IOC assembly as taxi confidential

PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — Pretty much every culture has a saying that goes something like this: what’s good for the goose is good for the gander. 

There’s a corollary that goes like this, courtesy of the late and very excellent American comedian George Carlin: let’s not have a double standard — one standard will do just fine.

So it was especially rich to listen to the International Olympic Committee, at its 132nd session, its annual congress, carry on at length Tuesday over the Russian doping saga, in particular the Swiss-based Court of Arbitration for Sport’s decision last Thursday to clear 28 Russians of doping at the Sochi 2014 Games and free 11 other Russians of life bans. 

The outrage! The frustration! The rancor! The conflict! And it was all on television, or Twitter, or Periscope, for everyone everywhere in the world. Such theater!

“There have been some allegations that the IOC would have set up the cases to fail,” Denis Oswald, the veteran lawyer and longtime Swiss member who served as the chief IOC investigator in the batch of Russian cases that went to CAS, said from the lectern. 

“I feel that this kind of allegation, when I see all the efforts put by the IOC … to establish the truth and to establish the evidence, is an insult,” he said, adding, “Never my credibility, my integrity has been put into question … to read these allegations is totally unacceptable.” 

 Denis Oswald, the Swiss lawyer who headed the IOC's investigatory commission into the Russian doping matter, giving his report Tuesday to the IOC session // Getty Images

Denis Oswald, the Swiss lawyer who headed the IOC's investigatory commission into the Russian doping matter, giving his report Tuesday to the IOC session // Getty Images

At the urging of IOC president Thomas Bach, the nearly 100 members offered Oswald a supporting round of applause. 

“This is certainly a difficult moment,” the longtime Italian member, Franco Carraro, said from the floor in a classic understatement.

More difficult moments are almost surely yet to come. On Tuesday afternoon, Ban Ki-Moon, the former United Nations secretary general, elected last September as chair of the IOC ethics commission, disclosed that “several” matters before that panel are “linked” in different countries to criminal cases. 

 IOC president and Ban Ki-Moon, the former UN secretary-general who is now IOC ethics committee chair // Getty Images

IOC president and Ban Ki-Moon, the former UN secretary-general who is now IOC ethics committee chair // Getty Images

He provided no further details. It’s known that the authorities, particularly in France, are investigating the former IOC member and IAAF president Lamine Diack in a far-reaching corruption matter connected to Russian doping and, as well, that the 2016 and 2020 Summer Games bid processes are under suspicion.

Typically, an IOC session is a mundane if not boring affair marked by the presentation of reports and punctuated by innocuous questions.

This first day of the 132nd session, turning again and again to Russian doping, was, as Bach drily noted, “lively and passionate.”

The IOC is in this position for these reasons: the Russian matter is indisputably complex, considerable time has passed, the IOC is on the verge of its second Games with this topic still dominating the agenda, many fingers have been pointed and yet the matter is not resolved — not even close.

The first disclosures burst into the press in December 2014; at Rio 2016 the IOC left it to individual sports federations to decide how to handle individual Russian athlete entries; by PyeongChang 2018 it had the two McLaren reports plus its own Oswald and Schmid reports; those investigations took time; to litigate took more time; to appeal yet more. 

As part of its process, the IOC termed the former Moscow lab director Grigory Rodchenkov a “truthful witness.” For the first time, Rodchenkov was cross-examined during the CAS phase, and it seems evident that such cross-examination has proved critical. 

The Russian Olympic Committee is banned from any presence here. But Russia’s Shamil Tarpischev, an IOC member since 1994, is here, and he took to the microphone early in the morning both to say sorry — “I would like to apologize through the negative discourse around Russia” — and, then, not. 

Back home, he said, “The Russian public wants to hear explanations,” because if, for instance, CAS says you’ve been cleared from 2014, why aren’t you here for 2018? In some number of situations, Tarpischev said, “We have to say Russia views [IOC] decision making … differently from the rest of the world.”

The IOC's policy-making executive board, in seeking to strike a balance between what has been called the “systemic manipulation” of the Russian anti-doping system in 2014 and the indisputable imperative to mete out individual justice, struck a Dec. 5 compromise — naturally criticized in many quarters — to invite a team that here has been dubbed “Olympic Athletes from Russia.”  

If the OAR delegation complies with a strict series of rules, the seeming plan is for the Russian Olympic Committee to be reinstated by the closing ceremony here, with its flag and other symbols. “We intend to continue to comply,” Tarpischev said.

You had best, Bach said sternly: “It is the full respect of this decision, and that means the letter and the spirit of this decision, and therefore any action being undertaken now will be taken into consideration by the implementation group.”

What the IOC — purportedly — didn’t count on was the CAS decision on the 28 and 11, a ruling the IOC has variously labeled shocking, stunning and unexpected.

In the aftermath of the CAS decision, 15 of the 28 were deemed eligible for these 2018 Games. The IOC now says none of the 15 are worthy of the privilege of such an invite. The “Olympic Athletes from Russia” count stands at 168.

A fascinating legal query is whether there is, indeed, space between “eligible” and “invitation,” and, if so, whether the IOC holds the key at its Games to such invites. Naturally, the IOC says it does — it’s its Games, taking part in the Games is a “privilege,” and just because CAS says you’re not guilty does not make one “innocent.” The counter: suspicion does not equal proof of wrongdoing, and either you have sufficient proof or you don’t; if you don’t, then you’re acting arbitrarily, and arbitrary action by definition is never consistently defensible.

Australia IOC member John Coates, also the administrative head of CAS, said from the floor Tuesday that 32 Russians have filed appeals to precisely address this very issue.

When that is to be resolved, and if before Friday’s opening ceremony: unclear.

In a statement issued Tuesday, CAS said a hearing is "likely" set for Wednesday. The list of 32 includes the South Korean-born short-track speed skater Victor Ahn, winner of four medals in Sochi, three gold. CAS said a decision would "be communicated as soon as possible thereafter."

Also unclear is when CAS — which last Thursday announced its 28-and-11 ruling — will explain why it ruled in that case the way it did. That full ruling, called a “reasoned decision,” will take “quite some time,” Coates said Tuesday. There is no timeline.

Coates said Tuesday the hearing took 60 hours; the parties filed more than 10,000 pages of legal briefs. 

That the “reasoned decision” will take weeks has caused considerable uncertainty. Bach, at a news conference Sunday, said it might not be until the end of February, calling that “an extremely unsatisfactory situation given the gravity of the cases,” adding, “Also in this respect, the IOC executive board is not satisfied at all with the approach by CAS.”

Except:

This is exactly — exactly — the same approach Oswald took in releasing, first, an announced decision on one or some Russians, and then his own self-styled disciplinary commission’s “reasoned decision.” 

For instance, in the matter of the cross-country skier Alexander Legkov, the Sochi 2014 50-kilometer gold medalist, the Oswald Commission put out a news release on Nov. 1 announcing his purported disqualification, not publishing its “reasoned decision” until Nov. 27.

Legkov is among last Thursday's CAS group of 28. In just one indication of the complexities at work: he is not on Tuesday's CAS list of 32.

In his remarks, Coates noted the Oswald commission's own timing discrepancies — keeping, as is his style, to a droll presentation, just-the-facts.

Several of the others who spoke up Tuesday morning? Not so much, a reflection of the high emotion and strain within and without the IOC after three-plus years of the Russian doping affair.

An easy target? The media, of course.

Sam Ramsamy, from South Africa, a former member of both the IOC press committee and the ruling executive board, defending Oswald from “unwarranted, unjustified deflections on the integrity of Denis and his group,” declared “those people who make those remarks need condemnation”:

“… It’s rather sad and worrying, president,” he said, adding a moment later:

“…These allegations came out from media. We do know that most media are fair. They look after elements. But there are also certain media — and I’m certain many of you have come across, and I have come across it, sometimes I ask a journalist what do you want, and the journalist says, 'I’m looking for dirt.' Obviously, when they're looking for dirt, they look for dirt, they’re going to get all kinds of contradictions coming in.”

Dick Pound of Canada, the senior-most serving IOC member, the former WADA president, said the IOC ought to take a good look at itself.

“In the collective mind of a significant portion of the world, and among the athletes of the world, the IOC has not only failed to protect clean athletes but has made it possible for cheating athletes to prevail against clean athletes.

“Athletes measure themselves, and they measure the difference between what these sports authorities — including the IOC — do, and what they say. We talk more than we walk.

“The athletes and the public at large no longer have confidence that their interests are being protected. Our commitment to both is in serious doubt. With respect, I don’t think we can talk our way out of this problem.”

He stressed, “I do not speak as an enemy.”

Not the way Gerardo Werthein of Argentina saw it.

A staunch Bach loyalist, at the Rio 2016 IOC session Werthein lashed out at WADA, and indirectly Craig Reedie, then and now its president. Here Werthein directed his ire directly at Pound.

Werthein, 2016: “It saddens me to say this, but at times WADA has seemed to be more interested in publicity and self-promotion rather than doing its job as a regulator.”

Werthein, 2018, referring to Bach's approach in dealing with the “serious stuff” like the Russian matter: “For some reason, if Mr. Pound does not agree, then it’s wrong. The only thing that is right for him is what he agrees. But we have to understand that this is not Mr. Pound’s organization. This is the IOC.

"When he disagrees with something, he goes to the press. And he makes statements that create an environment of doubt. In one way, it discredits the work that is being done in the IOC. So I want to strongly recommend, ask, Mr. Pound, that if he wants to discuss some issues that he disagrees, first of all, take the time, do it with all of us, because [when] he does it that way he’s not respecting all of us. The way to respect his fellow members is to respect here and not go to the press …”

Pound, in response:

“I just heard an extraordinary expression from one of our colleagues. First of all, I think it’s extremely inappropriate to turn this into an ad hominem situation. The fact that I have a different opinion from others and perhaps even from the all-powerful executive board does not mean I’m entitled to my opinion. I’m not disrespecting the opinion. I’m simply disagreeing with the opinion and providing my own.

“… We are not as IOC members to be censored or to be prevented from speaking. And I think it’s very inappropriate of our colleague to suggest that.”

Mamadou Ndiaye of Senegal, a member since 2015, the final speaker of the morning on the topic, brought the conversation to a close with some much-needed perspective.

“One can not agree with everybody. That is bound to happen,” he said, speaking in French, adding, “Even taxi drivers are free to give their opinion on things.”

Bach, as his way, sought a unanimous floor vote in support of the executive board's move to make it a team of "Olympic Athletes from Russia."

No one voted no. But -- there were two abstentions. One was Britain's Adam Pengilly.

The other: Pound.