State-sponsored doping in Russia has shaken sport to its core. But what action must the IOC take? The Sporting Speak team agree to disagree…
The IOC must send a message that doping will not be tolerated, argues Flo Morton
When the IOC convenes for an emergency meeting later today, to decide on the fate of the Russian Olympic team they should choose the path which sends a message to the rest of the world: doping will not be tolerated.
The anti-doping framework is the bedrock of the Olympic movement. The implication that all athletes are clean, that a “level playing field” exists, is the reason the Games are the pinnacle of global sport. We can enjoy the competition, knowing that every athlete is operating within those same rules, that no athlete is gaining an “unfair”, illegal edge on their rivals. If a particular athlete is flouting the rules, they should be banned from competing. If a particular country is flouting those rules, it is even worse. State-level interference in drug testing sends two messages: one, to the athletes, that the state condones and encourages their behaviour; and two, to the wider international community, that politics and Gold medals are worth breaking the law and endangering lives for.
But why tar everyone with the same brush, disqualifying clean athletes who will have worked hard for a lifetime in order for a chance to compete? The problem with doping is that the more there are question marks, the less the results matter. Why watch an event where you’re not sure who’s cheating, or whether the winner will be disqualified in three years time when their sample is retested. It makes us doubt, question, wonder. And if that is the case then the event quickly loses its appeal as a spectacle.
In order to retain credibility, and a position as the global premier sporting event, the IOC needs to stamp out the doubts, the questions, and the wondering. And to do that it needs to take action. To say no. To stand up for the clean athletes, and to send a message to those who are doping.
There may be clean athletes on the Russian team. And as with the IAAF ban, it may be possible for some of those athletes still to take part as “neutrals”. But now is the time for action, for taking a stand, and for sending a message. Undoubtedly some clean athletes will be affected by the ban, and that is a huge shame. But taking action sends a message that drug taking will not be tolerated. Nation states cannot interfere with the system, and individuals can’t endanger their own lives, the careers of others, and the whole foundation of the Olympic movement.
The IOC should ban the Russian team, otherwise the Olympic movement risks losing all credibility, and being overtaken by a doping scandal that will run and run.
Effective anti-doping policies should punish only those who are known to be guilty, argues Ali Kyrke-Smith
The endemic, state-sponsored doping that has pervaded Russian sport is one of the biggest crises the Olympic movement has ever faced. Doubtless, it will cast a shadow over Rio 2016 regardless of what decision the IOC come to with regards to Russia’s place in the games.
Unquestionably, action must be taken, and it is looking like a blanket ban on Russia competing is likely. However, by imposing such a ban, the message sent out by the IOC to athletes is this: that they do not have faith in the anti-doping measures that will be in place during the games, and that ultimately they cannot protect clean athletes.
With stringent anti-doping measures in place at the games, the obvious solution would be to ban those athletes who have been identified as cheats, on the basis that any others, as yet unidentified, would be caught at the Games. That the pervasive cheating on the part of the Russian state went undetected for so long is a damning reflection on WADA’s ability to police the sport, but this should not mean that the policy of innocent until proven guilty no longer applies. The IOC’s attentions should be focused on ensuring that known cheats are banned, and that unknown cheats are caught.
There will be many Russian athletes who have remained clean, who have avoided state-sponsored doping, no doubt in a situation where staying clean was not necessarily the easier option. These, as well as clean athletes worldwide, are the very athletes the authorities should be protecting. Anti-doping measures are in place to protect these athletes’ right to compete in a drugs-free competition, on a level playing field, not to exclude them from competing at all.
Unless complicit, individuals should not be paying the price for a state’s misdemeanours. The punishments that should be imposed on Russia must come in a different form, and the world of sport must come together to ensure this behaviour does not go unchecked. Surely, their right to host the FIFA World Cup in 2018 must be removed – but that, perhaps, is a blog for another day…
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