POSTED: March 16th 2016

JOHN GOODBODY: Russian athletics not ready for reinstatement but when will the funds be found to tackle doping?

(Center) Dick Pound chaired the independent report of the World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada) into Russian athletics © Getty Images
(Center) Dick Pound chaired the independent report of the World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada) into Russian athletics © Getty Images

THE JOHN GOODBODY COLUMN / An authoritative and exclusive series from Sports Features Communications

(SFC) Should Russia compete in the athletics events at the Olympics? Will Russia take part in athletics at the Games? Should Russia, in fact, compete in any of the sports in Rio? These questions are swirling around international sport with less than five months to go before the flame is lit in Brazil.

The decision of the International Association of Athletic Federations (IAAF) to postpone any decision about the reinstatement of Russia until its council meeting in May follows another documentary by the German TV Channel ARD and its relentless reporter Hajo Seppelt. The programme claimed that Russia had made scant progress in reforming its corrupt practices, that coaches banned for doping were still operating in the country and officials, who had been newly-appointed, were warning competitors when they were to be tested for drugs. In other words, some of the personnel may have changed but the culture hasn't.

Dick Pound, the Canadian, who chaired the independent report of the World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada) into Russian athletics, was blunt, as is his wont, when he addressed a conference in London last week. He said that Russia: "was just rearranging chairs on the opinion from what I know so far is that they have not got to the point where they can credibly say 'we have solved the problem' ".

Sebastian Coe, whose IAAF presidency seems to have aged him 10 years (not without reason) since he was elected last August, said of the programme that members of the task force were "very concerned" about the implications of the programme and were investigating further. So they should be.

It is all very well for Vitaly Mutko, the Russian Sports Minister, to say that his country had done enough to be reinstated and asking what the criteria are. But he has hardly aided his case by flippantly remarking: "What should athletics do? Dance on the table? Sing a song?"  He has to realise that the entire approach has to change.

One concrete step would be to respond to the petition from athletes from other countries asking that they should be re-allocated the prize money won by Russian athletes, who subsequently have been caught up in the doping scandal.

Lord Coe and the IAAF Council have to ensure by May that the actual culture will have changed in Russia and this seems doubtful in such a short space of time. The absence of Russia will also send out a strong message to other countries that such state organised doping cannot be allowed.

 However, there will be pressures on the IAAF to allow the country, who finished second in the athletics medal table behind the United States at the London Games, to compete in Rio. These pressures should be resisted. At the moment, there is not enough evidence to permit the readmission of Russia.

Further fuel was added to the fire by two figures calling for the Wada to investigate other sports in Russia. One came from Beckie Scott, a former cross-country skier, who chairs the Wada Athletes Commission, and the other was from Joel Bouzou, the President of the World Olympians Association, the organisation representing all those competitors who have taken part in the Games.

Of course, this will be impossible to do before the Rio Games, although a glance at the number of Russian weightlifters found positive for drugs gives an indication of the extent of the problem in at least one other sport.

But even if it were possible to carry out an extensive inquiry, there would be precious little money with which to commission one. As Sir Craig Reedie, the President of the Wada, pointed out recently, the $20 million annual budget of the organisation is the same as the annual income of Maria Sharapova. More money, perhaps a slice from TV fees and sponsorship, must be found if the problem of doping is to be taken seriously.

** JOHN GOODBODY covered the 2012 Olympics for The Sunday Times, his 12th successive Summer Games and is the author of the audio book A History of the Olympics, read by Barry Davies, the BBC commentator. He was Sports News Correspondent of The Times 1986-2007, for whom he received journalistic awards in all three decades on the paper, including Sports Reporter of The Year in 2001.  

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