Let the Russians clean up themselves? No way


A first read of the communiqué issued over the weekend by the International Olympic Committee after president Thomas Bach's urgently taken meeting with Russian Olympic Committee president Alexander Zhukov might well prompt the response, "Atlichna." That's Russian for "excellent." Indeed, in the statement, the IOC quotes Zhukov this way: "The Russian Olympic Committee is determined that the clean athletes should compete in the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. Anyone found guilty of using illegal drugs or anyone who facilitated or was complicit in their use must be punished.”

Atlichna, right?

US Biathlon's Max Cobb

Max Cobb wrote this guest column, published now at 3 Wire Sports.

Cobb is the president and chief executive officer of US Biathlon Association and the chairman of the International Biathlon Union's Technical Committee. He served as the technical delegate for the Biathlon events at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi. He has been a part of every Winter Games since 1992, including serving as biathlon competition chief at the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City.

Gone are the denials of a problem and gone are the accusations of a western plot to embarrass Russia. The leaders of sport in Russia recognize there is a problem and are eager to fix it so they can participate in the Olympic Games just nine months away.

But history and the very roots of this, arguably the largest-scale doping scandal ever uncovered, should give pause to those responsible for protecting the rights of clean athletes: the IOC and the World Anti-Doping Agency.

It is they who must carry out a full and independent investigation into doping in all sports in Russia, not just track and field. It is they who must identify and hold liable all athletes, coaches, and others who violated the World Anti-Doping Code.

The matter carries all the more import with the full WADA board meeting Tuesday and Wednesday in Colorado Springs, Colorado, to consider next steps.

Why not let the Russians do it themselves?

First of all, the Russians have had 16 years -- since the creation of WADA -- to put in place a successful anti-doping program. They failed. Is it reasonable to expect them to reform the system in just nine months?

Given the governmental funding structures and the level of involvement of the FSB, the successor organization to the KGB, in the Moscow lab, there seems little question that the conspiracy to dope athletes and protect them from anti-doping controls was known and condoned, if not ordered, by those responsible for leading sport in Russia. That includes the Russian Olympic Committee and the Russian Ministry of Sport.

Neither WADA nor the IOC should accept this effort by the ROC as anything but a thinly veiled attempt to find scapegoats and preserve the structure and positions of the very leaders who oversaw the creation of the largest and most sophisticated cheating syndicate ever to plague sport, one that evokes memories of the notorious East German regime of the 1970s.

Secondly, it is not just those "found guilty of using illegal drugs” who need to be punished.

It is all those found guilty of violating the WADA Code who need to be punished.

This includes those who evaded anti-doping controls.

Process can be, to say the least, boring. But in the legal world that surrounds the efforts to protect the rights of clean athletes, process is critical.

Whistleblowers within the Russian anti-doping agency, RUSADA, which serves all sports in Russia, have indicated that it was not just track and field athletes who were protected from anti-doping controls.

The scale of what was done, in the words of RUSADA staff member Vitaliy Stepanov, reached as well to “swimming, cycling, biathlon, athletics, weight lifting, nordic skiing.”

Not only that, but the WADA-appointed independent commission report, published last Monday, reported both that RUSADA doping control officers routinely informed athletes days ahead of time that they would have a “no-notice” out of competition test, and then did not properly supervise the collection of a sample.

That means, simply, that athletes were given the opportunity to provide a stored clean sample, effectively avoiding the doping test.

RUSADA also failed to enforce the required reporting of accurate athlete “whereabouts” information, a requirement for all athletes in order to ensure that they are always available for no-notice testing. Repeated failure to submit accurate whereabouts information can result in a ban.

In short, the evidence strongly suggests that those who were doping in Russia colluded with RUSADA and the WADA-accredited lab in Moscow to ensure they would not “be found guilty of using illegal drugs,” Zhukov’s measure of guilt.

But all signs indicate guilty they are of serious violations of the WADA code.

As has been said again and again over this last week, track and field is not the only sport with doping issues; WADA must investigate the other sports as well to identify all those who violated the Code.

Failure to do so calls into question WADA's relevance and resolve to protect clean athletes.

As has also been noted repeatedly since the publication of the commission report, doping is not just a serious problem in Russia.

But make no mistake:

The shocking essence of this scandal is not that there was doping.

It is that the doping was thoroughly integrated into the elite sport culture in Russia, in a coordinated effort to perpetrate a fraud that anti-doping tests were being rigorously carried out, all the while using the most advanced scientific methods to dope the very same athletes to maximum effect.

And contrary to what Russian sport minister Vitaly Mutko has said, this was not a choice made by individual athletes. This was a system that compelled the athletes to dope or lose support of the sport organization funding their training and competition.

The WADA commission’s report strongly suggested that the doping program was “state-supported.” That means the Russian government.

The report also found that the FSB infiltrated the WADA-accredited laboratory in Moscow where the anti-doping tests were carried out during the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games. That means the Russian government knew about the conspiracy to systematically dope Russian athletes and fraudulently cover it up.

There is no credible way that any Russian sport or government organization can properly and objectively investigate this enormous corruption scandal.

The IOC and WADA should recognize the huge job they have in front of them. They should remember their pledge to protect clean athletes and dig deep into their war-chests to set up the independent commission needed to assess and punish those who have violated the WADA code in Russia while at the same time giving Russia the "road map" for clean sport they have asked for.

When this is in place, everyone will say, atlichna.

Then it will be time to welcome the clean athletes from Russian to compete at the Olympic Games in Rio.