Dick Pound criticizes IOC for not punishing Russia strongly enough for Olympic doping

Dick Pound, a senior member of the International Olympic Committee, is criticizing the Olympic body for neglecting to punish Russia strongly enough, and instead allowing potentially hundreds of Russian athletes to compete at the Winter Games in Pyeongchang.

'They've got to acknowledge that there was a state-sponsored system,' anti-doping agency founder says

Dick Pound, a senior member of the International Olympic Committee, is criticizing the Olympic body for neglecting to punish Russia strongly enough for 'a state-sponsored system' of doping. (CBC)

Dick Pound, a senior member of the International Olympic Committee, is criticizing the Olympic body for neglecting to punish Russia strongly enough, and instead allowing potentially hundreds of Russian athletes to compete at the Winter Games in Pyeongchang.

The strongly worded critique comes in a  personal letter, obtained by CBC News, to IOC President Thomas Bach.

"There are several aspects of the announced arrangements that I find deeply troubling," writes Pound, a Canadian lawyer and the longest serving member of the IOC, who founded the World Anti-Doping Agency.

Russia's Olympic punishment is not enough according to Dick Pound, a senior member of the International Olympic Committee. Pound sent a highly critical, private letter to the IOC president, explaining why he believes the committee is letting Russia off easy for widespread, state-sponsored doping. Russia is banned from Olympic competition, but clean Russian athletes can still compete, albeit not under the Russian flag. Pound believes that's not a punishment and says it sets a bad precedent 6:53

He takes issue with the IOC executive board decision on Dec. 5  to suspend Russia's Olympic Committee from Korea's Winter Games, but allow its athletes, without exacting more conditions from Russia.

"I think they've got to acknowledge that there was a state-sponsored system of doping," Pound says.

The Russian suspension follows several WADA-commissioned investigations into Russian cheating that have found evidence of state-backed doping.  An IOC panel has also disqualified more than 40 Russian athletes from the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

"Suspending the Russian team was a good start," Pound says, but "the farther down I got in reading the account of all of this, the more I realized that 99 per cent of what it was dealing with was how to get the Russians back in."

"They haven't atoned for or acknowledged, or taken any steps whatsoever to guarantee that the same sort of thing won't happen again," he told CBC News in an exclusive interview in Florida.
Russian President Vladimir Putin greets International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi. Pound says Bach wrote a 'one-pager' in response to his criticism. (European Pressphoto Agency)

Russia's National Olympic Committee has been barred from the games in Pyeongchang which begin Feb. 9. But individual athletes can compete as OARs, Olympic Athletes from Russia, wearing neutral uniforms but without a national anthem or flag.

Pound is particularly critical of the offer made by Bach to potentially allow the Russians to re-emerge as a national team, with uniform and flag, at the closing ceremonies.

"It simply looks as if, when you're dealing with the IOC, if you deny, deny, deny and you happen to be a big country, just keep denying because they'll find a way to let the athletes from your country participate," he told CBC News.

Pound was more sanguine back in December when the IOC decision was announced. But he expected more. 

"They suspended the National Olympic Committee. And then they didn't do anything else to follow up."
Russia should be instructed to 'cease their persecution of the whistleblowers' like Grigory Rodchenkov, living in hiding in the U.S., Pound says. (European Pressphoto Agency)

At the least, Russia should be instructed to "cease their persecution of the whistleblowers" like Grigory Rodchenkov, living in hiding in the U.S.

Pound said he "chewed over what to do" during the holidays, then wrote a first draft of the letter "which could have been written on asbestos paper," before toning down his language in the final letter to Bach.

He says Bach wrote a "one-pager" back, taking issue with Pound's characterization of the IOC decision. On Monday an IOC spokesperson, in an email to CBC News, said, "We are not commenting on leaked personal correspondence."

"Mr. Pound will, as always, be free to voice his opinions to the IOC session. The IOC executive board  has always and will continue to take into consideration all opinions, even those who are in a minority."

As part of the Russian Olympic decision in December, Bach said Russia would have to pay $15 million US to "build the capacity and integrity of a global anti-doping system."

The IOC did not answer a question from CBC News about whether that fine has been paid.

And there have been persistent questions from Olympic and anti-doping insiders whether the fine was negotiated in return for allowing Russia to regain its Olympic status at Pyeongchang's closing ceremony.

"Having seen the rumours, having seen what happened, for me it looks like there had to have been a deal," says Pound.
Visitors tour a snow sculpture in the shape of the Olympic rings at a festival in Pyeongchang, South Korea in 2017. The Winter Games begin there Feb. 9. (Lee Jin-man/Associated Press)

The IOC said Friday it had rejected 111 athletes from a pool of potential Olympians presented by Russia. But the IOC has  cleared a pool of nearly 400 "clean athletes," which suggests Russia could send as many athletes to Korea as it fielded on its national team in Sochi, 232.

The final number has not been determined, according to an IOC spokesperson, but more than 80 per cent of the "pool" did not compete at the Olympic Winter Games Sochi 2014 and none were sanctioned for drug use by an IOC disciplinary commission.

'There are clean athletes in Russia'

"There are clean athletes in Russia, we think these clean Russian athletes can be more about building a bridge into the future of a cleaner sport than erecting  a new wall between Russia and the Olympic movement," said Bach in December.

A source close to the doping investigations, who agreed to speak to CBC News without attribution, said, "There is only one thing to be said: disgraceful, caused by corruption, collusion, and deals that should never have been made."

Pound said if Russia is allowed to enter the closing ceremony like any other national team, complete with flag and uniform, he will boycott the event.

"I feel strongly enough that we haven't done enough to deal with the unbelievably cynical and planned attack on the Olympics and the Olympic movement."

"Why would I go to a closing ceremony where they haven't even been allowed to participate as Russians but now they're marching triumphantly?"
Four-time Olympic gold medalist Hayley Wickenheiser retired from hockey after 23 years on Canada's women's team. Now a member of the IOC, Wickenheiser says she hopes the IOC will take Pound's comments seriously. (Canadian Press)

Pound is not alone. One of the newer IOC members from Canada, Hayley Wickenheiser, told CBC News she supports Pound and hopes the IOC will take his comments seriously.

"As Canadians and IOC members we are united in our belief that clean athletes of the world have to be protected, and Canada stands for playing within the rules."

IOC member Tricia Smith, who heads the Canadian Olympic Committee,  said she thought "it was really important to raise those issues, definitely, because I had the same questions."

But she'll reserve judgment on whether to attend the closing ceremony. "I'm going  to look at the conditions under which the IOC allows Russia to march under the flag and make my decision then."
Tricia Smith, president of the Canadian Olympic Committee, has not decided whether to attend the closing ceremonies. 'I’m going to look at the conditions under which the IOC allows Russia to march under the flag and make my decision then.' (Getty Images)

Last week a group of 19 national anti-doping organizations, including Canada's, urged the IOC to establish "clear" and "transparent" criteria for the participation of Russian athletes at Pyeongchang.  

The group, meeting in Bonn, suggested that for any Russian athlete going to Korea there must be "full disclosure of all knowledge of doping activity" in addition to "no association with prohibited coaches," nor any forensic evidence of doping.

The IOC has put its faith in a high-level four-member committee to determine Russian eligibility.

Drug testing is up 70 per cent over last year. More than 14,000 drug tests were completed between April and December 2017 on 6,000 athletes, and winter sports athletes from Russia have been tested more than athletes from any other country —  2,292 times, according to the IOC.

Displaying the Russian flag?

Russia's profile in Korea will be smaller than at other games, but the country will have a distinct presence.

Russian Fans House, for example, can display the Russian flag and other national symbols, according to its director Oleg Rumyantsev, speaking to Tass in late December. The IOC says it has not decided. And the closing ceremony may provide an opportunity for Russia to flip the page.

To Pound, without further conditions imposed on the Russian Olympic Committee, that "would be disastrous and tantamount to the Russians thumbing their noses at the IOC and all clean athletes of the world."

"I don't think the inner circle has really appreciated how the world at large is going to deal with all this. At that moment after the closing ceremony, there'll be a lot of thought and, I think, recrimination about the IOC having fumbled the ball."

Pound says, "I'd like to avoid that." 

"My suggestion was, you have to make it clear that all is not forgiven as of the end of the Games in Pyeongchang. It's not."

About the Author

Susan Ormiston

Senior correspondent

Susan Ormiston's career spans more than 25 years reporting from hot spots such as Afghanistan, Egypt, Libya, Haiti, Lebanon and South Africa.

With files from Stephanie Jenzer