POSTED: December 7th 2017

NEIL WILSON: IOC fails to make the punishment fit the crime

The Russian Olympic Committee © Getty Images
The Russian Olympic Committee © Getty Images

THE NEIL WILSON COLUMN / An exclusive, authoritative series from Sports Features Communications

(SFC) Here is a prediction - there will be as many Russians at the Winter Olympic Games in PyeongChang as there were at their last overseas Games in Vancouver in 2010.

But, you say, the International Olympic Committee has banned Russia from the Games and suspended its national Olympic committee.

Yes but here is the rub, The IOC in its effort not to upset Russia has left more loopholes than there were in Moscow's doping laboratory during the 2014 Sochi Games.

What are banned from next year's Games in nine weeks' time are the Russian flag, its anthem and its senior officials.

The athletes themselves are not banned unless they have been 'disqualified or declared ineligible for an anti-doping violation' at any time in the past.

The rest will be judged by a four-person IOC panel on whether they are 'clean'. Since actual tests prove next to nothing - remember how many tests on Lance Armstrong and Marion Jones were negative - it means those against the McLaren, Oswald and Schmid inquiries failed to find any evidence.

Out of a reported 1,000 Russian athletes across 30 sports involved by choice or accident in its doping manipulation that will be a tiny number. And already 22 of those already convicted have lodged appeals against their guilt with the Court of Arbitration, including 10 medal winners from Sochi.

In 2010 Russia had a team of 177, roughly 50 fewer than at their home Games in Sochi. Likely as not it will be as many again in PyeongChang.

So where is the punishment for what IOC president Thomas Bach said was "an unprecedented attack on the integrity of the Olympic Games and sport?"

Well, the IOC say that however big is this group of Russians in PyeongChang, it cannot call itself Russia. Except each athlete can call themselves an "Olympic Athlete of Russia". Just semantics, of course.

The country's name will be there, probably on similar kit to that showcased at a fashion show in Moscow last week before the IOC decision.

That is a weaker sanction than athletic's IAAF inflicted on Russia at its world championship last year when the 'clean' athletes invited were referred to as "Neutral Athletes".  Or that the IOC imposed on Kuwaiti athletes in Rio when its NOC was suspended whom it called "Independent Olympic Athletes".

Even Russian pole vaulter, Yelena Isinbayeva, a firm supporter of Russian president Vladimir Putin, said after the decision: "I would have been happy to compete under the IOC as an OAR for Rio 2016." Putin himself called it all a "humiliating compromise". Note that word compromise.

In the hope of ensuring that Russia is not so humiliated that Putin chooses to boycott the Games - the IOC did not rap it on the knuckles with a hard ruler but slapped it gently on the wrists.

So where is the punishment? The Russian Olympic Committee is suspended but again for how long? In the small print the IOC says its suspension may be lifted for the Closing Ceremony. That means the Russian flag could fly in the stadium before the Games ends.

It is the weakest possible sanctioning of a nation that Samuel Schmid, former president of Switzerland, found was involved in "systemic manipulation" of the anti-doping system. Russia has not even been told it must admit its guilt and apologise before sanctions are lifted.

But then Bach does not do apologies. He offered none to the Russian athlete Yuliya Stepanova who sacrificed her career and her home to blow the whistle. Nor did he say sorry to Craig Reedie, chair of the World Anti-Doping Agency which recommended Russia's banishment from Rio and was widely rubbished for his pains by Bach's supporters.

Bach has been on the wrong track since the start of the Russian affair. He even invited IOC honorary member Lamine Diack to rubbish the initial evidence at an IOC Session. Yes, the same Diack now under criminal investigation for corruption in France.

And in spite of the growing evidence from media outlets that Russia's Olympic authorities were complicit in doping he invited the chairman of its NOC to chair the IOC 2022 Coordination Commission. Yes, the same man he has now been forced to suspend from all Olympic matters.

The Olympic movement owes Bach nothing for doing too little too late. The honours go instead to the likes of Stepanova, the documentary maker Bryan Fogel for his film Icarus and the various television and print journalists who did not believe the denials of Bach and the Russians, and never stopped looking for the evidence which has condemned them.

** NEIL WILSON reported his first Olympic Games in Munich in 1972. He has since covered another nine summer and nine winter Olympics for various newspapers, including The Independent and the Daily Mail with whom he has worked for the last 19 years as Athletics and Olympic correspondent. He was Britain's Sports Journalist of the Year in 1984 and is the author of seven books.

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

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