-page report revealed a doping programme of staggering proportions — something Bach himself described as “a shocking and unprecedented attack on the integrity of sports and the Olympic Games”.

This is why the former Olympic fencing champion from Germany called for an urgent teleconference of his executive board on Tuesday, although Wada president and IOC vice-president Craig Reedie did not take part, citing a conflict of interest.

While the biggest decision was put on ice, the board has started disciplinary action against all those implicated by the report from the Russian sports ministry and elsewhere “because of violations of the Olympic Charter and the World Anti-Doping Code”.

A five-strong panel, chaired by French judge Guy Canivet, has been set up to deal with this quickly, and no invites to the Rio Games will be issued to Russian sports ministry staff.

It was reported by Russian news agency TASS earlier on Tuesday that all of the officials named by McLaren, apart from the minister of sport Vitaly Mutko, had been sacked by Russian president Vladimir Putin, although Mutko’s position is far from secure after football’s world governing body Fifa said it would be asking Wada for the details of the allegations against him, with Fifa’s ethics committee set to take the lead on any disciplinary action deemed necessary against him.

The IOC has decided to withdraw its support for any major event hosted in Russia, including the proposed 2019 European Games, which will come as a hard blow for IOC vice-president and European Olympic Committees president, Pat Hickey of Ireland.

Furthermore, because of the effective sabotage of the anti-doping programme at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi found by McLaren and his investigators, the IOC will now re-test every Russian sample for manipulation and ask all winter sports federations to “freeze” plans to host any events in Russia and make alternative arrangements.

The IOC board has also asked the 20 federations responsible for sports in the summer Olympic programme which were affected by Russia’s hiding of positive tests between 2011 and 2015 to follow the IAAF’s lead and consider banning their Russian member associations.

Wada was also requested to extend McLaren’s mandate so he can continue his abridged 57-day investigation, and the IOC repeated last month’s calls for an extraordinary global anti-doping conference in 2017 to discuss ways forward.

There was also a reference to the idea of reversing the “presumption of innocence” in doping matters for Russian athletes, although this will become much more relevant if the IAAF’s decision to implement this already is backed by CAS and other federations decide to follow suit.

All of the measures mentioned above are provisional until December 31, 2016.

The next chapter in this saga will come when the Lausanne-based court rules on the IAAF’s decision to maintain its ban of the Russian athletics federation.

That stance, which was reached last month, was challenged by 68 Russian athletes and the Russian Olympic Committee.

But sources close to the process have said the IAAF is confident its actions have been legally watertight, as they were based on rules the Russians agreed to earlier this year but then failed to meet.

The IAAF, led by Seb Coe, also defended itself against legal challenge by offering Russian athletes who could demonstrate a perfect anti-doping record, verified by a credible agency, a means to gain special eligibility for Rio.

So far only two Russians, long jumper Darya Klishina and middle distance runner Yuliya Stepanova, have come through this process.

The IOC and all other international federations will be watching closely to see if the IAAF’s confidence in its position is justified, particularly as CAS ruled against an IOC anti-doping measure known as the Osaka Rule in 2011.

That was an attempt to keep all athletes who had served doping bans of longer than six months out of the next Olympics, even if their ban had expired. Sport’s highest court decided that was a double punishment and the IOC was forced to climb down.

But even if CAS backs the IAAF ruling and the IOC then encourages other international federations to follow suit, many critics will accuse Bach of passing the buck and failing to hold the Russian Olympic Committee to account for not upholding Olympic values.

The “freeze” on organising world championships for any winter sports, as well as the withdrawal of support for major multi-sport events, will hit Russian pride hard.

An annual report by London-based sports marketing consultancy Sportcal, has ranked Russia as the world’s top host of major sports events for the last two years and that position was not in threat until recent events.

In May alone, Russia hosted world championships for ice hockey and modern pentathlon, and it still has the biggest of them all, the World Cup, in 2018 to look forward to.

The reaction to the IOC’s response to McLaren has been muted but one of the suspended officials, sports minister Mutko’s main anti-doping advisor Natalia Zhelanova, took to Twitter to declare her innocence of the allegations and her commitment to clean sport.

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