Olympics: Fissures over Russian dope issue

Gold medallist cross-country skier Alexander Legkov (right) at a May 13 news conference in Moscow to rebut claims that he was one of the Russians at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics who doped. With him is Russian Deputy Sports Minister Yuri Nagornykh,
Gold medallist cross-country skier Alexander Legkov (right) at a May 13 news conference in Moscow to rebut claims that he was one of the Russians at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics who doped. With him is Russian Deputy Sports Minister Yuri Nagornykh, whose direct orders were allegedly being followed in the state-run doping programme.PHOTO: REUTERS

Opinion split after leak of draft letter calling for country's complete ban from Rio Games

NEW YORK • A North American-led campaign to ban Russia from the Rio Olympics has opened up an international divide on how to deal with the doping scandal engulfing Russia.

European Olympic Committees (EOC) chief Pat Hickey said he was "shocked" by a move led by the United States and Canada to have Russia completely banned from the Summer Games, which start on Aug 5.

Russia is already barred from international athletics because of a doping storm.

Hickey said he was alerted to the move when the head of the World Anti-Doping Agency's (Wada's) athletes commission sent out an appeal for backing for the campaign.

Today, Canadian lawyer Richard McLaren's report is due on his investigation of allegations that the Russian government manipulated doping samples taken at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics to protect Russian competitors.

But Hickey said a US-Canadian attempt to get a blanket ban before the report had been released "has shocked and concerned me on a number of levels".

"My concern is that there seems to have been an attempt to agree an outcome before any evidence has been presented," he said. "Such interference and calls ahead of the McLaren Report publication are totally against internationally recognised fair legal process and may have completely undermined the integrity and therefore the credibility of this important report."

Hickey said that Beckie Scott, the Canadian chairman of the Wada athletes commission and an International Olympic Committee (IOC) member, had sent out an e-mail appeal to back a letter from the US and Canadian anti-doping agencies to IOC president Thomas Bach.

Hickey said the McLaren report is meant to remain confidential until its publication today.

"It is clear from the e-mail and letter that both the independence and the confidentiality of the report have been compromised," he said.

The Irishman's disquiet was echoed by Olympic chiefs from Croatia and Greece.

"It seems incredible that important members of the Olympic Movement are seeking to build a global coalition to get another National Olympic Committee banned even before the requisite evidence has been published," Zlatko Matesa, EOC executive member and president of the Croatian Olympic Committee said. "This is not in the Olympic spirit."

His Greek counterpart, Spyros Capralos, said: "All of us want zero tolerance of doping and all forms of cheating in sport. However, this must be conducted in an open and transparent way, not through building alliances of national prejudice based on supposition rather than evidence."

Wada board member Nenad Lalovic also condemned the move yesterday, saying the leaking of the draft letter had undermined the McLaren report.

Lalovic, who heads United World Wrestling and is also a member of Wada's foundation board and an IOC member, said: "Usada (US Anti-Doping Agency) should be focused on the health of American athletes and those competing in the United States. Now it seems that Usada and the Canadians took over responsibility of Wada. Nobody entitled them to do that."

Grigory Rodchenkov, Russia's former anti-doping lab director, told The New York Times in May that he had followed government orders to cover up the widespread use of performance-enhancing drugs by dozens of Russian Olympians at the Sochi Games. At least 15 of them won medals, he said.

Russian officials have dismissed the allegations of a state-run doping programme as a Western conspiracy intended to smear Russia.

McLaren has indicated that his inquiry will prove true what Rodchenkov told The Times this spring.

In May, Bach said he would apply a "zero-tolerance" policy and would not rule out bans against Russia across entire sports, like track and field. But last month he defended the Russian Olympic Committee, distancing the organisation from the Sports Ministry.

Rodchenkov, however, said he took direct orders from Russia's Deputy Sports Minister, Yuri Nagornykh, who is a member of Russia's Olympic Committee.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS, NEW YORK TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 18, 2016, with the headline 'Fissures over Russian dope issue'. Print Edition | Subscribe