The IOC must do its duty this time and ban Russia from Winter Olympics | Sean Ingle

No amount of evidence or condemnation has so far had the desired response from a committee which must now take action to avoid a farcical countdown

This time there is no justifiable room for doubt, nor reason to go wobbly. When the International Olympic Committee meets in Lausanne on Tuesday it must ban Russia from the Winter Games in Pyeongchang. The scale of its sporting crimes is outrageous. The evidence is conclusive. Only the appropriate punishment has so far been lacking.

We live in a world where every story seems to be branded as fake news by fools, trolls, and those irreversibly blinded by their prejudices. Yet remarkably, Professor Richard McLaren’s reports into Russian doping, the second of which was published a year ago this week, have not only withstood every smear but have found their truths hardened.

McLaren, remember, told us more than 1,000 Russian athletes across more than 30 sports had been involved or benefited from state-sponsored doping between 2011 and 2015. He told us the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi was corrupted by an extraordinary ruse, in which steroid-ridden urine samples from Russian competitors were swapped for clean urine by using small metal rods to prise open supposedly tamper-proof bottles, which were then passed through a tiny hole in the dead of night. And he told us the Russian state, its security services, its sports authorities and anti-doping agency were all in on the grand deception.

Even now it sounds almost too outlandish – an institutionalised conspiracy that John le Carré might have paused before telling – yet it was all too real. The Russian government has tried to discredit McLaren and his main whistleblower, Grigory Rodchenkov, who ran the Russian Anti-Doping Agency laboratory in Moscow until fleeing last year – and to cast shades of grey on a black-and-white case, but none of the muck has stuck.

Before the Rio Olympics, however, all the evidence was somehow not enough for a conviction. When McLaren published his first report in July 2016, the IOC promised it would not hesitate to take the “toughest sanctions available” against those implicated, with its president, Thomas Bach, saying there had been “a shocking and unprecedented attack on the integrity of sports and on the Olympic Games”. And what happened?

The IOC flinched, coming up with an unholy fudge that passed the buck to the individual sports and led to 278 Russian athletes being waved through to compete in Rio under their nation’s flag. Many insiders had feared a repeat of that shabby trick before Pyeongchang, especially given that Bach – a good friend of Vladimir Putin – has been so reluctant to criticise Russia.

In the past month, however, there has been a dramatic sea change. It started when the World Anti-Doping Agency revealed that it had received fresh evidence from a whistleblower that Wada said had “reinforced” McLaren’s findings. Rodchenkov’s credibility as a witness was further confirmed when the IOC’s Oswald commission said he was telling the truth about the nature of the cover-up when it stripped the Russian cross-country skier Alexander Legkov of his Sochi medals.

Legkov is now one of 25 Russians who has been retrospectively banned since the start of November – a number that is still climbing. Separately, the IOC has also said it believes 2014-dated entries in Rodchenkov’s diary which directly implicate Russia’s deputy prime minister for sport, Vitali Mutko, in a state-run conspiracy, is “significant” evidence. Mutko, incidentally, remains in charge of the Russia 2018 World Cup despite McLaren finding an email trail showing he gave the order to “save” a banned player who had failed a drugs test.

There are also suggestions from McLaren that the whole Russia team for the 2014 World Cup was under “protection” from the authorities. It was hardly reassuring either that when Fifa’s own ethics committee appointee, Michael Garcia, investigated rumours that bribes were paid to secure the 2018 tournament, the Russian bid committee “made only a limited number of documents available for review” – because “the computers used at the time had been leased and returned to their owner after the bidding process [and then] destroyed”.

Fifa has shown little willingness to tackle any of this but there is no reason for the IOC to be so lily-livered. On Tuesday it must make a decision that is both obvious and fair. Ban the Russian team from Pyeongchang but allow those athletes not implicated by the McLaren report, and who have passed sufficient doping tests, to compete under a neutral flag.

This solution – which was adopted by athletics for Rio – would serve justice and natural justice. Russia would be deprived of sporting glory but its innocent stars would still get to live out their dreams. It would show that a ban is not about vengeance but fair play. There is growing noise within Olympic circles that the IOC is heading in this direction, and that Russia might respond by boycotting the Games. It would be better served by admitting its mistakes – something it still refuses to do.

As Rodchenkov told ESPN: “I wish Tuesday began with a confession and apology from Russia, which would give the world confidence they might embrace truth and reform – [but] this is not the Russian way. If they are not disciplined seriously, they will be laughing at the IOC behind closed doors and plotting their next caper.”

It is hard to disagree. This time there must be no weasel words, no back-room deals, no ugly accommodations. Merely justice that is desperately overdue.


Sean Ingle

The GuardianTramp

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