Rio Olympic 2016

IOC members criticize WADA on 'nuclear option' for Russia

IOC president Thomas Bach spoke out Tuesday against the "nuclear option" of imposing a complete ban on Russian athletes for the Rio Olympics, prompting a debate that laid much of the blame for the scandal on the World Anti-Doping Agency.

President Thomas Bach points finger at agency for failing to act sooner

IOC president Thomas Bach opened a three-day general assembly in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil by seeking formal backing from the full membership of the executive board's handling of the Russian doping scandal. (Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images)

By Stephen Wilson, The Associated Press

IOC president Thomas Bach spoke out Tuesday against the "nuclear option" of imposing a complete ban on Russian athletes for the Rio Olympics, prompting a debate that laid much of the blame for the scandal on the World Anti-Doping Agency.

Bach opened the International Olympic Committee's three-day general assembly by seeking formal backing of the members for the executive board's handling of the Russian doping scandal. After a debate lasting more than two hours, Bach asked for a show of hands, and only one of the 85 members — Britain's Adam Pengilly —voted against his position.

Despite evidence of a state-run doping program in Russia, the IOC board rejected calls for a total ban and left it to international sports federations to decide on the entry of individual Russian athletes for the games, which open on Friday.

Bach again pointed blame at the World Anti-Doping Agency for failing to act sooner on evidence of state-backed doping in Russia, and said it would be wrong to make individual athletes "collateral damage" for the wrongdoing of their government.

"Leaving aside that such a comparison is completely out of any proportion when it comes to the rules of sport, let us just for a moment consider the consequences of a 'nuclear option,"' Bach said. "The result is death and devastation. This is not what the Olympic Movement stands for. The cynical 'collateral damage' approach is not what the Olympic movement stands for."

"What is therefore not acceptable is the insinuation by some proponents of this "nuclear option" that anyone who does not share their opinion is not fighting against doping," he added.

The IOC has been roundly criticized by many anti-doping bodies, athletes' groups and Western media for not apply a complete ban on the Russian team. Pressure for a full ban grew after WADA investigator Richard McLaren issued a report accusing Russia's sports ministry of orchestrating a vast doping conspiracy involving athletes across more than two dozen summer and winter Olympic sports.

Deep split

"Natural justice does not allow us to deprive a human being of the right to prove their innocence," Bach said. "This is why the IOC executive board granted this right to the Russian athletes."

Underling the deep split between Olympic leaders and anti-doping officials, Bach said it was WADA, not the IOC, that was responsible for doping problems in Russia.

Argentine member Gerardo Werthein also laid into WADA, saying "the failure to investigate serious and credible allegations more swiftly has left the sports movement ... in a very difficult position facing incredibly difficult decisions in an impossible timeframe."

"At times WADA has seemed to be more interested in publicity and self-promotion rather than doing its job as a regulator," Werthein said.

WADA president Craig Reedie of Britain, who is also an IOC vice president, spoke only at the end of debate to say that he would respond Wednesday in his report about his agency's activities.

Russian Olympic Committee president Alexander Zhukov lashed out at what he called a political campaign against Russia and "discrimination" against clean athletes not connected to doping.

Why should WADA not be responsible for the violations made by the anti-doping labs it has accredited?- Russian Olympic Committee president Alexander Zhukov

Zhukov criticized the IAAF for banning Russia's track and field team and took a swipe at WADA, saying the same agency which sought a complete ban is the same one that had supervision over Russia's anti-doping agency and doping lab.

"Why should WADA not be responsible for the violations made by the anti-doping labs it has accredited?" he said.

U.S. member Larry Probst said it was wrong to attribute the problem to "international politics."

"We have a doping problem," the U.S. Olympic Committee chairman said. "And it's not just Russia, it's global. The current system is broken and we need to fix the problem."

Bach's position received support from most of the speakers during the debate, with the strongest criticism coming from Canadian member Dick Pound, a former president of WADA who has been outspoken in calling for a complete ban on Russia, something he had previously called "the nuclear option."

"We need to do a lot more to show that we really do care about fair play, honest competition and clean athletes," he said.

Pound complained that, before the executive board's decision, rank-and-file IOC members "were not asked for our opinion and had no chance to give it."

With the decision already in place for Rio, Pound said the IOC should set aside another meeting in the future to deal with the whole issue.

"What we're dealing with here is how we handle a threat to the Olympic movement caused by systematic anti-doping corruption in a particular country, state run, that's going to require all of us to think about it," Pound said. 

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