Prediction: the Russians will be at the 2018 PyeongChang Olympic Winter Games, and as Russians.
Assertion: the Russians should be at the PC 2018 Games, and as Russians.
Rationale: the central principle of the Olympic movement is inclusion.
If you saw “Icarus” and you are tempted to tsk, tsk about the Russians and re-fight the Cold War via proxy through the Olympics and international sport, remember, please, that karma has its own zen: the American way can gin up the most vivid details to rival any hole in anybody’s wall.
Kayle LeoGrande, the self-described “tattooed guy” who sparked the investigation that ultimately would bring down Lance Armstrong — the investigation that the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency would call “a massive team doping scheme, more extensive than any previously revealed in professional sports history” — that guy — just got tagged with his second doping strike — by USADA — with no less than seven — say that again, seven — not-allowed substances in him.
At one time!
You know what was missing from Tuesday’s theater-of-the-absurd hearing in Congress on what was billed as “ways to improve and strengthen the international anti-doping system?”
Besides, you know, a big check or a ready-to-implement action plan aimed at improving and strengthening the international anti-doping system?
This hearing had nothing to do with either of those things, really. Nothing at all.
It was an excuse for the fine ladies and gentlemen representing various districts of Congress to take pictures with the likes of Michael Phelps and Adam Nelson — gee, who could have predicted that? — and, more to the point, play to the C-SPAN cameras while bashing Russia and touting truth, justice and the American way.
All the while coming off like the camera-seeking hypocrites that skeptics might suggest they are.
Representative Greg Walden, a Republican from Oregon: “Now you’re going to give us confidence that … U.S. athletes, who play by the rules, can compete against other athletes who play by the rules?”
“Thank you,” a smiling Representative Kathy Castor of Florida, a Democrat, told Travis Tygart, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency chief executive, “for having the intestinal fortitude to stand up for our athletes and clean competition around the world.”
Oh! So that’s what this was about!
“Our” athletes, not “ways to improve and strengthen the international anti-doping system”?
Who woulda thunk?
There were so many choice moments during this nearly 150-minute paean to America the beautiful before the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee of the U.S. House of Representatives' Energy and Commerce Committee (whew).
It was so stirring you might well have expected all in attendance to brandish special cereal-box Captain America power shields if, say, Ivan Drago had bolted into Room 2123 of the Rayburn Building to announce that, of course, he was there to break each and every one of them.
Maybe the best moment, however, was when Rep. Frank Pallone Jr., a Democrat from New Jersey, clearly reading from notes prepared for him, misspoke and referred to the “bobsled and skeletal federation.”
There’s so much wrong with Congress having hearings on an issue the elected ladies and gentlemen know virtually nothing about and, more to the point, can’t and aren’t going to do anything about.
But Mr. Pallone’s glitch is altogether so revealing.
So, too, the rhetoric, which in an effort to make one point simply proved the other.
“It starts with the athletes. They own the culture of sport,” Tygart asserted.
“And it’s wonderful — it’s sad it took this scandal to mobilize them in the way that it has but it’s wonderful that they’re now mobilizing and realizing how important this right is to them. They also have to have confidence in the system.”
You'd think it was 1984 all over again, and Marty McFly had just parked his DeLorean on Capitol Hill with the cassette tape blasting Bruce Springsteeen's "No Surrender," or something.
Soviets? Russians? Which? Whatever.
Oh. Still us and them. Got it.
But wait, just to put what Tygart said in some context:
Phelps said he didn’t believe he had ever competed internationally in a totally clean event. Nelson, too.
So what is the only reasonable, logical deduction about the so-called “culture of sport”? The brutal truth?
Athletes all over the world cheat, and if they can get away with it, they damn sure will.
Because, again, logic:
Illicit performance-enhancing drugs work.
Following that to the stark conclusion:
For many athletes in whatever country — and don’t be fooled, the United States has produced some whopping world-class cheaters — the risk-reward ratio makes for an easy tilt.
Indeed, if you were in the Russian Duma, following Tuesday’s spectacle in Congress, why wouldn’t you hold a hearing in which you splashed pictures on a really big screen and howled in laughter at Lance Armstrong, Floyd Landis, Tyler Hamilton, Marion Jones and scads of baseball stars?
In the background, you could work up a digital sampling loop of Mr. Walden from Oregon saying, “U.S. athletes, who play by the rules …”
Oh, again — in Russia the defining difference is, according to the second of the 2016 reports produced by the Canadian law professor Richard McLaren, “institutional control”?
All that does is point up what happens when you have a federal sport ministry, like they do virtually everywhere else, and when you don’t, as is the case in the United States.
Here, we do our cheating red, white and blue capitalist-style:
To quote Ivan Drago's movie wife, the equally awesome Ludmilla, dismissing allegations that her husband could have used steroids: "He is like your Popeye. He eats his spinach every day!"
Just to underscore the raging hypocrisy of Tuesday’s hearing:
Dial the history books back to 2012, a couple of months before USADA tagged Mr. Armstrong.
That summer, a longtime Wisconsin Republican congressman, Representative Jim Sensenbrenner, sent a letter to the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, the funnel for significant USADA funding, declaring, “USADA’s authority over Armstrong is strained at best.”
Also included were even more laff-out-loud party lines:
“Armstrong, however, has never failed a drug test despite having been tested over 500 times.”
“As attorneys for Armstrong asserted, ‘USADA has created a kangaroo court … ‘ “
“The actions against Armstrong come in the midst of inconsistent treatment against athletes.”
Mr. Sensenbrenner, still a member of Congress, was at the time the chair — he still sits on — the House Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on crime, terrorism and homeland security. That panel held jurisdiction over ONDCP. Moreover, Mr. Sensenbrenner’s district is home to the then-longtime Armstrong sponsor, Trek Bicycles.
Big picture take-away from Tuesday’s event:
The anti-doping campaign is not easily reduced to sound bites and headlines.
Making any sort of real progress is going to take way less rhetoric, far more cooperation and considerably more cash.
This field is simply not susceptible to Tuesday's display of red, white and blue.
Or, more to the point, black and white. It’s a lot of grey.
— Russia bad, Russia bad, Russia bad. Got it, Congress.
Over the weekend, the International Olympic Committee, citing a Feb. 21 WADA meeting, sent out a letter referring to the pair of McLaren’s 2016 reports, from December and July, acknowledging that “in many cases the evidence provided may not be sufficient to bring successful cases.”
So even if Russia bad — it is at the core of the notions of truth, justice and the American way that each and every person is afforded the chance to test any and all evidence the authorities say they hold.
If it’s “not sufficient,” you’re free to go. In this context, to compete.
Same deal for Russians, for Americans, for whoever.
As Dr. Richard Budgett, the IOC’s medical director, put it in the statement he submitted Tuesday to Congress, “In accordance with the principles of individual justice, clean athletes should not be sanctioned or punished for the failures of others.”
— Tygart: “If you continue to have sport overseeing investigations, determining compliance, acting as a global regulator of itself, it’s no different than the current status quo, which is the fox guarding the henhouse.”
Tygart’s argument holds intuitive appeal. Moreover, he knows full well that a good many people don’t understand the anti-doping landscape, laced with science, law, politics and diplomacy, so they rely on him — indisputably an expert — to lay out for them in easy-to-follow terms (fox, henhouse) what might seem most constructive.
At the same time, it’s far from crystal clear that “sport” ought to go anywhere.
Governance is rooted not just in structure but in culture. Eight years ago, the USOC tried to separate the two, when Stephanie Streeter, who had no significant “sport” experience, was named chief executive. She lasted all of a year, resigning amid a 40-0 no confidence vote from the American national governing bodies — that is, from sport.
Culture matters, a lot, and it’s also a fair argument that the anti-doping machinery ought not take significant dollars from sport while churlishly then banishing any and all goodwill, good faith and experience that comes with those dollars to the penalty box.
That’s called rude and ungrateful, and no system can sustain itself like that for long.
— WADA’s 2017 annual budget is $29.7 million. The U.S. government is due this year to put up $2.155 million, or 7.3 percent.
That’s way more than any other country puts up.
That’s one way to look at it.
There are 206 national Olympic committees. The U.S. Congress thinks it’s entitled to hold hearings when the American government is putting up 7 percent toward an entity because — why?
Is any other parliamentary or legislative body in the world holding such hearings? No. Obvious question: why not?
Ethiopia recently criminalized sports doping. The new head of the country's track and field federation is Haile Gebrselassie, the distance running great. A 22-year-old marathon runner, Girmay Birahun, is now facing at least three years in Ethiopian prison after testing positive for the controversial Latvian heart medication meldonium; Maria Sharapova is due to return to the tennis tour in April after her sport ban for the same substance was cut from 24 months to 15. Ethiopia, where there's a lot to discuss in the anti-doping scene, is due to contribute a grand total of $3,239 to WADA in 2017. Not a typo — $3,239, and already has paid $3,085.
Should Ethiopia hold a hearing? If it did, should WADA and the IOC send representatives, like they did Tuesday to Washington?
Does Mr. Birahun own the "culture of sport"? Or do only western athletes, and in particular Americans?
Yet another view:
The 2016 U.S. federal budget was, ballpark, $4 trillion. Yes, $2 million is real money. But, context: $2 million over $4 trillion equals pretty close to nothing. And Congress is yapping for more than two hours?
“We can have all the governance review in the world. Which we welcome and we want. I have been in this business for 20 years. And it’s time for change. It’s time to put investment into this business,” Rob Koehler, the WADA deputy director general, said in response to a question from Representative Chris Collins, a Republican from New York.
“If I look globally at the amount of money being put into national anti-doping organizations,” Koehler said, “it’s simply insufficient. There’s the crux of the issue.”
He added a moment later, “Until that happens, we’ll never see change.”
— The U.S. Olympic Committee is giving USADA $4.6 million this year, up 24 percent from $3.7 million the year before.
That’s real investment, and the USOC should be applauded for seeking to effect real change.
— Much was made Tuesday of a WADA-commissioned report from a team of so-called “independent observers” who reported after the Rio Games that 4,125 of the 11,470 athletes on hand may have shown up in Brazil without being tested even once in 2016, 1,913 in the 10 sports deemed most at risk for cheating, among them track and field, swimming and cycling.
The problem with these numbers is that they are both entirely accurate and thoroughly misleading.
Would more testing be helpful? Probably.
But as the Armstrong case proves, being tested — or passing a test — proves absolutely nothing.
As Sensenbrenner, and even Armstrong himself, noted:
Passing a test does not prove an athlete is clean.
This is a core misconception.
Testing is not, repeat not, a failsafe. To believe otherwise is naive in the extreme.
— In a similar spirit, it’s not unreasonable if Phelps — who has never given any indication that he is anything but an honest champion — might have had to get up at 6:05 in the morning for drug testing.
You say otherwise?
Here is the way the “whereabouts” system, as it is called, works.
It would defeat the entire purpose of out-of-competition testing for an athlete to know exactly when drug testers are coming. At the same time, it would be entirely unreasonable for Athlete X to be on call 24/7. So the system strikes a balance.
Via the sort of paperwork that Phelps noted Tuesday he repeatedly had to fill out, Athlete X makes himself or herself available to drug testers one hour a day.
Whatever 60 minutes that is — it’s his or her choice.
So, for instance, if the tester shows up at 6:05, it’s because on that form Phelps, or whoever, put, say, 6 to 7 a.m.
Phelps, referring to his baby son Boomer in responding Tuesday to Collins, the New York Republican, said, “I don’t know what I would — how I would even talk to my son about doping in sports.
“Like, I would hope to never have that conversation. I hope we can get it cleared, cleaned up by then. For me, going through everything I’ve done, that’s probably a question I could get asked. I don’t know how I would answer.”
Just because you’re American doesn’t mean you’re good, just because you’re Russian doesn’t make you bad.
Everybody has temptations. Do the right thing, son, the way mom and I raised you.
In the meantime, it’s up to the grown-ups to make sure the people running, say, the swim meet have enough money to do every part of what they do the right way.
Also, next time mom and dad will tell those people in Washington to find someone else to take pictures with, OK? Like Ashton Kutcher. When he was doing the same sort of thing daddy did on Tuesday, Ashton blew a kiss to John McCain.
It’s Oscar Sunday here in Los Angeles. “La La Land” is expected to clean up.
Ladies and gentlemen and boys and girls, let’s turn the lights down low, settle back into our comfy seats with a big tub of popcorn and, what with the weekend's super-interesting script ripped from the Sunday Times over in London tied to a Fancy Bears hack all about Alberto Salazar and Sir Mo Farah and others, let’s revisit some showstoppers from years gone by.
What an interesting idea, just generally speaking: when the presumption of innocence meets la-la land.
Just like at the movie theater, when they tell you to turn off your cellphone, this disclaimer, brought to you Saturday from the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency:
“Importantly, all athletes, coaches and others under the jurisdiction of the World Anti-Doping Code are innocent and presumed to have complied with the rules unless and until the established anti-doping process declares otherwise. It is grossly unfair and reckless to state, infer or imply differently.”
For clarity: do these rules apply with the same import to Russian athletes?
Because this would be the same U.S. Anti-Doping Agency that over the past 18 months has helped promote the charge to ban each and every Russian athlete because of allegations involving what an independent World Anti-Doping Agency-commissioned report alleged was “institutional control” of the Russian anti-doping control system.
Just to reiterate from the USADA press aide's tweet, italics and underline mine: "all athletes, coaches and others … are innocent and presumed to have complied with the rules unless and until the established anti-doping process declares otherwise.”
“It is grossly unfair and reckless to state, infer or imply differently.”
A U.S. Congressional subcommittee meets Tuesday to consider “ways to improve and strengthen the anti-doping system.” Perhaps this can be on the agenda.
La, la, la, la, la.
Returning, as we were, to a story seemingly crying out for a Hollywood-style treatment:
The Sunday Times, citing a Fancy Bears hack of a March 2016 USADA report, says Farah and others were given infusions of a research supplement based on the amino acid L-carnitine.
The newspaper says Salazar boasted about the “incredible performance boosting effects” of the stuff and emailed Lance Armstrong before Armstrong was outed for doping: “Lance call me asap! We have tested it and it’s amazing.”
Farah, in a Sunday post to his Facebook feed, said it was “deeply frustrating” to have to respond to such allegations and asserted he was a “clean athlete.”
To reiterate, Farah is, and the others in the Salazar camp are, assuredly entitled to the presumption of innocence.
Scriptwriters out there: do you know what might, just might, make for a really interesting take on the Farah saga? In retrospect, if you will, maybe the turning point in the whole thing?
In 2011, at the IAAF world championships in Daegu, South Korea, Farah lost the 10,000 meters by just this much, to a guy perhaps only true track geeks have ever heard of, Ibrahim Jeilan of Ethiopia.
After some 26 minutes of racing, Farah ran the last lap in 53.36 seconds, which is crazy fast.
It wasn't enough.
Jeilan won, in 27:13.81.
Farah got the silver, in 27.14.07.
Since, Farah has pretty much won everything of import, including both the 5 and 10k races at London 2012 and Rio 2016.
Jeilan isn't exactly a total chump. He was the 2006 world junior 10k champion. He is the 2013 10k world silver medalist.
But since that fateful evening in Daegu, Aug. 28, 2011, their career paths have — diverged.
One might ask: how come?
Moving along, as we were.
In 1978, when I was a second-year student at the Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism in Evanston, Illinois, the best-picture winner was “Annie Hall.” Talk about neurotic. You want neurotic? Here was neurotic: a second-year news writing class, taught by a crusty curmudgeon straight from central casting, Dick Hainey, in which we were taught that one mistake, even one, would get you an automatic failing grade and, son, you deserved to fail and, better yet, start learning to suck it up, because anything less than perfect obviously equals abject failure.
Here is another decree from the oracle atop the mountain that was Professor Hainey, and while anything less than perfect turns out maybe to be not such great advice for life, this next nugget is a worthwhile journalism lesson that has stuck for more than 40 years:
If your mother tells you she loves you — check it out.
In that spirit— and, once more for emphasis, Sir Mo and the others in the Salazar pack are assuredly entitled to the presumption of innocence — let us visit some hits from the wayback machine even as we note that Julia Roberts is, according to Variety, set to produce the film adaptation of the New York Times best-seller “Fool Me Once”:
Armstrong, 1999: “I have been on my deathbed, and I’m not stupid. I can emphatically say I’m not on drugs.”
Armstrong, 2005: “I have never doped. I can say it again but I’ve said it for seven years.”
Armstrong, 2005: “How many times do I have to say it? … Well, it can’t be any clearer than, ‘I’ve never taken drugs.’ “
Armstrong, 2010: “As long as I live, I will deny it. There was absolutely no way I forced people, encouraged people, told people, helped people, facilitated. Absolutely not. 100 percent.”
Armstrong on Twitter, May 2011, as his former teammate Tyler Hamilton was about to go on “60 Minutes”:
Armstrong, 2013, after USADA got him: “All the fault and all the blame here falls on me. I viewed this situation as one big lie that I repeated a lot of times. I made my decisions. They are my mistakes, and I am sitting here today to acknowledge that and to say I’m sorry for that.”
Hamilton, interview in his Boulder, Colorado, living room, 2005: “I didn’t blood dope, that’s for sure.”
Hamilton, May, 19, 2011, confession letter to family and friends: “During my cycling career, I knowingly broke the rules. I used performance-enhancing drugs. I lied about it, over and over. Worst of all, I hurt people I care about. And while there are reasons for what I did — reasons I hope you’ll understand better after watching — it doesn’t excuse the fact that I did it all, and there’s no way on earth to undo it.”
Hamilton, describing a July 2000 blood transfusion during that year’s Tour de France, as relayed as part of the USADA case against Armstrong:
“The whole process took less than 30 minutes. Kevin Livingston and I received our transfusions in one room and Lance got his in an adjacent room with an adjoining door. During the transfusion Lance was visible from our room, Johan, Pepe and Dr. del Moral were all present and Dr. del Moral went back and forth between the rooms checking on the progress of the re-infusions. Each blood bag was placed on a hook for a picture frame or taped to the wall and we lay on the bed and shivered while the chilly blood re-entered our bodies.”
Floyd Landis, his very own 2007 autobiography, the ironically titled Positively False, chapter 11:
“I did not use performance enhancing drugs in the 2006 Tour de France or any other time in my career. All I ever did was train. I put training first, even before my family. When you want to win, you eat, drink, sleep and breathe cycling. Knowing it’s not forever is what makes it doable. So I made the sacrifices I had to make, and I did so honestly.”
From page 278-79 in the book, Landis describing a post-2006 Tour de France trip back to where he was from, Farmersville, Pennsylvania, amid the largely Mennonite area of Lancaster County:
"One by one, hundreds of people walked across the yard to my parents to congratulate them. One woman went to mother with tears in her eyes. 'She said that she and her husband had lost their son in Iraq seven months before,' Mom said. 'She told me, 'My husband has never gotten over it, but he rides a bicycle and he watched every single stage. He's a different person since your son won. It was like healing to him.' I just felt so blessed that you were able to inspire someone while doing something that you love,' Mom told me. I never rode my bike in order to have an effect on anyone else, but I understand that people are influenced by what they see. When my mom told me this story, I was really touched that I had helped someone."
USADA Reasoned Decision, just one of many harrowing passages describing Landis' doping: “They shared doping advice from Michele Ferrari," the Italian doctor identified by USADA as a key player in the Armstrong scheme, "and when Floyd needed EPO Lance shared that, too.”
Marion Jones, her very own 2004 autobiography, and in big red capital letters about 175 pages in:
“I have always been unequivocal in my opinion. I am against performance-enhancing drugs. I have never taken them and I will never take them.”
Government sentencing memorandum, 2007, United States v. Marion Jones:
“The defendant’s use of performance-enhancing drugs encompassed numerous drugs (THG, EPO, human growth hormone) and delivery systems (sublingual drops, subcutaneous injections) over a substantial course of time. Her use of these substances was goal-oriented, that is, it was designed to further her athletic accomplishments and financial career. Her false statements to the [investigating] agent were focused, hoping not only to deflect the attention of the investigation away from herself, but also to secure the gains achieved by her use of the performance-enhancing substances in the first place. The false statements to the [investigating] agent were the culmination of a long series of public denials by the defendant, often accompanied by baseless attacks on those accusing her regarding her use of these substances."
U.S. District Judge Kenneth Karas, 2007, in sentencing Jones to six months in custody, emphasizing that what she did was not a “momentary lapse in judgment or a one-time mistake but instead a repetition of an attempt to break the law.”
Who knows what will happen at the Oscars?
What the next few weeks or months will bring with Sir Mo, Salazar and others?
Surprises and plot twists galore, perhaps.
La, la, la, la, la, everyone. Keep a watchful eye on your sweet mother and the popcorn.
Last December, in the second of his two World Anti-Doping Agency commissioned (but, to be clear, independent) reports into allegations of doping in Russia, the Canadian law professor Richard McLaren wrote:
“It is time for everyone to step down from their positions and end the accusations against each other. I would urge international sport leadership to take account of what is known and contained in the [two] reports, use the information constructively to work together and correct what is wrong.”
It is through that prism that one ought to view, one, the love note the International Olympic Committee dropped in classic late Friday afternoon PR-style on what it called “the reform of the anti-doping system” and, two, the sanctimonious political grandstanding sure to be coming at next Tuesday’s U.S. House of Representative subcommittee hearing on “ways to improve and strengthen the anti-doping system.”
The U.S. Congress and the IOC would do well to listen to Mr. McLaren’s wise counsel.
Turning to Congress first:
One, you might think the U.S. House of Representatives might have better things to do than hold hearings about Russian doping.
Because, like, that is the House of Representatives for the United States and the allegations about doping involve another country. That country is called Russia. Russia is not the United States.
Maybe the ladies and gentlemen of the 115th Congress might have more pressing priorities in regard to American life. Maybe, you know, jobs. Then again, it’s February. This is why Sports Illustrated features swimsuit models this time of year. It’s silly season.
Two, everything you need to know about how dumb, what an absolute waste of time and resource this hearing is going to be, can be explained in the headline to the committee news release: “Gold medal lineup: Tuesday hearing on anti-doping brings together all-star panel.” For emphasis, “gold medal lineup” is in capital letters.
Wow! Sports stars come to Washington! Congresspeople! Staffers! Get out your cellphones so you can get your selfies with witness No. 4 on the testimony list — “Mr. Michael Phelps, American swimmer and Olympic gold medalist”! Let's count! 28 Olympic medals in all! 23 gold!
Get back to me, anyone, when you tell me how many of those 28 medals Phelps — and I have been there for every single one of his Olympic races, maybe even written a best-selling book with him — has lost to a Russian swimmer.
If Congress wants to investigate some current issues involving doping in American sports, since it can turn to subpoena power and everything, here are some suggestions:
— Lance Armstrong is facing the prospect of civil trial. In February 2012, the U.S. attorney’s office in Los Angeles, headed by Andre Birotte Jr., abruptly dropped, without explanation, a two-year criminal investigation into Armstrong’s activities. That October, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency made its case against Armstrong, revealing that he had, in fact, been doping for years. In April 2014, Birotte was nominated to become a federal judge in LA, where he now sits. How does that happen?
— What’s really on that Tom Brady cellphone? Even a sitting U.S. judge on a circuit court of appeals in New York, in oral argument nearly a year ago, said it made no sense whatsoever for Brady to have destroyed the phone. And is there any connection to that phone’s destruction and these kinds of stories?
— What about the extent and scope of the use of illicit performance-enhancing substances in the NBA and NFL, among other U.S. major pro leagues? Or do you, congresspeople, really think, oh, linebackers are built and run like that naturally?
Three: it is the height of hypocrisy for the legislative arm of the United States government to be holding a hearing into ways to “improve and strengthen the anti-doping system” when, as this space pointed out recently, the American government contributed not one penny to either of the two Pound or two McLaren reports, which together cost $3.7 million.
Suggestion: you want to improve the anti-doping system?
Easy. Like most problems, it can be made way better by throwing money at it.
WADA’s 2017 budget is $29.7 million. The U.S. government’s dues are expected to total $2.155 million. That’s by far the most of any country anywhere. Britain, Russia, Germany: $815,630 apiece.
The U.S. money has for the past several years been funneled through a White House agency called the Office of National Drug Control Policy.
But lookee here, according to a Feb. 17 New York Times account: the Trump Administration may be poised to move ahead with elimination of nine programs, most “perennial targets for conservatives.” One of the nine: ONDCP.
Now that would be something to investigate.
Particularly since — lookee over here, too — the very same Republican chair of this very same subcommittee, Rep. Tim Murphy of Pennsylvania, according to the Wall Street Journal, co-signed a letter sent Thursday to, whaddya know, ONDCP that said:
“On top of opioid overprescribing and heroin overdoses, we believe the United States is now facing another deadly wave: fentanyl.”
The way these sorts of Capitol Hearings hearings typically work is that the members and staffers stroll in, now with cellphones in hand, with a briefing memorandum.
That’s the background they get.
Meaning that’s usually pretty much the sum and substance of what they know about the topic at hand.
These sorts of memos tend to be a matter of public record. This particular memo runs to eight pages and 47 footnotes.
Of those 47, 33 are news stories, press releases, op-eds, TV shows or the Pound or McLaren reports themselves.
A good chunk of most of the others, including a bunch of the first dozen, are who-we-are and what-we-do-documents (No. 2, WADA mission statement, etc.)
So, again, what is this hearing about?
News stories, press releases, op-eds and TV shows.
Not actual reform.
That, to reiterate, would take the one thing the United States government has only marginally been, and may not now at all be, willing to shell out:
Which brings us to the IOC.
The IOC took in $5.6 billion over the 2013-16 cycle.
In his letter, circulated widely within Olympic circles but not formally addressed to WADA itself, the IOC director general Christophe de Kepper notes that in the first WADA-commissioned independent report, made public last July, Mr. McLaren “describes a ‘state-sponsored system’ whilst in the final full report in December he described an ‘institutional conspiracy.’ "
The IOC panels now studying what’s what, de Kepper said, “will now have to consider what this change means and which individuals, organizations or government authorities may have been involved.”
If anyone thinks this trail is going to lead to the cellphone of the Russian president, think again. It’s not going to be found, anyway.
Hmm. Weird coincidences, sometimes. Or not. Whatever.
Mr. de Kepper further notes that "it was admitted" by WADA that "in many cases the evidence provided may not be sufficient to bring successful cases." This is a pointed note aimed at the WADA position of an all-out Russian ban and the IOC stance in favor of individual justice. This space, almost alone in the western press, has argued that of course every single person in the world deserves to have his or her case heard on the basis of the evidence against him or her -- not a group grope.
At any rate, along with the possibility if even probability of soaring legal principle and individual justice, at issue with Mr. de Kepper's position, without doubt, is the IOC seeking advantage in a push-and-pull with WADA over who is going to control what over what comes next.
Mr. McLaren made clear what “this change means." See the second paragraph of this column: all involved should be invoking less rhetoric and seeking more cooperation.
In that spirit, here are some words of wisdom that won’t be in any of those footnotes and that won’t be referenced in that IOC letter.
They were spoken at a WADA executive meeting in September by the WADA director general, Olivier Niggli, and for sure the IOC is aware of them, or ought to be on what lawyers would call the theory of constructive notice, because an IOC vice president, Turkey’s Ugur Erdener, was in the room listening.
This sort of thing isn’t ripped from the headlines. No cellphones. No news releases touting gold-medal lineups or all-star panels.
This is the nitty-gritty of the anti-doping scene.
To make an anti-doping system work takes tons of hard grinding, along with patience, science, leadership and collaboration from sports officials and earnest government officials, and it takes a lot more money than is right now at anyone's disposal, especially WADA. The inescapable fact is the IOC has to put up that coin. Governments come and go; congresspeople pose and prance and dither; the IOC is the only big-picture revenue source with an ongoing interest in making sure international sport is as clean as can be.
That’s going to take checks and balances along with trust, will and faith.
As Mr. McLaren said, that means constructive problem-solving.
“The report,” Niggli said in September, referring to Mr. McLaren’s July document, “had generated a lot of comments and discussions over the past few months.
“WADA should not lose the focus, which was that it was an issue with Russia, and WADA still had to deal with that issue.
“It was a very important issue, and the fact that Russia had been cheating everybody for a number of years needed to be addressed. That was the key focus, and it probably should have been the focus of the discussion over the past months, too.
“Unfortunately, the discussion had been on trying to attack WADA and blame the anti-doping system, and that had not been helpful. The members should bear in mind that WADA did not operate in a vacuum.
“WADA was made up of governments and the Olympic movement, and the Olympic movement had been around the table from Day One,” in the late 1990s, “and had supported the work of WADA and the revised World Anti-Doping Code, and it had been paradoxical to see how the entire anti-doping system had been questioned after the McLaren report.
“… The system was [not] the issue; the issue was how the system was being practiced by some, and the members should not forget the fact that the system had been cheated.
“One could design a great system but if those applying it were cheating, it was difficult to achieve success.”
Over the past two years, the World Anti-Doping Agency commissioned, in all, four independent reports that trained the spotlight on, and generated considerable controversy worldwide about, allegations of systemic doping in Russia.
Those reports cost a total of $3.7 million, according to WADA.
WADA’s 2016 annual budget totaled $29.6 million. A little math: $3.7 million over $29.6 million would amount to roughly 12.5 percent of the agency’s entire budget. Even spreading the costs out over two years leads to the same problematic conclusion: WADA, perennially cash-strapped, simply does not have that sort of money readily at hand.
In November 2015, WADA president Craig Reedie issued a call to the world’s governments to help pay for investigations.
The response underscores the complexities of reconciling talking the talk with walking the walk in the complex and nuanced world of the anti-doping campaign — where it’s easy, particularly for governments and politicians, to pay lip service to being tough on the use of illicit performance-enhancing drugs but far more problematic to do something about what, at the end, is a problem that challenges the legitimacy of sport and thus inevitably falls on sports officials to confront.
The United States government? It contributed not a penny.
The government of the United Kingdom? Likewise, not a pence.
The government of Germany, which had gone so far as to criminalize doping in sport? Nothing.
The government of Norway, where fair play and clean sport are virtually a mantra? Zero, zip, nada.
In all, WADA says, it had received by the end of 2016 a grand total of $654,903 toward that total of $3.7 million. Romania contributed $2,000. Romania!
For sure clean sport is a laudable goal.
Now the reasonable question for all who say that a level playing field is the goal:
Is this any way, figuratively speaking, to run a railroad?
To recap the long story of the investigations into what’s what in Russia:
The Canadian lawyer Dick Pound was asked to chair the first two independent commission reports. They focused on corruption and doping within track and field’s governing body, the International Association of Athletics Federations, or IAAF.
The two reports were released in November 2015 and January 2016.
Total cost for the pair: $1.8 million, per WADA.
The Canadian law professor Richard McLaren headed the next two independent commission reports. They addressed the wider subject of purported systemic abuse in Russia.
He delivered his first report last July. It contained terms such as “state directed oversight,” a “state-directed failsafe system” and more.
The second report was made public in December. It refers repeatedly to “institutional control,” and urged “international sport leadership to take account of what is known and contained in the [July and December] reports, use the information constructively to work together and correct what is wrong.”
Cost for the two reports: $1.9 million, per WADA.
Total, all in, four reports: $3.7 million.
Reedie, recognizing in November 2015 that WADA was looking at a monumental challenge in the months ahead, put out his call to the world’s governments.
In virtually every country but the United States, sport is an arm of a federal ministry. Governments play a key role in WADA governance. Among other things, government funding matches the monies that flow to WADA from sport, and in particular the International Olympic Committee.
Here, according to WADA, is what Reedie’s call for help has brought the agency:
Payment Received From Govt(in USD)
When the French contribution came in the day after Christmas, WADA took note of it with a thank-you news release that said, in part, it appreciated the “tangible demonstration of France’s ongoing commitment to partner with WADA to uphold the spirit of sport.”
The agency spokesman, Ben Nichols, said in a response to an inquiry, ‘WADA is very grateful for the generous contributions made by governments from seven different countries towards our Special Investigations Fund.
“These additional funds are helping support the agency’s enhanced investigations capacity, which is an increasingly important aspect of our global anti-doping work. WADA of course welcomes and encourages any further contributions from other countries that would also be put to good use in protecting the rights of clean athletes worldwide.”
It might be noted that there are 193 member nation-states in the United Nations and 206 national Olympic committees. (The national Olympic committee of Kuwait has been suspended, in a dispute over governmental interference, since October 27, 2015.)
Seven countries contributed to the "Special Investigations Fund."
Last June, or roughly seven months after Reedie’s call for funding, U.S. Sen. John Thune, a Republican from South Dakota, chair of the Senate Commerce Committee, sent a letter to WADA asking why it had not moved more aggressively to investigate allegations of Russian doping.
The British Parliament summoned Sebastian Coe, the president of the IAAF, to give testimony in December 2015. Parliament is still in a kerfuffle over what Coe knew, didn’t know or might have known.
"The Government is fully supportive of the work of WADA and makes a significant financial contribution to their work annually, via UK Anti-Doping, to help their operational and investigative work,” a British Department for Culture, Media and Sport spokesperson said.
“Sports Minister Tracey Crouch is also one of the European members of the World Anti-Doping Agency's Foundation Board while UKAD, at the request of WADA, is working in Russia to improve their anti-doping regime."
In Norway, fairness and decency are shouted from the top of the cliffs overseeing the fjords as a way of life. There the culture ministry has responsibility for sport.
A spokesperson: “The Norwegian Ministry of Culture follows the WADA budget process closely. Our position regarding funding matters is to make sure that WADA is appropriately funded to carry out its core functions as a regulating, monitoring and supervising body. Norway contributes to WADA's activities through a yearly contribution.”
In Germany, the interior ministry oversees sport. The current minister, Thomas de Maizière, has been something of an anti-doping crusader, in 2015 taking the lead in urging passage of a new law criminalizing anti-doping and then, last summer, in urging “hard decisions and not … generosity” when it came to the Russian track and field team.
A spokeswoman, Lisa Häger, said the ministry received Reedie’s funding request on December 7, 2015.
She also said the ministry “welcomes” the WADA investigations but added:
“Nevertheless, for budget law reasons it is extremely difficult to make available a one-off payment to WADA for its investigations. Under German budget law, German government agencies may allocate funds to agencies not belonging to the federal or state administration only in the form of special allocations that are subject to strict rules and requirements. The case at hand does not really meet the conditions laid down by the legal provisions governing such allocations.
“However, under certain circumstances, the Federal Ministry of the Interior could imagine raising its yearly contribution to the WADA budget to make future investigations possible. Costs incurred by investigations should be borne by all member states since all member states benefit from the investigation results. This would also guarantee fair and transparent procedures.
“For a further debate on financing WADA and its projects, the European Union and its member states, including Germany, have asked WADA to generally discuss WADA’s priorities, core tasks and working methods. We wish to wait for the outcome of this discussion before taking a final decision.”
So which argument might most seem apt:
There’s the easy one: the tediousness of government bureaucracies?
Or the really, really easy one: the sanctimoniousness of government hypocrisy — ministers, senators and others in the public eye looking to leverage sport for easy headlines but unwilling to pay up to do the thankless but essential work it takes to keep the playing field level?
Or, perhaps, there is yet another way to frame this?
The United States paid $2.05 million of WADA’s $29.6 million budget. Rounding up, that’s 7 percent.
No other country is even close.
Moreover, the U.S. Olympic Committee last June approved a 24 percent funding increase to USADA. As an Associated Press story put it, the USOC chose “money over words in an effort to fix a worldwide system that [chief executive officer] Scott Blackmun says is broken.”
The move means the USOC will give USADA $4.6 million starting this year, up from $3.7 million.
The USOC and the U.S. federal government supply most of USADA’s money.
Back to WADA:
Germany and the United Kingdom paid in their 2016 negotiated shares, $772,326 apiece. Norway, too, $135,364.
It is indisputably the case that governments work months if not years ahead in the budgeting process.
It is also the case that a few years ago, when USADA went after Lance Armstrong and entourage, a matter that resulted in sanctions for roughly 20 athletes and coaches, the whole thing — including the costs of defending what turned out to be a frivolous lawsuit in U.S. federal court — ran to, and these are rough numbers, less than $500,000.
Why the discrepancy?
Because, and these are key issues going forward as well:
USADA built into its budget a contingency fund just for this sort of unexpected occurrence. WADA had no such thing.
Because of that, USADA was able to handle it at a staff level. WADA had to pay outsiders, and some of those outsiders were lawyers who, logically enough, billed at lawyer rates.
Asking for contributions can seem an odd way to go about seeking funding.
Did WADA ask for a defined amount from governments x or y? (No. Look at the amounts it got.)
What deadline, if any, was provided? (Seemingly open-ended.)
What justification was provided? (That is, what was the advance cost estimate for what turned out to be four investigations, and what was said about why these investigations — at least initially — could not be covered?)
Was anything said about whether a failure to contribute by a particular date would in any way impact the probe? (Seems like no.)
Back to earth: how is WADA supposed to cover, hmm, just over $3 million in unexpected costs?
Maybe there is yet one more way to look at these vexing complexities.
WADA is nearing its 20-year anniversary.
It has seen many accomplishments: the drafting of the world anti-doping code and the subscription to that code by virtually every sporting body and government in our world.
But, as the Russian doping crisis has made plain, the code — and, to a great extent, WADA — represent what in the United States might be called an unfunded mandate. It’s probably the same term, or a variation thereof, all around the world.
That is — an agency is asked to do something but gets little or no money to do it.
If WADA is now going to be charged with investigations, it's only reasonable to ask it internally to tighten controls. Which the agency gets -- it is now building, from the ground up, a staff investigations department.
At the same time, it’s also reasonable that it have the resource to do what it is going to be asked to do.
And there is only one reasonable source. It’s sport. In particular, the IOC.
It's not unreasonable, given that government has such a distinct role in sport in so many countries, for it to have a seat at the WADA table. As the IOC president, Thomas Bach, put it in a speech in South Korea two-plus years ago, “In the past, some have said that sport has nothing to do with politics, or they have said that sport has nothing to do with money or business. And this is just an attitude which is wrong and which we cannot afford anymore. We are living in the middle of society and that means that we have to partner up with the politicians who run this world.”
At the same time, those politicians reasonably can not be expected to give their full attention to doping in sport. They have more pressing problems: war, disease, infrastructure, economic busts and booms and on and on and on.
Besides, when they do turn to sport, they can come up with horrifying discrepancies.
The tennis player Maria Sharapova will return to competition April 26 in Stuttgart. She will have served 15 months off after her two-year doping ban for meldonium, the Latvian heart-attack medicine, was cut by nine months by a sports court that found she had no intent to cheat. Note: this is sport dealing with a sport matter.
Compare: Girmay Birahun, a little-known 22-year-old Ethiopian marathon runner, is now facing at least three years in an Ethiopian prison after testing positive for — meldonium.
Ethiopia, like Germany, criminalized sports doping. This is government dealing with a sport matter.
“I don’t want to support people who have this evil in them,” Haile Gebrselassie, the distance running great who is now head of the country’s track and field federation, told the Independent, a British newspaper, adding a moment later, “Thanks to the government, we also have prison available as a punishment.”
He also said, “In a way I am scared for the athlete, sad for him, for what he will face in jail. Three years minimum, That’s a very bad punishment for someone to face. He will be the first Ethiopian athlete to go to jail and he has been crying non-stop ever since. But I need to work to protect the majority, not the individual.”
Fairness demands the level playing field that so many in so many places pay lip service to.
Talk is cheap. Action takes real money. There’s only one institution that has that real money, and that’s the IOC, flush with broadcast and sponsor revenues.
This, from page 134 of the IOC's most recent annual report, for 2015:
"For the 2013-2016 Olympiad, the IOC is on track to realize a USD 5.6 billion total revenue target, which would allow it to achieve the overall objective of 90 percent distribution to support the development of sport worldwide.”
Somewhere in that $5.6 billion — again, $5.6 billion, with a b — there is money to fund an anti-doping system that works.
Because about this there can be no argument: ladies and gentlemen, we all get what we pay for.
Here is the classic formula. A utility owns a water pump. The pump is accidentally left on. The pump floods a house. The homeowner is out of town. Who’s responsible?
Clear, too, with a nod to first-year drudgery in law school, is the difference between a prima facie case, evidence that's enough to lay out a case, and the notion of res ipsa loquitur, Latin for "the thing speaks for itself," evidence that by itself is so obvious that it not just states a matter but, right there, ends it.
In his extensive report made public last Friday, Canadian professor Richard McLaren delivered part two of what serves as a prosecutor’s brief alleging profound irregularities in Russia's anti-doping protocols. In essence, he made a prima facie case.
You would think, however, reading the news reports that McLaren 2 by itself spoke loudly and plainly enough not just to assign but prove liability for anyone and everyone involved.
That’s just not so.
Going forward, the report seemingly answers a great many questions even as it raises significant new ones.
And, as ever is the case in regards to Russia, the pertinent question was delivered not last Friday but by Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov -- you know him as Lenin -- in 1901:
What is to be done?
Any and all of you who want to engage in over-heated politically charged rhetoric, or threaten boycotts, or proclaim that Russia ought to be banned — less rhetoric, please, and more reasoned discussion that works toward solution.
Same: any and all of you who believe the current Russian president to be a threat to life as we know it on Planet Earth. Your therapist would tell you that what you’re doing is transferring onto the Russian sports system whatever emotion you hold for Mr. Putin. Not constructive.
There are three essential issues on the table.
One, what is to be done about the global anti-doping system?
Two, what is to be done with Russia?
Three, what is to be done about individual Russian athletes?
The fundamental challenge confronting the system has nothing to do with the International Olympic Committee, the World Anti-Doping Agency or whether the Russians went to the Summer Games in Rio in 2016 or go to the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang in 2018 or whoever goes to the world bobsled championship in Sochi in 2017.
It’s the same thing that made such a mess of the Rio 2016 Games themselves — money.
Simply put, there isn’t enough.
This is on both the sports movement and, critically, governments.
Often lost in all the shouting is that by design governments have been, since the late 1990s creation of a world agency designed to take the lead in dealing with doping in international sport, key players.
But in a world buffeted by war, famine and virtually every other calamity that can be conjured by the human imagination, stopping doping in sports ranks pretty low on the priority list for most governments.
The evidence is right there in black and white:
Kenya, winner of 13 medals at Rio, all in track and field, contributed $3,085 to WADA in 2016. Premise: that’s absurdly low. Problematic conclusion: where in Kenya are you going to find more money?
The United States contributed $2.05 million. That’s less than spare change when it comes to the overall U.S. federal budget, which runs to about $3 trillion.
Pick a country. Any country.
Let’s say you’re in charge of a federal government budget somewhere on our big blue ball. You suddenly find yourself with a cozy $1 million to spend. Are you better off spending it on programs that might help contain, say, HIV or malaria … or paving roads … or fixing bridges … or funding elementary schools … or throwing it at anti-doping in international sport?
Everywhere in the world but the United States — repeat, everywhere — there is a government ministry of sport.
So to rage against the machine and cry that it needs to be fixed — OK, got it.
WADA’s annual budget is $26 million. That’s something of a joke when compared against athletic department revenues at top U.S universities, which are five to seven times as much.
If you want to throw in the anti-doping programs of major international federations and make the argument that there’s really twice as much money at hand — cool. You’re still only at one-quarter of what Texas A&M or Oregon bring in, each year.
Consider: most of the international sports federations tied into the Olympics get considerable funding, if not the bulk of it, from the IOC. Which derives it from broadcast revenues. What is the chance any particular federation, confronting financial existentialism, is likely to give up its share? (Answer: zero.)
So — the logical next step is to make the anti-doping thing a priority among governments, or deal with the consequence that it’s not. Because absent dedicated government involvement, or a siphoning off of IOC broadcast revenues (as if) or a new tax on sporting events themselves, this problem is apt to remain just that.
It’s not rocket science that the two organizations that moved to ban Russia from Rio — track and field, and the International Paralympic Committee — are both led by officials from the United Kingdom. The British press has been screaming about the Russians and doping so loudly you would think all the reporters there were all staring at a lunch of polonium-laced sushi. The head of the British Olympic Assn. said Monday he would support the skeleton champion Lizzie Yarnold and the British bobsled federation if they opted to stay away from those 2017 worlds in Sochi.
History is clear that boycotts only end up hurting athletes.
Maybe a better use of time and energy would be to convince Westminster to up the UK contribution to WADA. In 2016, it was $772,326. Same as Russia.
It’s not a workable plan to ostracize Russia.
There may be short-term gains — see Seb Coe, head of track’s international body, the International Assn. of Athletics Federations, who earlier this month saw through a wide-ranging reform plan.
But this is a long-term play.
FIFA is not going to take the 2018 World Cup away from Russia. Russia is very likely to be at the Winter Olympics that same year. For that matter, it would not be a surprise if key sports conferences end up in the coming years back in Sochi, St. Petersburg, Kazan or Moscow.
Simply put, Russia is way too important.
Beyond which, moralizing and self-righteousness get tiresome quickly, particularly when those moralizing come from a country with its own doping history (attention, United States) and when time is likely to show that Russia is hardly the only country in the world where clever souls have been trying to find an advantage.
It’s evident that Professor McLaren has come to a published understanding of political nuance.
For one, as he said, there is no direct evidence that the Russian Olympic Committee was involved in what he called a “conspiracy.” If you are the IOC and there’s no direct evidence that ties the ROC, what are you to do? This is where the conversation must switch from sanction to reform.
Professor McLaren’s July report, meanwhile, is chock-a-block with terms such as “state directed oversight,” a “state-dictated failsafe system” and the like.
Friday’s report refers repeatedly to “institutional control.”
Big difference semantically, and you can bet it’s on purpose.
As Professor McLaren’s Friday report says, on page 31, “I would urge international sport leadership to take account of what is known and contained in the [July and Friday] reports, use the information constructively to work together and correct what is wrong.”
In the interests of transparency and of proving his points, Professor McLaren made public what in the acronym-heavy world of doping he refers to as the EDP, the evidence disclosure package. Here is the link.
Kudos to the professor for the documents.
The thing is, they prove everything and nothing simultaneously.
A document, to be sure, says what it says. But — this is why lawyers make the big bucks — it doesn’t speak for itself.
Whenever a document is to be used to prove a point in a legal setting, it needs to be — to use legal jargon here — “authenticated.” That means someone needs to be sworn to tell the truth and that person tells the truth (purportedly) about the context and circumstance of the document. How it came to be. How it might or might not relate to other documents. How it might or might not be accurate. And so on.
The fundamental issues with Friday’s McLaren 2 — despite the professor’s declarations to the contrary — remain fundamentally the same as McLaren 1 in July, and these issues make plain the problematic nature of sanction in favor of constructive solution.
First, as the professor says, page 30, he has painted a “detailed but not fully complete picture of the doping control process in Russia.” It's not fair to issue sanction based on incomplete evidence. That's obvious.
Moreover, to a significant extent, the evidence — all those documents and more — has yet to be tested in a formal legal setting and, crucially, subjected to cross-examination.
Without a full picture and without such a test, it goes to the core of fundamental notions of fairness and individual justice to impose blanket bans on individual athletes, particularly when the focus of Professor McLaren's two reports has been collective responsibility.
To be clear:
It may well be that the evidence turns out to be sufficient in most if not many cases to assign liability.
But that demands process, and even if process doesn’t make for screaming headlines it is essential.
In support of his prosecution-style brief, for example, Professor McLaren notes that his July report accounted for 312 positive initial screens reported negative into the WADA system; now he says the number is “more than 500.” Things just take time. A rush to judgment, as urged by many appalled or provoked by the news, is rarely constructive.
If the complaint from many in the west would be that the playing field wasn’t level because the Russians were cheating on a grand scale — OK, what about any notion of a level playing field within Russia itself? Were top-level Russian athletes knowingly part of this alleged conspiracy? Was there coercion, or worse, to get such athletes to take part? Any athletes? What about the medical or health impact on some if not all the Russians (and others) who may have been involved? Where is the empathy from athletes in the west for their counterparts?
Hand in hand go concerns about Professor McLaren’s key witness, the former lab director Dr. Grigoriy Rodchenkov.
It would seem eminently appropriate, for instance, to condemn in the strongest terms possible the use of illicit substances on five blind powerlifters, a kind of weightlifting. As Dr. Rodchenkov wrote to Alexei Velikodny of Russia’s Sports Training Center, according to a story Monday from Associated Press, “It’s a disgrace,” adding that coaches were “picking on the blind (who) can’t even see what people are giving them.”
Yet this is the kind of thing that would lead the Paralympic organization to issue a blanket ban? When the poor lifters can’t even see the stuff? They’re the ones being punished? Where is the condemnation of that kind of thinking?
That Monday AP story comes from a Russian-speaking correspondent. He writes, "Despite repeated cases involving GW1516, a substance not considered fit for human consumption because of repeated cancer cases in animal testing, none of the emails contain any suggestions of discouraging its use.”
Professor McLaren notes, page 47, “It is unknown whether athletes knowingly or unknowingly participated in the processes involved.”
Sally Jenkins of the Washington Post wrote in a column from last Friday, and this is dead-on, "It’s not that Russia federalized cheating to create an uneven playing field — lots of government-sponsored federations have systematically doped in Olympic history. It’s not even that some innocent athletes were deprived of medals they might otherwise have won. They aren’t the real victims. The ultimate victims are the Russian athletes who were forced by their government to ingest substances against their will and without informed consent or to leave their country or to submit to blackmail by strongmen. Those aren’t sporting violations. They are human rights violations."
Friday’s McLaren 2, meanwhile, says (pages 18 and 32) that 695 Russian athletes and 19 foreign athletes can be identified as part of the manipulations to conceal potentially positive tests. Stop — 19 foreign athletes? Just for starters: if the Russians were doping others — to what purpose? To help some other country win?
As for Dr. Rodchenkov:
Professor McLaren notes, page 63, that in 2011 Dr. Rodchenkov endured what in the report is called an “illness.” Russian media reports suggest it was much more, and that Dr. Rodchenkov’s mental state was at issue. If it was then — what about during the course of the alleged “conspiracy,” 2011 to 2015? And now?
On page 12, Professor McLaren avows that one of the reasons to believe Dr. Rodchenkov is telling the truth is “the possibility of deportation from the United States should he be shown to have been untruthful” in speaking with the professor.
You can make just the opposite argument. If Dr. Rodchenkov wants to stay in the United States, wouldn’t he be inclined to say anything to save his backside?
Further, about that deportation thing: it’s straightforward that it wouldn’t be sports authorities in the United States but, rather, the U.S. government that would take any such action. The government controls customs, entry and visa requirements.
Maybe it seems far-fetched that the U.S. government would somehow be involved in all this.
Then again, consider — if you wrote a movie script about what Professor McLaren reported has happened in Russia, could you make even a prima facie case for a single reputable Hollywood studio to believe it was anything but straight-out fiction?
Within hours after the release by Russian hackers of U.S. athletes’ doping results, Victor Conte, the Bay-Area based figure at the center of the BALCO scandal, a guy who knows what’s what when it comes to the doping scene, sent out a note Tuesday to a wide email circle. It said, in part, “This is gonna get ugly.” Gonna get ugly?! This is ugly from the get-go. And it’s likely to stay ugly for the foreseeable future.
This hack operates on a staggering number of levels. There are so many threads to pull: here, there, seemingly everywhere. The whole thing is designed not just to stir public opinion but to stir up nothing less than chaos in world sport and, perhaps, more — to agitate and antagonize governments in public as well as private diplomacy.
Following World Anti-Doping Agency reports over the past several months that asserted widespread and state-sponsored doping in Russia, about a third of the Russian Olympic delegation, including virtually the entire track and field team, and the entire Russian Paralympic squad ended up banned from Rio 2016. The Paralympics are still ongoing.
On Tuesday, WADA confirmed that its database had been breached. At issue: confidential medical records of athletes who took part in last month’s Rio Olympics.
WADA further said that hackers gained access via an International Olympic Committee-created account.
The perpetrators, accordng to WADA: Fancy Bear, a Russian entity suspected as well of breaching the Democratic National Committee’s computers.
On Monday, Fancy Bear released information on four American athletes: the gymnast Simone Biles, basketball standout Elena Delle Donne and the tennis stars Serena and Venus Williams.
The documents show that each of the four had permission to take prescription drugs. In some cases, those drugs were used during the Games.
Some of the drugs contained banned substances.
But nobody is facing a doping case.
The reason: the anti-doping rules specifically say that there can be exceptions for certain medicines. Athletes can use a variety of stuff that might otherwise lead to a positive test if, one, they get a doctor’s note and, two, they file the appropriate paperwork.
That paperwork is called, in the jargon, a “therapeutic use exemption.”
To emphasize: there is no suggestion that any of the four have done anything wrong.
U.S. officials have linked Fancy Bear to GRU, the Russian military intelligence agency. For what it’s worth, the Russian government said Tuesday it had no connection to Fancy Bear.
This is the backdrop. From there, the super-obvious starting place:
Within Russia if not elsewhere, many will be tempted to draw the conclusion that the Americans, who won the Olympic medals count in Rio going away, are doping.
It is already widely believed that considerable numbers of U.S. athletes take advantage of TUE exemptions.
To stress: obtaining a TUE is within the rules.
It is also the case that, as in many things, perception is as important than reality, if not more so. Indeed, a Fancy Bear statement declares that U.S. athletes “got their licenses for doping.”
Tension is high between the IOC and WADA over the Russians. This is sure to add to that. To reiterate: the hack came through an IOC-created account. If you want to appreciate the delicious irony there, or maybe the hackers’ knowing instigation, go right ahead — a WADA hack through an IOC account. Who to blame, and for what?
Legally, do any of the four athletes, American citizens all, have recourse in the U.S. or Canadian court systems (WADA is based in Montreal) for money damages now that private medical records have been breached? Who is responsible for not safeguarding the sort of records that everyone knows — if you have ever been to even one American doctor’s office — is supposed to be private? For this sort of breach, what might be an appropriate remedy?
Then there another super-obvious follow-on:
Every single sports federation and national Olympic committee anywhere and everywhere in the world ought to be wondering: is my data safe?
Then there is the timing:
In mid-August, details emerged about the hack of Russian athlete and whistleblower Yulia Stepanova.
Next week WADA plans a post-Rio “think tank” to explore how it is the anti-doping campaign got into this crack, as well as others. Fancy Bear: “We will also disclose exclusive information about other national Olympic teams later.”
But, to start, there’s the central fact: these are Americans.
So why these four? Could it have anything to do with the fact that three are African-American while Delle Donne earlier this month disclosed she is gay and engaged to be married? Maybe these facts mean nothing. Or maybe it's naive to pretend otherwise.
Biles, moreover, carried the U.S. flag in the Rio Olympic closing ceremony.
The Williams sisters? When Maria Sharapova, the Russian tennis star, who carried the Russian flag into the London 2012 opening ceremony, is in the midst of a two-year ban for meldonium?
Sharapova’s appeal is due to be decided in early October. And WADA has walked back the rules in a number of other meldonium cases because of uncertainty over how long the stuff, which is made in Latvia and is designed to help patients with certain heart-related issues, stays in the body.
Biles acknowledged after the leak that she takes Ritalin or its equivalent for ADHD. It is "nothing to be ashamed of,” she said in a tweet.
At the same time, it would be a huge surprise if hackers didn’t intend for a parallel to be drawn — and, importantly, distinctions, too — between her and U.S. sprinter Justin Gatlin.
Gatlin has — unfairly — been made into the poster guy for U.S. Olympic scene doping. Truth: he is far more a victim of circumstance.
So: Biles takes Ritalin (or, again, its equivalent). Gatlin took Adderall for ADD. It’s naive once more to pretend someone looking for connection would not see something there.
At the same time:
She gets nothing. He got a year. Why the difference? How can any sort of “fair” system allow such discrepancies? Returning to the Sharapova matter and meldonium: same question.
This is not just about American athletes, meanwhile. It’s about the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, too.
USADA chief executive Tygart, who is a very smart guy, has arguably made himself over the course of this year into the loudest and longest voice for an outright Russian ban.
This would thus seem to be as much about an attempt to embarrass Tygart as it is the four athletes.
In a statement, Tygart said, “It’s unthinkable that in the Olympic movement, hackers would illegally obtain confidential medical information in an attempt to smear athletes to make it look as if they have done something wrong.”
Please. It’s not unthinkable. If revenge is a thing, it’s totally rational if not foreseeable.
Finally, this, and this is where you have to really wonder how this is going to end up.
If none of this had come to pass, if WADA had been left alone, WADA — this is the dead-bang truth — can help the Russians.
In the context of getting back onto the track, for instance: what do the Russians want if not need? Answer: to get complaint again with all the rules so that Russian athletes can compete normally.
For its part, WADA wants, maybe even needs, to get the Russians compliant. And as soon as possible.
The tough sell is getting the rest of the world to believe the Russians are compliant.
That just got a lot, lot tougher.
When history writes the story of the drama that enveloped the question of what to do about the Russians for the 2016 Rio Games, the imperfect compromise issued Sunday by the International Olympic Committee will come to be seen for what it truly is: a marker for the ongoing vitality and relevance of the Olympic movement in every corner of the world. Make no mistake. The IOC made — mostly — the right call in seeking to balance individual rights against collective responsibility.
If this decision had gone the other way, if the IOC had imposed a wide-ranging ban on the Russians, there very well may have erupted an existential threat to the Olympic movement.
This is not to layer exaggeration or extra intrigue onto a situation that already has generated enormous controversy.
Rather, the mob that has largely looked past the precious value of individual justice in calling for collective responsibility failed, and hugely, to account for the peril inherent in such a decision for the present and the future of the Olympic enterprise.
The Russians, however, keenly understood. And they kept saying so — no matter the smugly furious, self-righteous echo chamber banging for wide-ranging sanction.
The IOC listened. It understood, and keenly.
There is nothing wrong with that. Indeed, there is a lot that is right.
In ruling that the international sports federations hold the responsibility to decide whether the Russians could come for each of the roughly two dozen sports on the Olympic program, the IOC underscored not only the place of each and every person in the world but, as well, the possibilities inherent in empowering humanity to effect one-to-one change.
When everything else is stripped away, that is what the Olympics are all about. That is why the modern Olympic movement, a project born in the late 19th century, can still matter in our 21st-century lives.
“Every human being is entitled to individual justice,” IOC president Thomas Bach said after Sunday’s meeting of its policy-making executive board.
Almost immediately, the tennis and equestrian federations released announcements saying to the Russians, see you soon in Brazil. The judo federation put out numbers that made plaln a rigorous testing program aimed at each and every one of the 389 athletes from 136 countries who have qualified for Rio 2016.
Sheikh Ahmad al-Fahad al-Sabah, head of the Assn. of National Olympic Committees, said the organization “commends the IOC for favoring individual justice over collective responsibility and giving international federations responsibility to ensure clean competitions in their sports at Rio 2016.”
Life is not binary. It is not black and white, yes or no, a collection of 1s and 0s. Life is made up of shades of grey, and nuance, and compromise — especially in the pursuit of both a practical reality and a noble ideal.
Life is better when we — the collective we — are not implementing blanket action against a group of people. This is a basic of history. And the Olympic movement is, at its essence and at its best, not about being moralistic or sanctimonious. It appeals to our better selves.
As Anita DeFrantz, the long-serving IOC representative to the United States who sits on the executive board, said Sunday afternoon, “It takes courage to do the right thing.”
Even if it is imperfect.
Life is imperfect, you know? The Olympic scene is an imperfect vessel for our hopes and dreams.
The important part: the IOC action likely paves the way for most Russian athletes to march behind the Russian flag at the opening ceremony on August 5.
At the same time:
The IOC said the whistleblower Yulia Stepanova — a middle-distance runner who along with her husband, Vitaly Stepanov, sparked the controversy by alleging state ties to doping — is not eligible to run in Rio. There simply isn’t a vehicle to permit a “neutral” athlete to take part, the IOC said, and that’s true. It’s a fundamental that athletes compete as national representatives at a Games.
Except that there will be a “refugee team” in Rio made up of athletes from different countries.
And, perhaps more important, the symbolism of having Stepanova on the Rio track would have gone far in promoting the notion that anyone and everyone has to speak up when something might be amiss; overcoming the culture of keeping silent has proven a significant challenge in the anti-doping campaign.
Also, the IOC said that any Russian athlete who has ever done time for doping is ineligible for Rio. This misplaced notion is the 2016 version of what in Olympic jargon is called the “Osaka rule,” a notion advanced by none other than Bach nine years ago, when he was IOC vice president. It sought to ban a doper from the next edition of the Games on top of however many years he or she got in sanction.
The Swiss-based Court of Arbitration for Sport said, no dice — the Osaka rule amounted to double punishment.
The IOC, and the president, know all of this. A recent reminder: the case of South Korean swimmer Park Tae Hwan, a 2008 and 2012 medalist who tested positive in 2014 for testosterone and got 18 months. The Korean Olympic committee tried to tack on another three years. No go.
The Osaka rule could have been incorporated in the version of the World Anti-Doping Code that took effect this past January 1. But no. Instead, the code now calls for a standard doping ban of four years instead of two.
It’s now up to an individual Russian, if he or she wants, to go to CAS to challenge the IOC move regarding eligibility after a prior ban. There should be a rush to the proverbial courthouse steps; any such case would be a slam-dunk winner; all the IOC is trying to do is effect an end-around a play that already has been shut down.
More: the assertion that no already-served Russians can go — even though athletes from other countries who have served doping bans can, and will, be in Rio — cuts directly against the very thing the IOC sought Sunday to preserve: in Bach’s words, “individual justice.”
The remaining problematic element is the ban imposed on Russia’s track and field team by the IAAF, track’s governing body. It stands.
As Alexander Zhukov, the president of the Russian Olympic Committee, noted as part of a lengthy presentation Sunday to the IOC board:
“… We can never accept a decision that allows any international federation to legally force athletes to move from their native country in order to train abroad, so they can participate in international competitions. This contradicts basic human rights and essential freedoms. And it strays very far from the real anti-doping fight.”
This will be part of the historical legacy. And it won’t be pretty.
Sergey Shubenkov, the Russian champion in the 110-meter hurdles at last year’s world championships — “an absolutely clean one,” Zhukov asserted — can’t run in Rio. His mother, heptathlete Natalya Shubenkova, missed the 1984 Los Angeles Games because of the Soviet-led boycott, reprisal for the U.S.-led action against the 1980 Moscow Games.
“Now his dream is ruined and this ruin is dismissed,” Zhukov said, “simply as an ‘unfortunate consequence.’ ”
This, of course, is a reference to the answer given last Monday by Canadian law professor Richard McLaren when, in making public his World Anti-Doping Agency-commissioned inquiry into accusation of state-sanctioned doping in Russia, he was asked about guilt by association.
In 1980, the Australian IOC member R. Kevan Gosper supported the U.S.-led Moscow boycott. He says now he “wouldn’t have made that decision.” A silver medalist in track and field, Gosper served as an IOC member from 1977 to 2013 and retains considerable influence.
The McLaren Report allegations, Gosper said, make for a “very, very serious problem.” Even so, given the IOC’s turbulent history, in partiular the 1980 and 1984 Los Angeles Games boycotts, Gosper said, “To take a collective decision against Russia in a world that is very uncertain, I think, would be very wrong.”
This is what the Russians kept saying.
The president of Russia, Vladimir Putin himself, in a statement released last week by the Kremlin:
“Today, we see a dangerous return to this policy of letting politics interfere with sport. Yes, this intervention takes different forms today, but the essence remains the same; to make sport an instrument for geopolitical pressure and use it to form a negative image of countries and peoples. The Olympic movement, which is a tremendous force for uniting humanity, once again could find itself on the brink of division.”
The former Russian leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, who wrote a letter last week to Bach that said, in part:
“The principle of collective punishment is unacceptable for me. I am convinced that it contradicts the very culture of the Olympic movement based on universal values, humanism and principles of law.”
Zhukov’s presentation to the IOC board cautioned against what he called a “rush to judgment.” He said:
“Please allow me to begin by saying that I understand you will make today a fateful decision, which will determine the fate of not only Russian sport, but also of the international Olympic movement, of our Olympic family.
“The recent events have caused a significant split to open in the world of sport. We must remain united in our efforts to ensure integrity, united against the pressures that aim to replace constructive unity with destructive confrontation.”
Nearing the close of his remarks, he said:
“I urge you to consider this case independently of the mounting pressure from certain nations to issue a collective ban in relation to Olympic Team Russia.
“The calls for Russia to be banned from Rio 2016, before the McLaren Report was even published, clearly demonstrate that this goes beyond sport.
“I therefore urge you not to fall victim to geopolitical pressure.
“You can all be confident that Russia will change for the better and Russian sport will emerge cleaner.
“But that can only happen through engagement.”
Not through a far-reaching ban.
In noting “certain nations,” make no mistake about which nations those might be.
The calls for a ban, spun up by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency in particular, beg fundamental questions about its role: Is USADA supposed to engage in such lobbying? Or Is it merely a provider of services — if you will, a contractor?
Too, the hypocrisy of certain political leaders in reacting to the IOC’s decision Sunday could not be more evident. The U.K. sports minister, Tracey Couch, said the “scale of the evidence arguably pointed to the need for stronger sanctions.”
This makes for empty rhetoric if not unintentional comedy — coming from a country where the government announced earlier this year it was cutting its 2016-17 contribution to WADA by roughly $725,000.
As for no-question irresponsibility — the Daily Mail reported late Saturday that the entire Russian team would be banned.
For a while, that Daily Mail story was the No. 1 story sweeping Reddit.
And then there was the New York Times, in its reporting Sunday, saying the IOC move “tarnished the reputations and performance of all Russian Olympic athletes” while serving as a “strong affirmation” that Russia had cheated “under government orders.”
History will tell if that’s anything more than journalistic bravado — if ever the allegations delivered by Mr. McLaren lead to testimony under oath and thorough cross-examination of all the principal actors.
In the meantime:
No matter the circumstance, and especially in this one, groupthink can prove very, very dangerous. Turning toward reason and away from emotion, the way the IOC did Sunday, is almost always a way better option.
As Bach put it, “An athlete should not suffer and should not be sanctioned for a system in which he was not implicated,” adding, “This is not about expectations. This is about doing justice to clean athletes all over the world.”
Even if justice is, as history teaches, often imperfect.
The law of unintended consequences can be a horrible thing. Simply put, we don’t know what we don’t know.
If the Russians are kept out of the 2016 Olympics, what will be the import for sport? In politics? In global affairs? Don’t kid yourself. The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, can be deadly serious about a lot of things.
To be clear, this is a watershed moment in Olympic history. That’s why the International Olympic Committee needs to be on the right side of that history, and see that the Russians get to the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro.
There surely will be critics, loud and long.
But the right to be judged as an individual is central to everything the Olympic movement stands for.
At least in theory.
No question: Russia is a key player in the Olympic scene. Putin is arguably one of the three leading figures in international sport, along with International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach and, maybe, whoever is in charge of FIFA this week.
The Russians — unlike, for instance, the United States — have not only staged but helped to underwrite any number of significant recent events: the 2013 world track and field championships and Summer University Games, 2014 Winter Games and 2015 world swim championships. Not to mention any number of World Cups in any number of sports, winter and summer.
And, of course, they are due to stage the 2018 soccer World Cup.
Ordinarily, doping matters do not occasion news releases from the head of state, no matter where. Here, though, was Putin earlier this week, in a Kremlin statement, referring to the boycotts of the 1980 and 1984 Games:
“In short, people had their dreams broken and became hostages of political confrontation. The Olympic movement found itself in a serious crisis and faced divisions within. Later, some of the political figures of that era on both sides admitted that this had been a mistake.
“Today, we see a dangerous return to this policy of letting politics interfere with sport. Yes, this intervention takes different forms today, but the essence remains the same; to make sport an instrument for geopolitical pressure and use it to form a negative image of countries and peoples. The Olympic movement, which is a tremendous force for uniting humanity, once again could find itself on the brink of division.”
What happens if doping allegations keep the Russians out of Rio? No one knows.
Not much taken with the Russians? Just wait until the only places left to bid for major events are the Gulf States and, oh, Azerbaijan.
One thing we do know: the Russian matter has exposed the complete and utter hypocrisy from those who would ban athletes from an entire state without proven, reasoned, calm justification.
We know this, too, about Thursday’s decision by the Swiss-based Court of Arbitration for Sport: it is not, repeat not, the case that the Russians, even those on the track and field team, are absolutely out of Rio. The door is for sure open, as a close reading of the CAS matter makes plain.
This, too: the door is still open for Russians in other sports to take part in the Games, which begin Aug. 5, just two weeks away. Indeed, swimming’s international governing body, FINA, on Thursday put out a release saying it was “pleased” to “reveal” the “final entry list” for synchronized swimming at the 2016 Olympics. There on the list of eight teams, between Japan and Ukraine: Russia.
What we do not know is what the IOC, its policy-making executive board due to meet Sunday, is going to do in the aftermath of the CAS ruling, and amid extraordinary scrutiny.
At issue are arguments on both sides.
But the more compelling argument is in favor of the Russians.
That may be a super-unpopular position —especially in the west, and in particular the United States, Canada and Great Britain, where the mainstream media has largely been riding a nouveau Cold War-style rush to judgment.
But it’s true.
And for that core reason:
The Olympics are about fair play.
Everyone — repeat, everyone — deserves to be judged individually. That is the essence of fairness.
On Thursday, for instance, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency announced that Nataliya Lehonkova, 33, a track and field athlete from Ukraine, had tested positive in February for meldonium after taking it last August and November — but would not face sanction based on guidelines issued June 30 by the World Anti-Doping Agency.
She got judged individually.
Last week, USADA announced it was not going to levy sanction in the matter of an 18-year-old American gymnast, Kristen Shaldybin, of Highwood, Illinois, who tested positive June 7 for a prohibited diuretic. Why? Because it was in tap water that ran through the municipal water supply.
She got judged individually.
Remember, as Sting said, if in a very different context, the Russians love their children, too. The Russians are human beings. Just like you and me. That essential dignity deserves not just to be recognized but honored. That is the Olympic ideal.
For those who believe that what’s at stake is the honor and integrity of the Olympic movement, check.
The arguments in favor of a wholesale Russian ban go like this:
One, banning the Russians means being on the side of "clean" athletes.
No, it doesn't. The authorities can't prove that anyone is "clean" any more than they can prove that the 68 Russians are collectively dirty. Marion Jones passed hundreds of doping tests. So did Lance Armstrong. Moreover, there's a strong element of intent associated now with the anti-doping rules, and notions such as "choice" can be subject to varying interpretation in different parts of our world. Maybe even in Russia.
Two, the McLaren Report offers evidence of state-sponsored doping. If ever a state deserved to be sanctioned, it’s now and that state is Russia. Yes, there will be collateral damage — in particular the 68 athletes on the track and field team. Sorry, you 68, about that.
That’s not the way any reasonable, rational or logical system of law, ethics, morality or policy works.
At least one of which we can be proud.
And for many, many reasons.
In what context, primarily, does the phrase “collateral damage” assume its most significant meaning? War, of course. The Olympics are about promoting peace.
In the 100 year-plus history of the modern Olympic movement, a state has been kept away (or the Games canceled) for only three reasons: war, apartheid and the subjugation of women. Who wants to make the case that doping — no matter how serious — rises to the station of war, or apartheid, or the diminishment of an entire class of human beings?
The evidence in the case against Russia is based on allegation. Again, the entire case against Russia right now is based on allegation only. Are those allegations extraordinarily suggestive? Yes. Are they more likely than not true? Could well be. But have they been tested in a formal setting, under oath, subject to cross-examination? Not at all. Without that — without due process and, especially, the crucible of cross-examination — it’s unfair in the extreme to proceed with broad sanction.
-- The pole vault champion Yelena Isinbayeva Thursday, after the CAS decision, decrying "pseudo-gold medals." The last sentence, before the emoji string, says, "Power is always feared." --
The Russians can and should be held to the most rigorous standard. But so should everyone.
If you think Russia is the only nation in the world where you could allege state-sponsored doping — call me immediately, because I have a beautiful bridge in Brooklyn I would be delighted to sell.
The United States is the only country in the world where Olympic sport is not an arm of a federal ministry. Just three years ago, Turkey suspended 40 track and field athletes for doping, 20 of whom were under age 23. Because there has been no formal inquiry like the McLaren Report into Turkey, Turkey is in the clear but Russia is under the gun? What if adequately funded investigators were sent into — pick any one — Kenya, Ethiopia, China or Jamaica?
To be clear: that the United States does not operate a ministry of sport hardly excuses American athletes and their record over the years. See, again, Armstrong and Jones. And others.
To which the immediate response is: yes, but the Russians are (allegedly) state-sponsored! OK. Take off those red, white and blue American goggles. Now put on the red, white and blue Russian ones. For years, the U.S. Postal Service, an independent arm of the United States government, underwrote the Armstrong team. Now draw a meaningful distinction — go ahead, still waiting — between what is alleged in Russia and what has been proven in the United States in regard to Armstrong’s massive doping conspiracy and cover-up.
Perspective matters. A lot. Like due process and cross-examination.
The CAS ruling Thursday was decided on what lawyers would call narrow grounds, reference to a section of Rule 22 issued by track and field’s worldwide governing body, the International Association of Athletics Federations.
To be fair, international federations have to be able to approve and exert some degree of control over their member federations. No quarrel there.
But even in confirming that athletes whose national federations are suspended by the IAAF are ineligible for competitions held under IAAF rules, the CAS panel made plain the way out for the IOC — should it so choose.
Which, of course, it should.
First, the CAS panel explicitly noted that the IOC was not a party to the matter. Thus, the sport court said, it had “no jurisdiction” to decide whether the IOC could accept or decline Russian track and field athletes.
In practical terms, this amounts to blinking red lights and screaming sirens at a train crossing — it says, pay attention, because we just told you it’s OK to take the Russians even if we didn’t explicitly say so.
This is in line, and not coincidentally, with the position taken by the Association of Summer Olympic International Federations, which on Tuesday put out a statement that said, in part, “It is important to focus on the need for individual justice in all these cases and ASOIF endorses all IF decisions, including those that take into account collective responsibility of organizations under the IFs' governance.”
Next, the IAAF, recognizing that a wholesale ban could prove problematic, to say the least, sought June 17 to give the 68 Russians a path to Rio: prove a) “clearly and convincingly” that b) you were outside the country and c) subject to effective controls, then d) you could apply to compete but e) only as a “neutral” athlete.
So: not only did you have to be outside Russian jurisdiction, you also had to meet standards for being tested at a level comparable to your competition but without being told what those standards are. Who to look at? Who are your competitors? If you’re ranked 11th, who? Numbers 1, 2 and 3? Or numbers 8, 9 and 10? Someone else?
Let’s say we’re talking distance running. Now your competitors, for the sake of argument, might be Ethiopian and Kenyan. Hello?
What if you are a sprinter? The Jamaicans? The Americans? Jimmy Vicault, who is French?
What about any of that is fair?
Neutral athletes? What, Russians who “clearly and convincingly” could so prove are going to line up in Rio as a “neutral” nation, marching in the opening ceremony just in front of, say, Norway, their newly designed flag depicting a syringe with a big red X on it?
Would “Neutral” fans have to show up the stadium dressed only in gray?
Would those fans shout: “Go Neutral! Go Neutral!” Just like “U-S-A! U-S-A!” Or, “Aussie-Aussie-Aussie oi-oi-oi!”
So absurd that, in practice, only two of 68 Russians have been able to meet the IAAF conditions.
Accordingly, the CAS panel said it was “concerned” about the “immediate application with retroactive effect” of the IAAF’s June 17 policy, explaining: “Since such Rule invokes criteria based on long-term prior activity, it left no possibility in practice, and as applied, for the Claimant Athletes,” the Russians, “to be able to try to comply with them.”
Back to keeping-it-simple talk: “concerned” in legalese translates to “this is wrong, people.”
Essentially, it is super-unfair.
Which leads directly back to the central proposition:
The three core Olympic values are respect, excellence and friendship, all of which point toward fair play and the recognition that every single person in our broken world deserves to be accepted as an individual and, moreover, measured by his or her own conduct.
Anything less is a gross violation of the Olympic spirit, and on the wrong side of history.
And being on the wrong side, as history teaches, is very, very likely to provoke a whole host of unintended consequences.