Pat Hickey defends IOC’s call on Russia

From opposite sides of the world — and opposing ends of the power spectrum — two voices struck a very different chord yesterday on the International Olympic Committee’s decision not to issue a blanket ban on Russia ahead of next month’s Olympic Games.

First there was Pat Hickey, Olympic Council of Ireland president, who along with announcing he would step down from that position after Rio, stood ardently behind the IOC’s decision not to impose a blanket ban on Russia.

Then there was Vitaly Stepanov, the Russian whisteblower who helped expose the systematic doping regime, who in response to the decision said the IOC “had no interest in clean sport”.

Hickey’s view was an unpopular one, to say the least. Last week the World Anti-Doping Agency’s McLaren report revealed Russia’s state-sponsored doping programme was employed in the “vast majority” of Olympic sports for four years.

It led to widespread calls for the IOC to issue a blanket ban, but Hickey was one of 15 IOC council members who on Sunday chose to pass the decision to the governing bodies of each individual sport.

Speaking to RTÉ yesterday, he argued that punishing Russia as a whole was an unfair approach. “If you commit a heinous crime, why should your family also be sentenced and sent to jail?” said Hickey. “We have a duty to protect the clean athletes as well.”

Many of the respective international federations from the 28 Olympic sports have already announced their decision.

Athletics — barring the exceptional case of long jumper Darya Klishina, who lives and trains in the US — will have no Russian competitors in Rio. Tennis, judo, equestrian, and archery were among the international federations to give Russian athletes the green light to compete yesterday.

Fina, the world governing body of swimming, announced it would retest samples from last year’s world championships in Kazan before releasing a decision.

World Rowing has taken the hardest stance with Russia since athletics ahead of the Rio Olympics, banning 22 of the nation’s 28 rowers from competing.

One athlete who won’t be there is Yuliya Stepanova, who along with husband Vitaly, was the chief whistleblower whose evidence exposed the widespread corruption in Russian sport.

The 800m runner had been cleared to run in Rio by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), but saw the door close in recent days when the IOC ruled that no Russians, regardless of sport, would be eligible for Rio if they had served a doping ban.

The couple has been living at an undisclosed location in the US since their revelations, fearful for their lives, though Hickey struck an unsympathetic tone yesterday when asked about Stepanova’s exclusion from the Games.

“She’s a convicted doper,” he said. “The decision is anyone with a previous conviction is not eligible to compete. That’s the way it is. There’s no rule anywhere that says whistleblowers have to be entered in the Olympic Games. She’s one of those doped Russian athletes so she can’t attend.”

After rejecting a request by Stepanova, the IOC extended an invitation for the couple to attend the Games as guests, but Vitaly said yesterday that made the couple feel like they were being bought.

“Is that how the IOC treats whistleblowers?” he told Reuters. “Make them quiet by giving them accreditation and access to VIP lounges? [Yuliya] will never win another medal. It’s more about her participating and trying to see how fast she can run by being an honest athlete.”

Stepanov also blasted the IOC’s decision to ban Russian athletes with a doping conviction from Rio while allowing athletes from other countries who have served doping bans to attend.

“If you are doping in a system that is similar to Russia, continue doing so because in the end the IOC will say they will not punish the system, but we will punish the whistleblower.”

Hickey, however, offered little explanation as to why the IOC chose that course of action for Russians but not for other nations. “There will be several athletes on the American team [who have served doping bans],” he said.

“They served their time and they will be attending, yes.”

Stepanov, meanwhile, believes the IOC is more concerned with their image than with protecting clean athletes: “From the communications we had with people from the IOC, I got the impression the only thing they cared about, even the person from the ethics department, is protecting the IOC as an organisation.”

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