POSTED: February 3rd 2018

NEIL WILSON: The war on doping suffers a winter shock

PyeongChang will open the Games next Friday © Getty Images
PyeongChang will open the Games next Friday © Getty Images

THE NEIL WILSON COLUMN / An exclusive, authoritative series from Sports Features Communications

(SFC) The war on doping ended eight days before the Winter Olympic Games opens in abject surrender.

 The Court of Arbitration for Sport ended on appeal the bans imposed on 28 Russian winter athletes by the IOC and upheld those on eleven more only in part.

The results of the 28 from the Sochi Games are reinstated. Those of the other 11 are not but their life bans from the Olympic Games was reduced to a single Games.

The CAS ruled that the overall evidence of widespread doping in Russia was "insufficient to establish" it in individual cases. The evidence, its statement said, did not have the same weight in each case.

The IOC said that the verdict could have a "serious impact on the future fight against doping". The American lawyer for whistleblower Grigori Rodchenkov, the former head of the Moscow anti-doping laboratory who gave evidence to the CAS hearing, went further, describing the verdict as "a get out of jail card".

Jim Walden, who represents the Russian in hiding under a witness protection program in the United States, said: "It only emboldens cheaters, makes it harder for clean athletes to win and provides yet another ill-gotten gain for the corrupt Russian doping system." 

CAS, in its verdict, reasserts its independence from the IOC and the World Anti-Doping Agency, something often questioned. It cannot be blamed for an interpretation of the sports governance in line with its previous rulings. 

The fault lies entirely with the IOC which has failed since before the Rio Olympics to get a grip on the issue by suspending the Russian Olympic Committee immediately. Instead it took an easy route out of an embarrassing political decision by leaving that up to individual international federations. 

Forced finally a few months ago to do something more telling when two further inquiries into Russia's state-supported doping system confirmed those of the initial report by Canadian lawyer Richard McLaren, it handed out the most timid of punishments. 

ROC was suspended temporarily until the end of the PyeongChang Games and its team banned from the Games. But those found to be innocent of doping would be invited as "Olympic Athletes from Russia", the name that would appear on their neutral uniforms. 

As I predicted in this column in December, this would still allow a very large number of Russians to compete. Indeed, the number invited was 169, just a few short of the full Russian team at the last overseas Games in 2010 and the fourth largest since Russia became an independent nation at the Games. 

The punishment was so weak that only last week the deputy director of the suspended ROC, took part in the Olympic Torch Relay in South Korea. Roc itself even announced the so-called neutral team and included in its announcement as a coach Sergei Chudinov, whom the IOC had banned for life as an athlete 

The IOC says it may appeal the CAS verdict to its ultimate authority, the Swiss Federal Tribunal, but that could take months. Meanwhile, can it keep out of PyeongChang the 28 whose appeals succeeded, and if not what does it do to those from other countries who in the interim have been allocated their places? 

It is a nightmare scenario that will overshadow the real purpose of the Games - sport. And it is a scenario of the IOC's own making. 

The IOC president Thomas Bach is a lawyer. He should have foreseen this verdict as many in the legal profession did and should not have acted as he has done since Rodchenkov blew his whistle. 

In any organisation with proper governance and oversight, his position would be untenable. Instead in one governed by the self-elected he will be cocooned in five-star luxury in PyeongChang to laud it over another festival of sport. Has the man no shame? 

** NEIL WILSON reported his first Olympic Games in Munich in 1972. He has since covered another nine summer and nine winter Olympics for various newspapers, including The Independent and the Daily Mail with whom he has worked for the last 19 years as Athletics and Olympic correspondent. He was Britain's Sports Journalist of the Year in 1984 and is the author of seven books.

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

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