Nothing dopey about IOC's Russia stance

12:43 pm on 28 July 2016

Opinion - The issue of drugs in sport is full of hypocrisy, as has been illustrated again this week.

Olympic rings made of recycled plastic installed on Copacabana Beach.

Olympic rings made of recycled plastic installed on Copacabana Beach, Rio de Janeiro. Photo: AFP

The International Olympic Committee (OIC) has been hammered for not excluding Russia from the forthcoming Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

The World Anti Doping Agency (Wada) produced compelling evidence that Russia had for several years been involved in state-sponsored doping of its leading athletes.

Wada piously and zealously claimed the IOC simply had to ban the entire Russian team. Never mind that many of them weren't cheats.

Instead, the IOC took what I thought was the sensible decision to leave it to individual sports bodies to decide what to do about the Russians in their sport.

Since then, all the Russian tennis players chosen for Rio have been cleared, but all Russian athletes, many swimmers, rowers, canoeists, and some rowers and modern pentathletes have been barred.

The IOC has been difficult to defend at times. When Juan Antonio Samaranch was its president, the organisation did not seem focused on catching East German and Chinese drugs cheats, though there was evidence of state-sponsored drugs regimes then, too.

There were even suggestions some positive drugs tests of big-name athletes were covered up.

It wasn't just the IOC, either. The manager, now dead, of one New Zealand team once boasted to me about how he had "hidden" an athlete so he would not be tested during a Games.

And a leading New Zealand female athlete was told - al biet many years ago now - by a person with access to government funding that she would find it a lot easier to get funding when she got herself "on a decent drugs programme".

Two of the most vocal Wada officials have been former president Dick Pound, of Canada, and his right-hand man David Howman, of New Zealand, Wada's director general.

This is the same Dick Pound who endeavoured to mount a defence for his countryman, Ben Johnson, after Johnson won the 1988 Olympic 100m final then failed the drugs test.

And it is the same Howman who once flew across the world to defend Denis Petouchinsky, a Russian who represented New Zealand in the pole vault in the 1998 Commonwealth Games.

Petouchinsky failed the drugs test after winning the silver medal that year and Howman, a lawyer and the chairman of the New Zealand Sports Drug Agency at the time, defended him, unsuccessfully.

Pound and Howman would say that all happened a lifetime ago, but it doesn't pay to be too sanctimonious about these things.

New Zealand, after all, has had other athletes fail drug tests too, long jumper Willie Hinchcliff and marathon runner Liza Hunter-Galvan among them.

Because some Russians will be competing in Rio, there is talk this will be a "dirty" Olympics.

Actually, the Russians in Rio will be the cleanest athletes there because they have been subject to the most stringent criteria of any competitors.

Besides, only a fool would think all athletes in Rio will be clean. Retrospective tests are being done on athletes, mainly medallists, from the 2008 and 2012 Olympics. Testing has advanced to the stage where it can now catch many of the cheats from back then.

So far 98 more athletes have been caught. They come from half a dozen sports and 10 countries. So forget about the Russians being the only cheats out there.

What's to be done? It's doubtful if the chemists testing athletes will ever quite catch up with those producing the drugs, so - with all the money and glory at stake - there will always be cheats.

It is heartening to find that the international federations of sports like athletics, swimming and even cycling now seem seriously committed to weeding out the cheats. That was not the case even 15 years ago.

One obvious step for the IOC would be to ban all athletes who fail tests from competing at the Olympics again. At present cheating athletes, such as current American sprinters Justin Gatlin and Tyson Gay, can sit out a suspension, whether three months or two years, then return to the fray. That's not acceptable.

* Joseph Romanos is a long-time sports journalist and broadcaster, and the author of nearly 50 books.

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