POSTED: May 12th 2016

JOHN GOODBODY: More fuel to the fire to keep Russian athletics out of the Rio 2016 Olympics

WADA President Sir Craig Reedie and Dick Pound, Chair of the WADA Independent Commission @ Getty Images
WADA President Sir Craig Reedie and Dick Pound, Chair of the WADA Independent Commission @ Getty Images

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

(SFC) Just when Russia thought that the campaign to exclude their athletes from the Rio 2016 Olympics might die down, further revelations have been made about how seriously the country has been taking doping in the immediate past.

The CBS programme '60 minutes' in the United States interviewed Vitaly Stepanov, the former employee of the Russian Anti-Doping Agency, who alleged that four gold medallists from the host country had taken anabolic steroids during the Sochi Winter Games. Stepanov, who has been in hiding since leaving Russia in 2014, also claimed that agents of the Federal Security Service (FSB) had covered up doping offences at the Games, with some of them employed as doping control officers.

The allegations follow recorded conversations between Stepanov and Grigory Rodchenkov, the former head of the Moscow laboratory, which carried out the tests. He is now in hiding in the United States but did not apparently produce this evidence when he was interviewed by the independent commission set up by the World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada).

However, Sir Craig Reedie, the President of the Wada, did say that these allegations were a "real cause for concern". Canadian Dick Pound, who chaired the independent commission -and is himself as former president of the Wada--said last year that he "did not think we can be confident there was no manipulation of results at Sochi 2014. We have no concrete proof but it's hard to imagine what the Russian state interest would be in urine samples otherwise."

The Wada would have acted as observers during the drug-testing process and therefore the first question would be whether any of those officials were suspicious of the procedures in 2014. It has promised that now it would investigate these allegations "without delay".

Of course, the allegations concern Winter Games competitors and not Russian track and field athletes, whose participation in the Rio Olympics will be decided by the International Association of Athletic Federations (IAAF) at its meeting in Vienna on June 17.

The Russians promptly denied any malpractice -although they would, wouldn't they ?--with Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko declaring that "Stepanov is now back on his hobby-horse" while in a separate statement, the Sports Ministry announced: "In addition to Russian specialists, doping control stations also employed foreign experts. Furthermore, a team of independent observers managed the doping control operations on a daily basis during the Olympic Games."

However, the protests of the Russians did not convince many people. Travis Tygart, the CEO of the United States Anti-Doping Agency, said of the Wada's intervention: "It appears they are stepping up to the plate. Let us hope they roll up their sleeves and get to the bottom of it. Clean athletes are watching".

He added to the Associated Press:"They"(the Russians)"continue to attack the truth-tellers, denying the depth of the problem. There has been no effective testing for months, no meaningful consequences. It just simply carries on. "

Taken together with the number of positive tests in weightlifting and the allegations in The Times of London about malpractice in swimming, what remains clear is the culture of cheating is embedded in so much of Russian sport.

Yet there are influential apologists for Russia. Kevan Gosper, a long-time member of the International Olympic Committee, told Reuters: "For a country as big and important in world affairs, let alone sport, as Russia, I would rather see a solution to what has been happening and a change of heart, a change of culture and a commitment to the future and still see them participate rather than be excluded."

 However, a change of culture does not occur overnight. The Russians' attitude seems to be one of regret that it has been caught. They surely need to demonstrate real integrity over a period of time before they are allowed back into the Olympic athletics programme. For years, the Russians have been fooling the rest of the world. They need to be taught a lesson.

** 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.  

Keywords · Olympics · John Goodbody · Russia · Rio 2016

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