LAUSANNE: The International Olympic Committee held emergency talks Tuesday on whether to ban Russia from the Rio Games after an investigation found rampant state-run doping at the 2014 Sochi Winter Games and other events.
A damning report commissioned by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) detailed an elaborate cheating scheme that affected 30 sports with help from the FSB state intelligence agency.
After the report was released by lead investigator Canadian law professor Richard McLaren, top sport figures from across the globe called for all Russian competitors to be banned from Rio Games which start on August 5.
IOC president Thomas Bach said Russia’s actions were “a shocking and unprecedented attack on the integrity of sports and on the Olympic Games.”
He said the organisation “will not hesitate to take the toughest sanctions available against any individual or organization implicated,” including with respect to Rio de Janeiro.
Bach led a phone conference on Tuesday with the IOC’s powerful executive board.
If the panel calls for Russia’s exclusion from Rio, it would mark the first time a country has been banned from an Olympic Games over doping.
– Debating collective punishment –
WADA led calls in support of Russia’s ban, a position backed by the German Olympic body (DOSB) as well as anti-doping institutions from Canada to New Zealand.
But others called for caution, pointing to the ethical issues of punishing aspiring Olympians who have never tested positive for drug use.
Bach raised those concerns himself over a ban previously imposed against Russia by international athletics governing body IAAF because of doping in the country’s track and field programme.
The Olympics chief and some international federations have called for a way for Russian athletes proved to be clean to compete in Rio.
Reacting to the McLaren report, the Association of Summer Olympic Federations said it was “important to focus on the need for individual justice” while noting “the gravity and extent” of the alleged cheating.
In China, the state-owned Global Times newspaper took the view that “Banning Russia will tarnish Olympic spirit”.
The Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) vowed to fight to “protect the rights of clean athletes,” while seeking to undermine the credibility of McLaren’s key witness, the dismissed former boss of Russia’s anti-doping lab Grigory Rodchenkov, who admits he was central to the cheating scheme.
The ROC insisted that collectively punishing all Russian competitors based on Rodchenkov’s evidence left “the integrity of the Olympic Movement…endangered.”
– ‘Failsafe’ cheating –
McLaren said his team uncovered forensic evidence that proved Rodchenkov’s claims.
The Canadian lawyer said the coverup started in 2010 after Russia’s “abysmal” results at the Vancouver Winter Olympics and continued until 2015 after the Sochi Games. It included the 2013 World Athletics Championships in Moscow and 2013 World University Games in Kazan.
At Sochi, the FSB helped Rodchenkov’s staff destroy supposedly tamper-proof urine samples that would have seen a Russian athlete caught doping and swapping them for clean ones, according to the report.
The ploy involved a “clean urine bank” that was full of Russian competitors’ samples and later secretly transported by the FSB from Moscow to an FSB building located handily next to the Sochi Olympic testing laboratory, the report said.
McLaren said Russia’s sport ministry “directed, controlled and oversaw,” the scheme, which he termed “state-dictated failsafe system” designed to let the country’s competitors cheat.
The Kremlin said officials named in the report would be suspended, but also denounced the “dangerous” interference of politics in sport.
Deputy sports minister Yury Nagornykh, who was mentioned prominently in the report, was the first official to be suspended, the Kremlin confirmed Tuesday.
However, Moscow has taken no action against his boss, sports minister Vitaly Mutko.
Russian media appeared resigned to a blanket ban in Rio.
“The WADA report makes Russia’s disqualification very probable,” the Kommersant newspaper suggested, while Gazeta.ru headlined their story “why Russia has already lost the Games”.