The credibility of Russian sport has hit rock bottom with its track and field athletes banned from the Rio Olympics due to state-sponsored doping. A last-ditch appeal to the Lausanne-based Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) by 68 Russian athletes with backing from the national Olympic body was rejected on Thursday. The ban was imposed by the International athletics body, IAAF, in November after a series of exposes pointed to widespread state-sponsored doping. The IAAF’s argument before the CAS that no athlete who trained within the Russian system could be trusted is a damning indictment of the country’s checks and balances.
Russia staged the world athletics meet last year and the Winter Olympics in Sochi in 2014. These mega events should have been ideal to build up to the Olympics. Instead, the country is facing international shame. All eyes are on the International Olympic Committee, whether it will ban the Russian contingent altogether from the Brazil Games. Doping has been a constant menace, and Russia is not alone when it comes to providing active state support. Decades ago, many Eastern Bloc countries were accused of pushing its athletes to take the illegal route to find glory for their countries. The BALCO scandal in the US, involving the 2002 federal investigation of a laboratory that supplied illegal substances to stars such as Marion Jones, and the current doping situation in Kenya, the land of distance runners, all raise fears that the practice is only taking deeper root. Usain Bolt, whose Jamaica too is no stranger to doping, has welcomed the strong stand against Russia. “This will scare a lot of people and send a strong message that the sport is serious about cleaning up,” he said. “Rules are rules and doping violations in track and field are getting really bad, so thumbs up.”
The firm stand is laudable, but banning the entire contingent may only spread disillusionment in the Russian sports fraternity. The IAAF could have at least cleared elite athletes who can be monitored closely. Twice Olympic pole vault champion Yelena Isinbayeva, for instance, must have been tested multiple times around the year. The big question now is whether the IOC will bow to demands that the entire Russian contingent should be banned from Rio. After all, the switching or destroying of positive samples and athletes being tipped off on tests are among the serious allegations. Here, the IOC charter which bars government interference may come into play. The Russia situation will surely send tremors through the Rio Olympics. Beyond that it has to be seen whether countries give up their greed for glory through sport and begin a clean-up operation.