Road To The Olympic Games

Track-field·Analysis

Russia's doping ban hardly cause to celebrate

Russian track athletes won't be allowed to compete in the Rio Olympics after Friday's decision by the International Association of Athletics Federations. But this isn't the time for IAAF poobahs to celebrate and pat themselves on the back for a job well done, writes Jamie Strashin.

Country's track athletes barred from competing in Summer Olympics as doping probe deepens

It's highly unlikely that athletes such as Maria Abakumova, who was reportedly caught doping in May, will compete in Rio under the Russian flag now that the IAAF has extended the competition ban for Russia's track athletes. (Michael Sohn/The Associated Press)

Russian track athletes won't be allowed to compete in the Rio Olympics this summer because the country has not done enough to root out doping in the sport. The International Association of Athletics Federations delivered the seemingly inevitable message Friday morning, casting itself as the guardian of clean athletes everywhere.

"The statement that we made is a very clear indication that over the long haul, our responsibility is to protect clean athletes," IAAF president Sebastian Coe told reporters Friday.

But this isn't the time for IAAF poobahs to celebrate and pat themselves on the back for a job well done. Many are calling this decision historic, but let's be clear: there was no other option.  

"I don't think on the face of evidence, they really had any other choice," said Paul Melia, CEO of the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport, which carries out all drug testing in Canada. "It would have been very difficult for them to defend lifting the ban."

Canadian middle-distance runner Hilary Stellingwerff missed the women's 1,500-metre final at the London Olympics by just one spot. In recent years, six of the 12 finalists — including two Russians — have received doping bans.

"To be honest, if it didn't happen, it would cause me to question the value of clean sport to IAAF, and I would honestly question even being in Rio if I made it," Stellingwerff told the Canadian Press. "What's the point?"

Decision a long time coming

Many wonder why the decision to ban Russia's track athletes took so long considering it was in November that WADA's initial report detailing Russia's systematic doping regime involving athletes, coaches and officials was delivered, and the Russians were suspended from international competition and told to clean up their act.

"WADA should have the authority to impose immediate sanctions or take immediate actions when in extraordinary circumstances like this one," WADA athlete committee chair Beckie Scott told CBCSports.ca in May, frustrated at a perceived lack of action so close to the Olympics.  

"Six months is too long for decisions to come around." 

Scott and countless other athletes and sports federations couldn't envision Russian track stars fist bumping competitors in Rio. It would have been the height of farce, a jab at a global audience already cynical about the integrity of the athletes they're watching.

Promises were made. The Russians shook up the leadership of their athletics federation, international observers were permitted, additional testing offered.

But Melia says nobody really believed Russia's claims it could overhaul its system in only a few months.   

"The discouraging thing is that rather than progress made that would have made this decision a little tougher, just the opposite," Melia said. "We hear of avoiding testing, cleaning out dirty urine for clean urine, all kinds of whereabouts failures, on and on the list goes, nothing to suggest they took it seriously."

Still more work to do

"The deep-seated culture of tolerance for doping that got RusAF suspended in the first place appears not to have changed materially to date," IAAF doping expert Rune Andersen told reporters Friday.

"The head coach of the Russian athletic team and many of the athletes on that team appear unwilling to acknowledge the nature and extent of doping in Russian athletics."

Andersen stressed to reporters that the Russians were retrenching, not looking to rehabilitate.

"Certain athletes and coaches appear willing to ignore doping rules," he said. "A strong and effective anti-doping infrastructure capable of deterring and detecting doping has still not been created. Russia is reportedly at least 18-24 months away from returning to full operational compliance with the world internal doping code."

Think about that. It will be two years until the Russians can be trusted to test their own athletes.

That is the norm, however. Most countries in the world have neither the resources nor the desire to implement the WADA code. Few want to talk about doping or drug testing or biological passports. The spoils still go to the winners.

For Russia, its track athletes might be only the first to be banned from international competition.

Allegations revealed in NY Times

Canadian lawyer Richard McLaren was appointed by WADA to investigate allegations of Russian state-sponsored doping across multiple sports. The allegations were recently revealed by the New York Times. His report isn't due until July, but in a letter to the IAAF, he wrote:

"It is my view that I have the evidence to confirm ... the Ministry of Sport was involved in instructing the [drug-testing] laboratory to not report positive sample results over the period before, during and after the IAAF Championships in 2013."

Andersen said Friday that McLaren confirmed to the IAAF that "tests being sent to the Russian lab were filtered so that the appropriate tests would not go through if the athletes that they have chosen were not the ones that they wanted to test positive for. And this was a collaboration between the ministry and the laboratory."

It all led an exasperated Andersen to say, "we can't trust clean athletes really are clean."

Hardly the portrait of a nation trying to clean up.  And nothing to celebrate.

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