Lord Coe’s IAAF must send a message and ban all Russian track and field athletes from the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
Following the shocking revelations of systematic, state sponsored doping in Russia made by German television network ARD, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) commissioned a report into the Russian anti-doping system. It concluded the following:
There is a deeply rooted culture and practice of use of prohibited performance enhancing substances and methods by Russian athletes, fostered by complicit coaches, administrators, medical personnel and laboratory personnel who have persuaded Russian athletes to dope and/or facilitated and/or covered up their doping.
As a result, on the 13th November 2015 the All-Russian Athletics Federation (ARAF) was banished from the IAAF, all Russian track and field athletes were banned from international competition and the Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA) was stripped of its licence to test athletes having been found to be non-compliant with WADA’s anti-doping procedures.
All aspects of the ban are provisional on the condition that under strict supervision by an IAAF Taskforce, the All-Russian Athletics Federation and RUSADA mend their ways. Once the IAAF is satisfied that Russia is sticking to the rule book the ban will be lifted.
The general consensus is that this will occur when the IAAF next meets in Cardiff on March 27th. In other words, it is more than likely that Russian athletes will be gracing the track in Rio between the 12th and 21st of August 2016, as if nothing ever happened.
If such a thing occurs it will be a travesty, not just for world athletics but for global sport in general. Regardless of whether the IAAF claims to have regained its faith in Russia’s anti-doping system before the Olympics, if their athletes are allowed to compete the event’s credibility will be entirely lost. Moreover, athletes everywhere will be taught that doping on whatever scale goes largely unpunished. As a result, the sport will remain tainted for years to come, perhaps forever.
Jessica Ennis-Hill, Paula Radcliffe and other high profile athletes have all stated publicly that they will not trust the performances of any Russian athlete for some time. Consequently, if the IAAF allows Russia to compete in Rio they will be sentencing the event, as a spectacle, to death. Any successful Russian athlete will be suspected of cheating. Meanwhile, any world class performance across the board will ignite doubts in the back of all athletics fan’s minds. Such is the sorry state of affairs that athletics finds itself in.
if the IAAF allows Russia to compete in Rio, they will be sentencing the event, as a spectacle, to death
Banning Russia from the Olympics will help it retain at least some credibility in the minds of its fans, but this is not the only reason why Russia must be banned.
To start, the ban in its current form is not really a punishment at all. All it is doing is forcing Russia to comply with pre-existing anti-doping rules, something they should have been doing in the first place.
While it does, on paper, ban all Russian athletes from competing internationally, having been enforced in November the ban has so far been in place entirely during the off-season, there have been no competitions for Russia to miss. Sure, as it stands, Russia is set to miss the World Indoor Championships in early March, but most top level athletes consider the indoor season to be primarily a warm up for the outdoor season, for which Russia is expected to be eligible.
Furthermore, the ban does not prevent Russian athletes from training as usual or from participating in domestic competitions. Therefore, were the ban to be lifted before the summer, Russian athletes will be as well prepared for the season ahead as they have been every year.
As the IAAF has noted itself, doping in Russia is a deeply rooted culture. They should therefore know that it will not be eradicated by a few months of hierarchical restructuring, but will require years of education and strict regulation. To uphold their ban, even once the IAAF believes Russia’s athletics federation has changed its ways, is the only way to truly show the world that cheating in athletics will not be tolerated as it once was.
Doping in Russia will not be eradicated by a few months of hierarchical restructuring, but will require years of education and strict regulation
Russia is only now reading the rule book because they were caught breaking the rules in the first place. The Daily Telegraph has highlighted how the ARAF originally completely rejected the overwhelming evidence of the WADA report, only to rescind its rejection when President Putin weighed in and urged a more conciliatory approach. With this in mind, it is doubtful whether the Russian athletics hierarchy feels any remorse at all for what has occurred and the damage they have done to their sport.
If Russia is dragged into the realms of clean athletics and Lord Coe bans them from the Olympics regardless, Russia might well begin to feel some remorse and the world of track and field can start to move on. At the very least, fans can sit more comfortably in the knowledge that there aren’t any Russian cheats on their marks.
Alas we will still have to tolerate the likes of two-times drugs cheat Justin Gatlin gracing sports greatest stage, but it would still be a start.
One of the most damaging aspects of the whole scandal is that the IAAF itself has been implicated in evidence of corruption and cover ups. Athletics’ world governing body must therefore ban Russia to protect itself as much as anything else.
If Russia is allowed back into the frame only months after the eruption of the biggest scandal in sporting history, accusations of IAAF corruption will remain.
The President of the IAAF, Lord Coe himself has said that trust in athletics may not be fully regained for years to come. Furthermore, he has long been campaigning for stricter anti-doping rules and anti-doping policies formed a significant part of his presidential manifesto.
If he sincerely wants to save his sport, he must put his money where his mouth is. The first step on the road to redemption must be to ban the sport’s greatest cheat from the sport’s greatest stage. He has simply no choice.