POSTED: December 29th 2017

JOHN GOODBODY: IOC must be pro-active over Russian whistleblower

Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov put his own safety at risk and even went on camera in the Netflix movie Icarus by Bryan Fogel © Netflix
Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov put his own safety at risk and even went on camera in the Netflix movie Icarus by Bryan Fogel © Netflix

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

(SFC) Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov is a brave man. As the former head of Moscow's anti-doping laboratory, he fled his home country and gave evidence showing how the state-sponsored manipulation of drug tests had made the drug-testing at the 2014 Winter Olympics and on many other occasions was a complete farce.

As a result the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has banned Russia from taking part in the 2018 Winter Games, although individual competitors can participate under a neutral flag provided they can demonstrate that they are not tainted with performance-enhancing substances.

Dr. Rodchenkov is the key witness for the IOC at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) when Russian athletes challenge their lifetime bans from the Olympic Movement. In the meantime, he has been living in secrecy in the United States, where he has been the target of wild death threats from Russian officials.

Not only are they worried about the evidence that he might give to CAS and furious at what they see as his "traitorous" statements but also that he could give substance to allegations that Russian footballers were doped.

With Russia next year staging the Fifa World Cup, the biggest sports event in global importance after the Summer Olympics, the last thing that the hosts want is any controversy over the tournament, let alone the absence of any of their leading players. There is no question that the World Cup will go ahead -there is too much money at stake to do otherwise--but Russia (and Fifa for that matter) do not want the competition to be tarnished.

Jim Walden, the lawyer of Dr. Rodchenkov, now claims that Russia is attempting to get his client extradited from the United States saying that if they succeeded Dr. Rodchenkov "would face death and torture at their hands." Given what sometimes happens in Russia, this isn't a far-fetched claim.

Walden has also said that the IOC had refused to help his client, adding that, as his lawyer, he "should consider whether he" (Dr. Rodchenkov)" should continue to compromise his own safety in order to provide evidence to the IOC." In other words, unless the IOC is more pro-active, then Dr. Rodchenkov may not come out of hiding and appear at CAS.

The lawyer has added: "Perhaps if Dr. Rodechenov were 'no longer available', the corrupt persons who fought against a full ban against Russia would be happy. A problem would be solved."

Strong words. They have clearly and understandably upset the IOC, who replied to Walden's statement by denying the claim that the IOC "has taken no action" and the "ridiculous assertion that we would like it if Dr. Rodchenkov were not available."

It has pointed out that it had co-ordinated with the World Anti-Doping Agency by writing to the Russian Sports Minister, a man who has been guilty of some outrageous comments on this whole affair, and also to the Russian Olympic Committee, saying that Dr. Rodchenkov "deserved protection as a whistleblower."

The IOC rightly points out that it cannot give witness protection to whistleblowers. However, this is an exceptionally important issue for the Olympic Movement and the IOC should now make it a priority in the New Year to meet with Walden and Dr. Rodchenkov to ensure that the Russian gives evidence to CAS and, more important, is provided with every facility to ensure his safety in future.

We are within a few weeks of the opening of the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang and the IOC needs to show to the world that it is taking the initiative in dealing with the fall-out from the last Games in Sochi.

Some of Walden's criticisms of the IOC may have been unfair but the guardians of the Olympic Movement need to make sure that they support Dr Rodchenov in every way possible, because otherwise whistleblowers in future may be less eager to come forward.

** 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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