The divisions within the Olympic movement on how to deal with the Russian doping scandal have broken wide open only days before the start of the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang.
After a day that saw 32 currently-excluded Russians file an appeal to force their way into the Games and a remarkable row between International Olympic Committee (IOC) members at their pre-Games gathering, the World Anti-Doping Agency’s (WADA) athlete committee added its voice to the chorus of disapproval.
In a statement, the committee said: “We wish to express our profound disappointment and dismay with the recent ruling by (the Court of Arbitration for Sport) to reinstate the medals and results of 28 Russian winter Olympians from Sochi, previously disqualified for doping offences.
“We share the distress, uncertainty and frustration expressed by many athletes on the news of this ruling and believe this decision to be a massive setback for clean sport.”
Last week, CAS shocked many by overturning the disqualifications and bans of 28 Russians implicated in the country’s state-sponsored doping programme at the last Winter Games. Sport’s highest court did uphold the disqualification of 11 others but reduced their life bans to just one Olympic cycle.
That CAS, which was set up by the IOC to keep sporting disputes out of national courts, should do this was deeply embarrassing to the IOC as it had spent more than a year coming up with a response to Russia’s cheating that balanced the need to send a strong message with the desire to be fair to individuals.
A key part of that response was the decision in December to suspend the Russian Olympic Committee and allow only invited Russians to compete in Pyeongchang as part of a ‘neutral’ Olympic Athletes from Russia (OAR) team.
The severity of that sanction was soon called into question, though, as it became clear the OAR team would be large, wear kit similar to previous Russian designs and most likely be allowed to march as a fully-fledged Russian team in the closing ceremony.
Those voices of dissent, however, got louder when CAS overturned those bans and returned nine medals to Russia’s Sochi tally.
The IOC responded by saying that did not mean those athletes, or any of the other uninvited Russians, could join their carefully-vetted compatriots in the OAR team, although that has now gone to CAS as well, with a hearing on Wednesday, two days before the opening ceremony.
This prompted ex-WADA president Dick Pound, a long-standing and senior IOC member, to strongly criticise the IOC’s handling of the Russian crisis.
Speaking during a bad-tempered debate at the 132nd IOC session in Pyeongchang, Pound said: “The whistleblowers have been left with no protection from the Olympic movement and every effort has been made to give a distinctly Russian profile to the (OAR) team here.
“I agree we need to get Russia back in the Olympic family but on our terms, not on its terms of denial and attack.
“A large proportion of the world believes the IOC has failed and let down clean athletes. We talk more than we walk and, with respect, I don’t think we can talk our way out of this. Our future depends on what we do but not what we say.”
Later on, IOC spokesman Mark Adams said the beleaguered organisation awaited the CAS decision on the appeal from the 32 uninvited Russians but was “very confident of our position”.
That confidence is not shared by the WADA athlete committee, whose 16 members include Britain’s Adam Pengilly, another vocal critic at the IOC session, and the past and newly-elected chairs of the IOC athletes’ commission, American Olympic ice hockey champion Angela Ruggiero and Zimbabwean swimming great Kirsty Coventry.
The committee repeated its call for CAS to “improve and strengthen its independence and continually strive to increase the quality of its arbitrators”.
It added that it wants a “transparent and comprehensive review” of how the evidence gathered by Professor Richard McLaren on behalf of WADA into the Russian doping conspiracy in 2016 was used by the IOC and various international federations.
“We cannot lose sight of the extent nor the scale of the efforts that Russian authorities and athletes engaged in to cheat the anti-doping system,” it said.