Road To The Olympic Games


IOC hasn't taken full measures to punish Russia

Barring a last-minute move, it seems likely that Russia will be allowed to compete at the 2018 Winter Olympics — four years after doping its way to the top of the medal table in Sochi. Should the IOC be doing more to protect the integrity of the Games?

Country likely to compete in Pyeongchang despite brazen cheating in Sochi

International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach has talked tough about responding to the Russian doping scandal, but the organization has done little to follow through. (Fabrice CoffriniAFP/Getty Images)

"Faster, higher, stronger" is the Olympic motto, and some athletes will cheat to reach those goals. Unfortunately, the guardians of the Games still appear unwilling or unable to do everything it takes to stop them.

The International Olympic Committee has done little since the 2016 release of two reports by Canadian lawyer Richard McLaren that detailed a state-sponsored doping program of "unprecedented scale" in Russia. McLaren's investigation uncovered a conspiracy to conceal positive tests over a period of five years, involving more than 1,000 Russian competitors in more than 30 sports.

The word "brazen" doesn't do justice to what Russian officials did to undermine international doping regulations and clean-sport initiatives. This wasn't about a few rogue athletes and coaches. It was a government-orchestrated plan designed to encourage the use of performance-enhancing drugs so Russia could win more medals.

According to McLaren's report, the doping lab at the Sochi Olympics "operated a unique sample swapping methodology" that allowed Russian athletes to avoid detection at the 2014 Winter Games, where the host country topped the table with 13 gold medals and 33 medals overall.

After the report came out, IOC president Thomas Bach called it a "shocking and unprecedented attack on the integrity of sport and the Olympic Games." He said "the IOC will not hesitate to take the toughest sanctions available against any individual or organization implicated."

Except that hasn't happened. The IOC declined to ban Russian athletes from the 2016 Rio Games, instead punting the decision to the governing bodies of each sport, who mostly did nothing. Only the IAAF, which oversees track and field, decided to ban all athletes from competing for Russia in Rio, where the country sent 271 athletes and won 56 medals.

'A punishable offence'

Now, with the 2018 Winter Olympics only 100 days away, it seems the IOC is sticking with the same script. Four years after their country broke the rules so brazenly in Sochi, it appears likely that Russian athletes will be allowed to compete in Pyeongchang, South Korea, barring a last-minute move. (The IOC has said it will make a final decision in December.)

"That's really an abdication of their responsibility because they are the gatekeepers of the Games, they own the Games," says Paul Melia, president and CEO of the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport, which oversees doping controls for Canadian athletes.

"The appropriate thing for the IOC to do with Russia is to impose a sanction preventing them from bringing a team to Pyeongchang."

Melia says Canadian athletes, who undergo a "very intrusive" program, "are completely disillusioned and disappointed that the IOC is not taking that action. It makes athletes think the IOC is not really serious about their rights."

Bobsledder Jesse Lumsden is one of the athletes who has voiced his displeasure.

"[Russia] should be banned from a number of Olympic quadrennials," Lumsden told CBC Sports earlier this year. "The IOC copped out. You've already proven this country had a state-wide system in place to win medals. That is a punishable offence and nothing has happened."

Canadian bobsledder Jesse Lumsden is one of the athletes who believes Russia shouldn't be allowed to compete at the 2018 Winter Olympics. (Mikhail Metzel/Associated Press)

Running out the clock?

While the International Paralympic Committee banned the entire Russian team from competing in Rio, the IOC has argued that such a blanket punishment would harm innocent athletes who competed clean.

The IOC has formed a number of committees to explore McLaren's allegations, but with the Games only months away, it seems like an exercise in dribbling out the clock. There is growing concern that the IOC will do nothing with Russia — that a combination of political and economic pressure as well as institutional ineptitude will conspire to allow Russia to compete in Pyeongchang.

Last month, a coalition of 17 anti-doping organizations said "a country's sport leaders and organizations should not be given credentials to the Olympics when they intentionally violate the rules and rob clean athletes."

United States Anti-Doping Agency chief Travis Tygart added that anything less than a total ban would be a "get out of jail free card."

Even the usually politically averse Canadian Olympic Committee has weighed in, calling for "provisionary measures," including suspensions, to "safeguard the integrity" of the Olympics.

The COC is also convening an Ethical Sport Symposium next month "that will feature international leaders in clean sport" and "serve as a springboard for developing pathways to action for standing up for clean and ethical sport."

But if the IOC is unwilling to stand up in the face of documented evidence of widespread doping by Russia, will these efforts in the name of clean sport really matter?

To this day, Russia hasn't admitted to orchestrating a state-sponsored doping regime in the years leading up to the Sochi Games, as detailed by McLaren. According to Russian media reports, the country's government has already spent $17 million US prepping its team for Pyeongchang.

They expect to go. And why shouldn't they?

As Melia puts, "If [the IOC] wouldn't [ban Russia] going into Rio, I wouldn't expect them to do it going into Pyeongchang."


Jamie Strashin is a native Torontonian whose latest stop is the CBC Sports department. Before, he spent 15 years covering everything from city hall to courts and breaking news as a reporter for CBC News. He has also worked in Brandon, Man., and Calgary. Follow him on Twitter @StrashinCBC


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