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15 Jan, 2016 13:14

Six months till Olympics, IAAF still playing games with Russia

Six months till Olympics, IAAF still playing games with Russia

It is a very interesting line of questioning: Why did they focus so much on Russia to the exclusion of, for example, Kenya, Turkey, and the US even, said Ellis Cashmore, sociology professor at Aston University.

The second part of an independent report commissioned by the World Anti-Doping Agency was published Thursday. The independent commission examined the role of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) and talks of “corruption became embedded in the organization.” The former president of the World Anti-Doping Agency Dick Pound said that IAAF “could not have been unaware' of systematic doping in Athletics.”

RT: What were the main issues from the recent WADA report?

EC: It seems to me that three themes emerged from this report. The first concerns Lord Sebastian Coe’s leadership. The second is the extent to which other countries outside Russia are involved in doping systematically and perhaps even cover-ups also. And the third is whether Russia will be allowed back into the Olympic Games by the time of Rio.

If I can address those three, the first point is that a lot of British journalists ask this question about Lord Coe, because he has been on the Council of the IAAF since, I think, 2003. And yet time and again Dick Pound said that it is impossible that Council members of the IAAF could not have known about the systematic doping and the cover-ups that were going on in the inner circle around Lamine Diack and his group of friends that really ran the IAAF.  

On the other hand, Pound said he backed Lord Coe’s leadership and said that he didn’t lack credibility and that Lord Coe was the appropriate person to lead the IAAF forward. Now a lot of British critics found that  inconsistent. They said it did sound something like a contradiction.

So, on the one hand, Dick Pound is saying that there is evidence of a cover-up and the IAAF Council could not possibly have not known that it is going on, and yet on the other hand, he said Lord Coe was a responsible person for taking it forward.

RT: Was the outcome of the report shocking for you as the report’s focus was mainly on Russia and ignored other countries, where athletes allegedly used doping as well?

EC: Well, I don’t think that this is as explosive as we had been led to believe. They said that this was going to have the “wow factor” and it would be completely explosive. It wasn’t really. I think everybody who studies athletics knew what was coming here. It is a very interesting line of questions – why did they focus so much on Russia to the exclusion of, for example, Kenya, Turkey, the US even.  Dick Pound was asked this question, and he said: “Well, we are not interested in all those other countries. Our focus,” as he put it, “was only on Russia.” When he was questioned further he did refer to other countries – Kenya specifically, and Turkey of course. But he didn’t really point the finger at them; he just said that there were inconsistencies and anomalies...

RT: Do you think that Dick Pound’s answers were reasonable and consistent?

EC: ... He was asked a few questions for which he didn’t have answers, and he kept coming back to this point that “well, our brief was to look at Russia and that is all we’re doing.” He also said “we’re making some recommendations to the IAAF, but it is up to them whether they choose to follow our example and become compliant.”

What is interesting about it is it still leaves in doubt the question whether Russia will be allowed to compete in the next Olympics. It is only six months away now, remember, and Russia is still in a state of suspension. He was asked the question repeatedly if he is confident that Russia will become compliant. And all he kept saying was: “I don’t know...”

What he said was that he has given Russia “a roadmap” of how to become compliant and that it is up to Russia to decide whether it wants to be compliant and meet all the criteria that he has laid down and then will be readmitted into the Olympics. My guess is this: Russia will be competing in the next Olympic Games. I think the suspension will be removed in time for it to prepare and to compete at the next Olympics in Rio.

RT: WADA has been fighting with doping by sportsmen for decades, and seems that it has failed to do so. Is there something can be done here to solve this problem?

EC: You say it has failed, but let’s face it – this is the 21st century, and we have been engaged in a war, a crusade, you might say, on doping since the 1970s, but particularly after 1988, when the Ben Johnson case really made the headline news. And that was a declaration of war on doping, not just from athletics, but all sports really.

Here we are in the 21st century, and we do not seem to have progressed one inch. If anything, athletes all over the world have made it completely crystal clear that they believe that they will take dope and they will intend to continue. It cannot be beaten, it is a professional sport. The stakes are very, very high. The difference between third place and fourth place isn’t just a medal, it is potentially millions of euro, or dollars, or pounds, or rubles – you name it. It is a lot of money. So the athletes are prepared to take risks. It is not just athletics – it is baseball, soccer, swimming, cycling, practically every professional sport in the world has doping... It cannot be beaten.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.