IOC weighing options on Russia

Ruling on track and field ban could affect next step.
A doping control sign during the 2014 Sochi Olympic Winter Games at Sanki Sliding Center.
A doping control sign during the 2014 Sochi Olympic Winter Games at Sanki Sliding Center.

The International Olympic Committee, under fierce pressure to respond aggressively to a doping scheme that corrupted the results of the past two Olympics, said Tuesday that it was considering legal options to discipline Russian athletes ahead of the coming Rio Games and had appointed a five-person disciplinary commission.

The announcement was made following an urgent meeting of the organization’s top leaders. Some were gathered in Lausanne, Switzerland, where the IOC is headquartered, while others from around the world were on the phone. Their announcement, which could ultimately lead to gaping holes throughout the competitions in Rio, reflected a struggle to preserve the integrity of one of the sports world’s most prestigious events.

Russia’s track and field team was barred from Rio by the sport’s governing body last month, a decision supported by the IOC and challenged by Russia with the Court of Arbitration for Sport. That hearing was taking place in Lausanne Tuesday, at the same time that IOC officials met. Olympic officials indicated they were awaiting a ruling in that case, expected Thursday, before announcing further action.

The court’s decision about the legality of the ban on Russia’s track team could heavily influence what course of action Olympic officials ultimately take. The ban left a “narrow crack in the door” for athletes who could prove they have been subjected to rigorous drug-testing outside of Russia to petition to compete.

As of Monday, the day that Olympic athlete rosters were to be finalized, that hurdle had been cleared by two Russian athletes, both of whom had been living in the United States.

In its statement, the IOC said it would “explore the legal options with regard to a collective ban of all Russian athletes for the Olympic Games 2016 versus the right to individual justice.”

The statement also said that the federations that govern individual sports should begin determining the eligibility of Russian athletes while the IOC considers its options.

The case against Russia was dramatically bolstered Monday when a report commissioned by the World Anti-Doping Agency was released. Pointing to forensic evidence, it confirmed a Russian whistle-blower’s claims of government-ordered cheating at the 2014 Sochi Olympics. The report detailed further state-sponsored doping that dated back years and extended across the spectrum of sports, affecting results of both the Winter and Summer Games.

World anti-doping officials urged Olympics officials to bar Russia from Rio after the report, the product of a two-month investigation into the claims of Russia’s longtime anti-doping lab chief, was released.

“There ought to be a message that a state can’t do this and then show up at the Olympics,” Travis Tygart, head of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, said this week.

In response, Russia said that such activism was politically motivated. President Vladimir Putin released a statement Monday, hours after the Sochi report was published, suggesting that the claims had been made “to make sports an instrument of geopolitical pressure; to formulate a negative image” of Russia.

While the disciplinary commission examines the situation ahead of Rio, the IOC announced provisional measures. No official of the Russian ministry of sport will be allowed at the Rio Games, the organization said. That will extend to Vitaly Mutko, Russia’s sports minister who is also an executive of FIFA, global soccer’s governing body.

Perhaps most stinging of all, “The IOC will not organize or give patronage to any sports event or meeting in Russia,” the committee said, calling for winter sports federations to “freeze their preparations for major events in Russia,” and to “actively look for other organizers.”

Among the events Russia is set to host next year are the bobsled and skeleton world championships in Sochi. The federation for that sport did not immediately respond to request for comment Tuesday.

Russia is also preparing to host the next soccer World Cup, one of the biggest sporting events in the world, in 2018. Responding Tuesday to the IOC announcement earlier that day, a spokeswoman for FIFA emphasized that the IOC had directed its advice only to winter sports.

(The Sochi investigation, however, concluded that evidence of government-sponsored Russian doping extended to summer sports, including soccer; FIFA said it had requested information on the violations investigators had uncovered.)

“FIFA is currently in full preparation for the FIFA Confederations Cup 2017 and the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia,” the spokeswoman wrote, “and is convinced they will be successful events for fans and participating teams.”

Asked last week in Moscow if he had received particular support from sports officials amid the allegations against his administration, Mutko named Gianni Infantino, the president of FIFA.

The provisional measures the IOC announced will be in effect until the end of the year, the statement said.

The decision about Russian athletes’ eligibility for Rio, however, has a more urgent timetable, as the games are set to open Aug. 5.

Though anti-doping authorities like Tygart have lobbied for a blanket ban on Russia’s Olympic Committee — which was implicated in the elaborate doping program detailed in this week’s report — the IOC has the option of deferring to individual sports’ governing bodies to make decisions about Russian athletes.

The Summer Olympics involve 28 sports federations — including track and field’s governing body, which already disciplined Russia. Some of those organizations have small staffs and little expertise in adjudicating doping offenses, which would require clear guidelines from Olympic and anti-doping officials to ensure that uniform standards were applied across sports.

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