Olympic and anti-doping leaders clash over Russian scandal
Declaring that the global drug-testing system is damaged, Olympic leaders and anti-doping officials vowed Tuesday to fix the problems and prevent the type of scandal that has embroiled Russian athletes in the lead-up to the games in Rio de Janeiro.
The IOC and the World Anti-Doping Agency clashed again Tuesday over the allegations of state-sponsored doping in Russia that have rattled the Olympic movement and created chaos ahead of Friday's opening ceremony in Rio.
But both sides agreed on one thing — the need to repair the international anti-doping system and restore trust and credibility in the fight against drugs.
"This is not about destroying structures," IOC President Thomas Bach said, referring to WADA. "This is about improving significantly a system in order to have a robust and efficient anti-doping system so that such a situation that we face now cannot happen again."
Bach spoke after a debate in which International Olympic Committee members overwhelmingly backed the executive board's decision not to take the "nuclear option" of banning Russia's entire Olympic team. Bach and many members pointed fingers at WADA for failing to act sooner on evidence of state-run doping in Russia and for releasing its findings so close to the start of the games.
"I don't feel as if I've been run under a bus," WADA chief Craig Reedie told reporters, insisting that both sides were in general accord on the need to find solutions for the future.
"Somebody said this system is broken," he said. "I don't think all the system is broken. i think quite a lot of the system still works, but that certain parts of the system need revision."
Reedie said he had received assurances from officials at high levels of the Russia government that they accept they have a problem and need to fix it.
"It is absolutely essential that we cannot have the biggest country in the world non-compliant on a permanent basis," he said.
Bach opened the IOC's three-day general assembly by seeking formal backing for the board's decisions on the Russian crisis. After a debate lasting more than two hours, Bach asked for a show of hands, and only one of the 85 members — Britain's Adam Pengilly — voted against his position.
Despite evidence of a vast state-organized program involving Olympic sports in Russia, the IOC board rejected calls for a total ban and left it to international sports federations to decide on the entry of individual Russian athletes for the games.
Bach said it would be wrong to make individual Russian athletes "collateral damage" for the wrongdoing of their government.
"Leaving aside that such a comparison is completely out of any proportion when it comes to the rules of sport, let us just for a moment consider the consequences of a 'nuclear option,'" Bach said. "The result is death and devastation. This is not what the Olympic Movement stands for. The cynical 'collateral damage' approach is not what the Olympic movement stands for."
The IOC has been roundly criticized by many anti-doping bodies, athletes' groups and Western media for not applying a complete ban on the Russian team. Pressure for a full ban grew after WADA investigator Richard McLaren issued a report accusing Russia's sports ministry of orchestrating doping program and cover-ups involving athletes across more than two dozen summer and winter Olympic sports.
"Natural justice does not allow us to deprive a human being of the right to prove their innocence," Bach said.
Underlying the deep split between Olympic leaders and anti-doping officials, Bach and others put the responsibility on WADA.
"I think it's not the reputation of the IOC that has to be restored, it's the reputation of WADA," Israeli member Alex Gilady said.
Argentine member Gerardo Werthein added: "At times WADA has seemed to be more interested in publicity and self-promotion rather than doing its job as a regulator."
Reedie said he spoke later with both men and addressed their concerns.
IOC spokesman Mark Adams said Reedie's positon was not compromised by the debate.
"We don't always agree on everything," he said. "It wasn't a totally one-sided debate. We aired a lot of issues."
Russian Olympic Committee President Alexander Zhukov claimed there was a political campaign against Russia and cited "discrimination" against clean athletes not connected to doping.
"I urge you to resist this unprecedented pressure that is now on the entire Olympic movement and not to let this pressure to split the entire Olympic family," he said.
U.S. member Larry Probst said it was wrong to attribute the problem to "international politics."
"We have a doping problem," the U.S. Olympic Committee chairman said. "And it's not just Russia, it's global. The current system is broken and we need to fix the problem."
A few members did question the IOC decision to keep Russian whistleblower Yulia Stepanova — an 800-meter runner who helped expose systematic doping in her homeland — out of the games.
"If there was to be one exception, it should have been her," Richard Peterkin of St. Lucia said.
The strongest criticism came from Canadian member Dick Pound, a former president of WADA who has been outspoken in calling for a complete ban on Russia — something he had previously called "the nuclear option." He said the reputation of the IOC was on the line.
"We need to do a lot more to show that we really do care about fair play, honest competition and clean athletes," he said.
By the end, however, Pound was among the 84 members who voted in favor.
"The arrow's left the bow," he said. The decision has been made, it's not going to be changed between now and the start of the games."