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Russian sports officials barred from Rio, athletes still have a shot

Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko attends a news conference after a meeting of the management board of the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia organising committee in Moscow, Russia, July 5, 2016.
Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko attends a news conference after a meeting of the management board of the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia organising committee in Moscow, Russia, July 5, 2016. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) on Tuesday barred Russia's Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko and several other ministry officials from the Rio games, following damning revelations of state-run doping. But the IOC delayed a decision to implement a blanket ban on all Russian athletes, saying it would explore legal options before deciding.

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When the Rio Olympic games kick off this August 5, the chairs of the Russian delegation may well be empty.

The International Olympic Committee on Tuesday barred Moscow's Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko from attending, together with several high-ranking officials.

The announcement follows a new damning report, detailing an elaborate system of doping, fully backed by the state.

The report by Canadian law professor Richard McLaren-- commissioned by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA)-- accuses Russia's Sports ministry of directing and overseeing the manipulation of its athletes urine samples, before, during, and after the Sochi Winter Olympic games in 2014.

It has led to calls for the IOC to implement WADA's recommendations of a blanket ban.

"I don't think the IOC has any other choice," Andy Brown, the editor of the Sports Integrity Initiative told RFI.

"If you consider the mission of the IOC, it's to protect the rights of clean athletes, and if you look at the athletes from other countries, if they're lining up against a Russian how can they be confident that that Russian hasn't doped? The answer is they can't."

The allegations revealed were so systemic argues Brown, it would be very difficult for any athlete to escape doping, even if they wanted to.

"In fact in the report it said that athletes who didn't comply with state-sponsored doping would be denied access to the best coaches, the best facilities, etc, etc, so you would be actually harming your chances of competing if you didn't dope."

Ethical boobytrap

But should innocent athletes be penalized for the behaviour of the rest of the group?

"To be fair, the IOC has already said that if a Russian athlete can demonstrate that they're clean then they can go to Rio," insists Brown.

"But if you think about the practicalities of that, it's now become very difficult. If you were in Russia, it means you were tested by the Moscow laboratory which has been shown to be corrupt. Your results were passed through the Russian anti-doping agency which has been shown to be state-controlled. Your samples were rerouted through Moscow which begs the question why? It's going to be very difficult for athletes who are based in Russia to prove that they are clean."

So, what exactly did the Olympic leadership decide?

  • Not to sponsor any sporting events in Russia
  • Deny accreditation to sports officials, like Vitaly Mutko
  • Retest all athletes who tested positive in the Sochi games

But on the issue of ethics, the Olympic leadership cast aside the right to individual justice, and said it would explore legal options for a collective ban on all Russian athletes from the Rio games, regardless of the ethical boobytrap this may entail.

Yet it could be stopped by the Court of Arbitration of Sport, which is expected to decide on Thursday whether a previous ban on Russia's field and track athletes by the International Athletics Federation (IAAF) was legitimate.

If the IAAF ban is upheld, it could reinvogorate the International Olympic Committee to speed up its quest for a blanket ban after Tuesday's delayed response.

"The way I understand it, the IOC does have the power to overturn the Court of Arbitration of Sport's decision if ever this is negative, and say actually we do want to ban Russian athletes from Rio and that's our decision to make," Brown says.

Whatever the decision of IOC president Thomas Bach, it will be carefully scrutinized. His response will test the ability of the Olympic games as a movement, in ensuring integrity.

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