POSTED: November 29th 2017

JOHN GOODBODY: Decision day for IOC - don't stuff it up

PyeongChang is set to open the 2018 Winter Games in 100 days © POCOG
PyeongChang is set to open the 2018 Winter Games in 100 days © POCOG

THE JOHN GOODBODY COLUMN / An authoritative and exclusive series from Sports Features Communications

(SFC) The International Olympic Committee (IOC) should be the guardian of morals in sport and the integrity of competition at the Games. Whereas the international federations have little concern beyond their own organisations and their own sport, the IOC should have a higher responsibility.

Sometimes, it has to use the expression of long-term IOC member, Dick Pound, been found "fumbling the ball pretty seriously".  He was referring to the failure of the IOC to act decisively before the 2016 Summer Olympics ,when confronted with the evidence of the report of the World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada), conducted by Professor McLaren..

Instead of barring Russian competitors from those Games, because of state-supported doping malpractice at the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, the IOC handed the decision over to the individual federations. Only two, athletics and weightlifting, commendably, stopped Russians, with a few exceptions, from participating in Rio. The International Paralympic Committee also prohibited Russia from taking part in its Games in Brazil. 

The IOC has subsequently set up two commissions to look at what happened in Sochi, when Russia headed the medal table. The detailed evidence of Grigory Rodchenkov, the whistle-blower and former director of the Moscow laboratory, on how the clean urine samples were swapped for the original specimens has been given to the IOC Disciplinary Commission.

 Its chairman, Denis Oswald, a Swiss lawyer and significantly a member of the IOC Executive Board, described Rodchenkov as a "reliable witness". Its decisions on suspensions follow the practice of Swiss Civil Law -the IOC, of course, being based in Lausanne--which is on the "balance of probability" rather than absolute proof.

As the Commission stated recently: "The participation in such a conspiracy not only constitutes violations pursuant to the IOC Anti-Doping rules, it constitutes a fundamental misbehaviour directly affecting the core values of the Olympic Games." These are significant words and have been accompanied by the suspensions, in some cases for life, of, so far, 19 Russians from those Games, with more expected. Among a recent batch, many of them medal winners is the cross-country skier, Alexander Legkov, who has been stripped of his 50 kms title and the silver medal that he and his team-mates won in the 4 x 10kms metres relay.

The IOC Executive Board, which includes Sir Craig Reedie, the President of the Wada, is expected to make its decision on December 5 in Lausanne. Russia, inevitably, has been protesting vigorously that innocent athletes would be penalised should they be unable to compete in PyeongChang next year. So have several winter sports federations, such as ice hockey, whose President Rene Fasel, speaks of "Russia's role in the growth and development of ice hockey cannot be understated. The country forms a pillar on which our sport's legacy rests upon."

Yet, the sport's legacy should rest upon the integrity of competition, not on any concern that a country might be suspended from the Olympics for such flagrant abuse of the rules, supported by state officials.

The IOC Executive Board (EB) has four options on Russia's participation in PyeongChang as it studies the finding of its own commission. The least likely is that it takes no action. Option two is that it could, as it did, in Rio, leave the decision to the individual federations. Option three is to allow those Russian athletes, who can prove they are drug-free, to compete under a neutral flag, which Russia says would result in it boycotting the event. Or finally, it could bar Russia completely.

I had previously thought the third option was the most likely. But the language of the IOC Disciplinary Commission has been so strong that I now think the EB will stop all Russians from participating. Pound, the first Wada President, has told the IOC President Dr. Thomas Bach that he would keep quiet, provided the IOC does not "stuff it up". In other words..... make certain you ban them. And quite right, too.

** JOHN GOODBODY covered the 2016 Olympics for The Sunday Times, his 13th successive Summer Games and is the author of the audio book A History of the Olympics, read by Barry Davies, the BBC commentator. He was Sports News Correspondent of The Times 1986-2007, for whom he received journalistic awards in all three decades on the paper, including Sports Reporter of The Year in 2001.  

****The views expressed are the author's own and do not necessarily represent the views of Sports Features Communications.

Keywords · John Goodbody · Olympics

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