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27 Nov, 2019 18:00

Using sport as a political tool? USADA chief declares only ‘full ban’ on Russian athletes will do

Using sport as a political tool? USADA chief declares only ‘full ban’ on Russian athletes will do

As the sporting world awaits WADA’s decision on the fate of Russian athletes, the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) chief decided to pour fuel on the fire, calling for a total ban on Russian participation in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Travis Tygart even called for Russians to be banned from competing as neutrals, and not under their national flag. Such extreme measures, he said, would “protect clean athletes” and force Russia to “clean up its act.”

Yet, with the situation increasingly tense and uncertain for Russian athletes in the run up to another Olympic games, is now really the appropriate time for Tygart to be inflaming the situation? What is to gain from such provocative statements?

Also on rt.com Russia faces 4-year ban from major international sports events after WADA ‘recommends’ strong sanctions

The USADA chief’s comments come just a couple of weeks before WADA will make its final determination in Paris on December 9. The doping saga re-erupted after a WADA compliance committee claimed that data handed over by Moscow in January — in an attempt to draw a line under the whole scandal — was manipulated to delete hundreds of positive drug tests.

But not even WADA or the International Olympic Committee (IOC) have recommended such drastic measures be blanketly taken against all Russian athletes. While the WADA panel recommended that Russians take part as neutrals during the Tokyo Olympics, the IOC has also said that "natural justice" means that those athletes who are not guilty should not be forced to suffer and be deprived of the chance to compete internationally.

With the careers of so many athletes who have dedicated their lives to their chosen sports hanging in the balance, Tygarts’s push for a complete ban on Russians seems driven only from a place of exaggeration and self-interest — an attempt, perhaps, to use sport as a political tool with which to batter Russia?

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Indeed, some analysts have concluded that the long-running push to portray Russians as routine ‘cheaters’ is part of a "propaganda campaign" driven by its geopolitical foes, in an attempt to delegitimize the country on the world stage. Is it any surprise that those shouting the loudest for a ban on Russian participation in international sport are the same countries who oppose Moscow in international political affairs? With a seemingly unstoppable anti-Russia fervor gripping the US in recent years, Tygart’s insistence on such harsh treatment is somewhat predictable.

It is nothing new, either. In 2016, Reuters reported that the chiefs of the US and Canadian anti-doping bodies had written to the World Anti-Doping Agency asking then too for a ban on all Russian competitors from the Rio Olympics, regardless of whether they had been found guilty of doping or not. It is not difficult to imagine the outrage if Russia’s anti-doping body had called for American and Canadian athletes to be banned from competing — even if they had done nothing wrong.

WADA's Compliance Review Committee’s (CRC) has recommended that Russia's anti-doping agency RUSADA be declared non-compliant for a four-year period and that Russia be forbidden from hosting international sporting events during that time.

The ultimate decision will be made on December 9, and all expectations are that WADA’s Executive Committee’s will heed the recommendations from its compliance committee and that Russia will be excluded from next year's Olympic games in Japan, meaning that Russian athletes will only be allowed to compete as neutrals, after passing a series of checks.

Yet, that’s not enough for Tygart and the USADA. Only banning all Russians, regardless of guilt, will suffice.

By Danielle Ryan, an Irish freelance writer based in Dublin.

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