POSTED: November 15th 2017

JOHN GOODBODY: IOC must look to the greater good of sport in Olympic Games decision for Russia at PyeongChang 2018

Aerial view of the coastal venues at Gangneung, South Korea for the PyeongChang 2018 Games © Getty Images
Aerial view of the coastal venues at Gangneung, South Korea for the PyeongChang 2018 Games © Getty Images

Grigory Rodchenkov's revelations in the documentary illustrated first hand Russian doping methods © Netflix
Grigory Rodchenkov's revelations in the documentary illustrated first hand Russian doping methods © Netflix

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

(SFC) The tension over whether Russia will be allowed to compete in the 2018 Winter Games is increasing. As claim and counter-claim fill newspapers and come across the airwaves and social media platforms, the decisive meeting of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Executive Board on December 5-7 meeting is getting close.

The Board is expected to make its decision based on the two reports that it commissioned from Denis Oswald, a respected IOC member, and Samuel Schmid, a leading Swiss politician. Their panels are considering whether the spate of positive drugs tests and other alleged malpractice were so widespread that they can be considered as state-aided.

Much of the first hand evidence has come from Grigory Rodchenkov, the former director of the Moscow laboratory and the whistleblower (after going into hiding in the United States). He has given details of how the urine samples were manipulated during the 2014 Sochi Games, when Russia topped the medal table. The inquiries are also considering the findings of the McLaren report, which was set up by the World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada).

In the last week, the database, supposedly giving information on the Russian doping system, has been obtained by the Wada and can give further documentary evidence to the two panels. Meanwhile, Oswald has been chairing the IOC disciplinary commission, which ruled that six Russian cross-country skiers should lose their medals from the 2014 Games, including Alexander Legkov, winner of the 50kms title.

And further IOC hearings are taking place across a variety of disciplines, including bobsledding, skeleton and speed skating, although those involving female ice-hockey players have been postponed. On Thursday, in Seoul, the Wada is expected to tell the Russian Anti-Doping Agency that it is still not compliant and more work needs to be done. Not a good omen.

The climate of corruption, which has plagued Russian sport in recent years, is overwhelming but this may not influence the IOC Executive Board, given the way that Russia was allowed to compete in most sports at the Rio Olympics.

Meanwhile, a number of leading figures in winter sports have backed Russia's participation in PyeongChang next February. They include Canadian Bob Storey, the former head of the International Bobsleigh and Tobogganing Federation, who says: "It is true that there have been serious doping transgressions  in the past and there will be, hopefully fewer, in the future. These issues are not just in Russia and not without resolution over time.

"Now many innocent athletes, who have worked a lifetime to earn Olympic status, are in limbo because of the interminable squabble over past doping transgressions. Those athletes wait while sport politicians and technocrats decide whether or not they can compete at PyeongChang."

Sweden's Thomas Wassberg, a four time Olympic champion in cross-country skiing, said:"I have one explanation of the situation--Russian athletes are criticized more than others. I do not know. Maybe it's justified, but I believe that most Russians are 'clean' and those who are not clean have already been disqualified."

The argument for many supporters of Russia's inclusion is that their current athletes should not be penalised for the malpractice in the past, that they should not bear collective responsibility. However, it is worth remembering that many entirely innocent athletes have been barred from competing in the Games in the past.

Black South Africans were unable to participate in all the Games from 1964 to 1988 because they were victims of their country's apartheid policy at the time, which led to its ostracism from the Games. They had to suffer for a greater good, the ending of apartheid, which they were against.

So should it be with those Russian athletes, trying to get to the Winter Games. They have to pay the penalty for what their immediate predecessors, helped by state officials, have done -- ruining the reputation and fairness of the 2014 Winter Games.

** JOHN GOODBODY covered the 2016 Olympics for The Sunday Times, his 13th 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.  

****The views expressed are the author's own and do not necessarily represent the views of Sports Features Communications.

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