Russian doping scandal: ‘Is there fundamental fairness?’

© Leonhard Foeger
Will the introduction of harsh measures against Russian athletes help the problem of doping? Where is the line when it comes to penalizing clean athletes for the actions of cheats? Do they have enough time before the 2016 Rio Olympic Games to prove their innocence?

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) on Tuesday upheld a ban on the Russian track and field team over allegations of systematic doping. However, exceptions will be made if individuals can prove their innocence at the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

The IOC also said that every Russian competitor in every sport now has to pass extra doping tests in order to be allowed to participate in the Games. According to the Russian Olympic Committee, it will consider filing a lawsuit against world athletics' governing body, the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF).

Marcello Foa, Italian journalist and writer, replied to RT’s questions about the recent decision of the IOC.

RT: The head of the International Olympic Committee, Thomas Bach, said that the IAAF should conduct individual checks on Russian track and field athletes. Is that a water-tight solution?

Marcello Foa: It is an obliged solution to at least try not to damage clean athletes. But the timing is very tight, even too tight… It is really difficult to imagine how fast this test can be done, and probably at the end very few Russian athletes will be allowed to join the Olympic Games and the political damage for Russia will be very high.

RT: This isn't the first high-profile case of doping, but this particular scandal has attracted a lot of media attention. Why do you think that's the case?

MF: Because Russia [has been] under pressure from the Western countries [for] two years now. Russia was not the only country which has been under investigation right now in Lausanne. Kenya, for example, also had similar sentence to face, but nobody is talking about Kenya, everybody is talking about Russia.

The reason is that Russia for the Western countries, especially for America, [is] the bad guy, and the bad guy should be put under pressure with all means, including sports affairs. To cut the Russian athletes from the Olympic Games is sort of cutting the moral, the spirit and the image of a country. I guess it’s a matter of a global pressure against President [Vladimir] Putin and Russia itself.

Lionel, legal and media analyst at Lionel media, questioned why athletes who have no evidence against them should be forced to step aside in something as important as the Olympic Games.

Lionel: What is so problematic with this – I understand it’s quasi-judicial, I understand it is not American, it is international, and it is sports tribunals; you have [the] IOC, WADA [World Anti-Doping Agency], [the] IAAF, you have the Court of Arbitration for Sport [CAS].  And then you have this idea, which is the most important: is there fundamental fairness? Everybody around the world understands the notion of due process. It might be called something else. But the idea is that you are put on notice that an accusation has been made and you have the chance for a hearing to pledge your case. One of the implicit requisites of a fair hearing is the chance to answer the charges before the zero hour happens to be able to allow these athletes, who have worked their entire life for this at the peak of their career – this is every four years… And to say: “Ok, you can appeal. And then you go over here – see what they say, and hope you have enough time. Good luck!” – that is the first thing.

The second thing is: I defy you to ask anybody, why should any country, any group be systematically forced to disprove an allegation that hasn’t been made. Look, if we’re on a team and one of our competitors has been caught – fine. Or if there has been systematic involvement of the officials – fine. But why should we, who have no evidence of any doping against us, why should we blatantly be forced to step aside in something of this import?

James Baulch, British sprint athlete and television presenter, described the situation as “a massive scandal with almost the Russian government getting involved in the heart of it.”

“To me anything to do with drugs is a no-no and I think a lot of people knew what was going on. There needs to be some sort of harsh measurement for that,” he told RT.

 © Anton Denisov

The British sportsman thinks it’s “a real shame that the innocent athletes, which are involved in all of this, are not going to be competing.”

“That is hard and harsh measures,” he said. However, he added: “If the IAAF and the Olympic Movement want to make a stand, it needs to be harsh to show and hopefully prove that nobody does it in future.”

“I know there’s a good load of the Russian athletes, who are very talented, some of the best athletes in the world. It would be a shame for them to miss out on something which is personal to them and nothing to do with a country, or nothing to do with drugs. When you do track and field or any sport, you do it for the love of the sport,” Baulch said.

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