POSTED: June 21st 2016

JOHN GOODBODY: Russia and now Kenya in race to field competitors for Rio 2016 Olympics

The Olympic Summit held today in Lausanne © IOC
The Olympic Summit held today in Lausanne © IOC

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

(SFC) Confusion reigns in the build-up to the Rio Olympics. After the worries about whether Brazil will be ready to host the world in August, as well as the concern about the zika virus, we now have the uncertainty of how many competitors from two leading nations, Russia and Kenya, will be travelling to the Games.

The Olympic summit in Lausanne today has decided that all competitors from those two countries must undergo special drug-tests because both of them are non-compliant with the World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada). The summit, made up of members of the Executive Board of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), plus representatives from a number of national Olympic Committees (NOCs) and international federations (IF), may be seen as having been weak in their decisions, but also probably quite smart.

It said that every competitor from these two countries must satisfy the relevant IF that there is a "level playing field" if they are to compete in the Games. This means that the IF "should take into account other reliable testing system in addition to national anti-doping testing", the latter of which has been showed in many cases to be flawed. And if the competitors can prove their eligibility to the satisfaction of the IFs by undertaking extra tests, then they can participate under their own flags in Rio.

However, the decision about the eligibility is still taken by the relevant IF and now in the case of Russia, which, unlike Kenya, is a leading force in many other sports, could face more competitors, apart from those in track and field athletics, being unable to compete in August. The IOC has already confirmed that the International Association of Athletic Federations (IAAF) was within its rights to maintain the suspension of Russia when its Council voted last Friday. 

By including (rightly) Kenya as also being non-compliant, the IOC has shown that this is not a political attack against Russia, as many officials in that country have recently been claiming. It is about ethics and it has probably safeguarded the Olympic Movement from any legal action by Russian athletes if they take their case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), as Yelena Isinbaeva, twice Olympic pole vault champion, has threatened to do.

The IOC has also bought some time to await the report of Richard McLaren, the Canadian lawyer, who is investigating the allegations that at the Sochi Winter Games possibly tainted urine specimens were switched for clean ones, with the connivance of the Russian authorities. This report is due on July 15 and if McLaren is satisfied that the claims of Grigory Rodchenkov, the former head of Moscow's laboratory, are true then a complete ban on Russia taking part in Rio is possible.

However, as the IOC has noted, there is a balance between collective responsibility and individual justice. The IOC rightly stated: "In this context, neither the IOC, nor the IFs, nor the NOCs have full discretionary power, pointing to the fact that the CAS has declared "null and void" a rule of the IOC that would have kept doped competitors away from the next edition of the Olympic Games, the so-called 'Osaka Rule'.

Just how competitors across so many sports and two countries are now going to prove their eligibility is likely to prove a logistical nightmare over the next six weeks, although the IOC has doubled its budget for the pre-Olympic testing programme in the build-up to the Games.

There is surely a lot more activity, possible legal actions, controversy and distress before the Olympic flame is lit in Rio.

** 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 · Rio 2016

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