Russia doping tension marks final day of IOC meetings
LIMA, Peru (AP) — The raw feelings created by the Russian doping scandal spilled onto the floor and into the hallways of the International Olympic Committee meetings Friday, with less than five months until the Winter Games and still no decisions made about the fate of the country’s athletes.
IOC members received updates on two investigations that will eventually determine Russia’s status: One on whether there was a state-sponsored doping program in the country, the other on the individual cases of athletes who were implicated in the scandal at the Sochi Games in 2014.
The leaders of both investigations, which are using information from an earlier inquiry by Richard McLaren, urged patience and insisted they are working as fast as they can.
Still, a handful of IOC members made clear they’re worried about the timing.
“A lot of progress has been made, but we’re not there yet,” said Camiel Eurlings, an IOC member from the Netherlands. “I understand it takes a lot of time, but we cannot have this discussion just before the Pyeongchang Games. It must be clear months before.”
In another report, IOC member Craig Reedie, who heads the World Anti-Doping Agency, said progress is being made toward reinstating Russia’s suspended anti-doping agency.
Russian IOC member Alexander Zhukov was encouraged. He reiterated what he told The Associated Press this week — he expects Russia to field a team in Pyeongchang: Asked if a state-sponsored doping program existed in Russia, his answer was, simply: “no.”
Russia’s unwillingness to acknowledge the state-sponsored program is a problem, as it is a requirement for re-entry into the sports world on many fronts — notably its anti-doping agency, track team and Paralympic team.
IOC President Thomas Bach called it “only a small part” of the equation.
“It can be symbolic,” he said. “But an admission alone cannot help you forget what’s happened in the past.”
Urged by Bach, the IOC refused to ban the entire Russian team from the Rio Games and instead sent the individual cases to the international sports federations, which had only a matter of days to determine the status of hundreds of athletes. More than 280 Russians participated, and given evidence of the state-sponsored, systemic doping program in the country, there were howls of protest across the globe.
Not wanting to see a repeat, a group of 17 anti-doping leaders released a statement Thursday calling for a complete ban of the Russian Olympic Committee from Pyeongchang.
That irritated some IOC members, especially Reedie, who took time in his presentation to assail the leaders.
“The comments made ... omit entirely all the work that’s been done to develop proper anti-doping systems in Russia,” Reedie said. “It looks backward instead of looking forward. I want to make it quite clear that most of what they say in their press release is not policy, and is not helpful.”
One of the authors of that release, Travis Tygart of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, responded in an email to the AP: “Yeah, clearly, the truth can strike a reaction, but to be clear, the only thing unhelpful is the lack of decisive action in fully protecting clean athletes’ rights.”
Denis Oswald, the IOC member looking into the individual cases, said his committee has been “working hard since Day 1.”
“But when you have a pile of documents like this,” he said, while holding his hands several feet apart, “and you have (so) many cases involved, it takes time. You have to respect the procedure. You can’t just say they were in Sochi and they are Russian and they probably were doped.”
The McLaren Report said the doping scheme involved 1,000 athletes covering 30 sports, both winter and summer.
Oswald spelled out a clearly defined ranking of the importance of the cases, starting with Russian athletes trying to compete in next year’s Olympics. He said he hoped to have much of the work completed by November, which would give the IOC and other governing bodies three months to sort out eligibility.
The other report — about whether state-sponsored doping exists, as shown in both McLaren’s research and a previous investigation by IOC member Dick Pound — is also on track to be done before the Olympics, and Bach said it has to be. Because that looks at the entire operation and not the cases of individual athletes, it figures to be an even more difficult issue for the IOC to sort out.
The director of the IOC’s medical and science department, Richard Budgett, explained some of the delays come down to simple math: For instance, he said it takes about three hours to examine each urine-sample bottle to determine whether tampering has occurred. Key to Russia’s scheme at the Sochi Games was a plan in which officials opened bottles containing tainted urine, traded it with clean urine and resealed the bottles without anyone discovering they had been compromised.
“The frustration out there translates into, ‘Let’s just do something now,’” Budgett said. “But then, you could regret it. So, you’ve got to make sure there’s a solid base for whatever action is taken. That’s what’s being developed.”