It's not a thing to be guilty just because you're Russian

PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — So predictable. Almost inevitable, really.

That checks-and-balances thing? The way a tribunal is supposed to rein in the political impulse — to find appropriate calm amid even the most heated discourse?

If you are reasonable, Thursday’s layered decision from the Swiss-based Court of Arbitration for Sport rebuffing the International Olympic Committee’s overreaching position on the Russians can be described, and elegantly, in a single word.

Justice.

Every single person in the world is entitled to have his or her case decided on the basis of the facts levied against him or her. It’s that simple. That profound, too.

Guilt by association is wrong. Judged by the company you keep — no. It’s not a thing to be guilty just because you’re Russian. 

 Spokesman Mark Adams reading the IOC statement Thursday evening at the PC 2018 Main Press Center after the Court for Arbitration for Sport announcement 

Spokesman Mark Adams reading the IOC statement Thursday evening at the PC 2018 Main Press Center after the Court for Arbitration for Sport announcement 

Those of who you see the world in black and white, in absolutes, who think sports doping is the end-all, be-all or, be truthful now, believe the Russians and Mr. Putin especially are a vexing bunch of movie-style bad guys — commence howling now.

When you’re done: the real world awaits.

People from all over cheat. The Russians are not per se better or worse than the Americans or the Brits or the Germans. 

As the chief Kremlin spokesman, Dmitri S. Peskov, said in a conference call with reporters after the CAS ruling, according to the New York Times, “There were problems with doping in Russia, as in many other countries.”

This is what CAS made abundantly clear Thursday: if you want to prove something, you have to, you know, prove it.

In upholding the appeals of 28 of the 43 Russians the IOC had sought to bar from the 2018 Olympic Winter Games, CAS meted out — amid allegations of systemic misconduct — individual justice. 

CAS further ruled that 11 Russian athletes had committed doping violations. Why remains unclear; the detailed rationale is yet to come. But — and this is the second of the two pieces Thursday that any reasonable observer also had to expect, because the IOC all along pushed way too hard — CAS further declared that the “life ban” the IOC had sought to impose was a non-starter, upholding only a ban on their competing in 2018 in PyeongChang.

Answers and questions:

1. With nine of the 13 medals the IOC had disqualified suddenly reinstated, Russia hopped back to the top of the Sochi 2014 medal standings, with 29 total, 11 gold.

2. Will the 28 newly eligible be invited to compete in PyeongChang? 

Almost surely not.

The IOC, stung, issued a statement that said “not being sanctioned does not automatically confer the privilege of an invitation.”

Expect appeals — that is, the 28 Russians seeking to compete here in Korea. Expect those appeals to be denied, and at every level.

Here’s a thought: what if the IOC played all of this perfectly? 

That is, it absolutely sought to provide “due process” to the Russians but knew — Bach along with other leading IOC players are seasoned lawyers — its process was inherently flawed because of time and other constraints, in particular no cross-examination of the star witness, the former Moscow lab director, Grigory Rodchenkov. All the same, it got the optics bounce of appearing determined and resolute, knowing CAS would be there all along to get it right.

What if?

Moving along, because Thursday’s decision surely will produce wails about turmoil, chaos, the end of days being nigh, the looming abyss or something equally absurd from those who believe it signals something profoundly amiss with the anti-doping scene — when in fact it underscores exactly the opposite. It shows that even in the most closely watched and intensely politicized of all matters a deliberative panel (to be precise, there were two) can apply reason and law to the facts at hand. 

Summary:

1. Life bans are not an option. 

The IOC knows this. CAS has turned it down on this very issue, and repeatedly, and now again. 

“I don’t know why the IOC even did that,” said Howard Jacobs, a Southern California-based lawyer who is one of the world’s foremost experts on doping-related matters. “How many times are they going to lose the same fight?”

All of you who want to keep beating the drum for life bans — give it up. It’s going nowhere, and fast.

2. What now to make of Rodchenkov?

These Russian doping cases are, and always have been, circumstantial. That means the two panels hearing them had to weigh the testimony — and credibility — of, especially, Rodchenkov.

There is rhetoric and then there is credibility. Sometimes the two are aligned. Sometimes not.

After Thursday’s ruling, Rodchenkov’s attorney, Jim Walden, issued a statement that said Rodchenkov’s “truth has been verified by forensic evidence, other whistleblowers and, more recently, recovery of the Moscow lab’s secret database, showing thousands of dirty tests that were covered up.

“This panel’s unfortunate decision provides a very small measure of punishment for some athletes but a complete ‘get out of jail free card’ for most. Thus the CAS decision only emboldens cheaters, makes it harder for clean athletes to win and provides yet another ill-gotten gain for the corrupt Russian doping system generally, and Putin specifically.”

Much has been made in the press, and in particular the New York Times, about Rodchenkov’s purported credibility. The IOC sought to buttress that credibility in the December decisions it issued that led to Thursday’s CAS rulings, declaring him a “truthful witness.”

The IOC in December further said it had “come to the conclusion that, whatever his motivation may be and whichever wrongdoing he may have committed in the past, Dr. Rodchenkov was telling the truth when he provided explanations of the cover-up scheme that he managed.”

Except credibility doesn’t work like that. You can’t just pick and choose.

A lawyer for the athletes, Philippe Baertsch, told Associated Press Thursday there had been “numerous inconsistencies” in the Rodchenkov evidence presented to CAS.

In 28 of the 43 cases, CAS said, “the evidence collected was found to be insufficient.”

What reasonable conclusion is therefore to be drawn?

Connect the dots: this was the first time Rodchenkov had presented himself for cross-examination and CAS came to a significantly different verdict?

Imagine this line of inquiry:

“Dr. Rodchenkov, you were the director of the Moscow lab, true?

“And in connection with that position, it’s your testimony that you created the Duchess cocktail, yes?

“Now, Dr. Rodchenkov, did you actually see Athlete So-and-So swallow a Duchess cocktail? Ever?”

Reports have suggested that Rodchenkov testified before CAS with his face hidden. 

What, this is a mafia trial? 

Rodchenkov fled Russia and, for reasons entirely uncertain, is said to be in the witness protection program in the United States. He and Walden, his lawyer, have suggested that he is in ever-present grave personal danger. 

The disconnect is that, as Rodchenkov said in an interview with the German outlets ARD and Deutschlandfunk made public this week, “I worry about my family which I left in Russia. I am worried about my children, my wife, about my dog — by the way.”

You don’t have to be the world’s best lawyer to find a lot in that answer with which to cross-examine Rodchenkov.

What kind of man leaves his family behind? You say you’re at risk of being murdered? What about them?

And — the dog? 

By the way?