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.
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.
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?
MONACO — Transparency. What a concept.
The reform plan put forward by International Assn. of Athletics Federation president Seb Coe, so overdue, is full of common sense. It’s just the thing to start moving track and field, in particular its long-convoluted governance structure, ahead in the 21st century. "Transparency sits at the heart of everything we've been talking about," Coe would say late Saturday.
Like, for instance, an open vote. In which every yes, no and abstention was not just tallied but shown up on the big screen Saturday at a special IAAF congress held here in a ballroom at the seaside Fairmont Hotel.
Take note, International Olympic Committee and others. Transparency surely changes the way you approach the whole voting thing.
Thanks to an open vote and Coe's political skills, the IAAF reform package passed, 182-10, a "ringing endorsement of our commitment to do things differently," he said afterward but one that now -- given the backstage drama that attended the run-up to the balloting and, despite the landslide, remains very much a vital part of the IAAF scene -- raises the pressing question of real-life implementation.
Coe now has authority and real room to maneuver. But don't anyone be fooled that it will all be roses and sunshine.
The former IAAF president, Lamine Diack? From Senegal. Senegal, as was made plain because the ballots were transparently on display, abstained in Saturday's voting.
The runner-up in the 2015 election that made Coe president, Sergei Bubka? From Ukraine. Ukraine abstained.
"We made a decision today but it will be very important to fulfill that with real life," German delegate Dagmar Freitag observed after the vote. "Work begins today."
It actually began months ago, after last Christmas, and culminated late Friday, amid the IAAF awards ceremony, where word was the reform package’s fate remained highly uncertain.
Why is easy to explain:
Big-picture reform? Check. The sport's future on the line? Check. But what about the import of reform on matters such as personal agendas, perks of membership and, of course, individual advancement?
Translation, and cutting right to the core of the thing: what’s in it for me?
This of course is what drives critics of international sport — where considerable lip service is paid to the notion of athletes at the core of the enterprise — up the wall.
Maybe rightly so.
But it also is what it is, and to ignore that reality is unquestionably naïve.
Naïveté is not a helpful thing in the context of IAAF politics and culture. Particularly in 2016.
Track and field arrived at Saturdays moment after a grim 16 months. That's how long Coe has been president.
It was always clear that Diack, president from 1999 until 2015, ran the IAAF as his personal fiefdom — a model he learned from the president before him, Italy’s Primo Nebiolo.
What had been hidden, and for obvious reasons, according to accusations from the French authorities, is that Diack ran a closely held conspiracy — involving just a few senior officials — that aimed, among other things, to collect illicit payments in exchange for hiding certain Russian doping matters.
As for Russian doping — the IAAF banned the Russian track and field team from the 2016 Rio Games in the aftermath of allegations of state-sanctioned doping. A second report on the matter from Canadian law professor Richard McLaren report is due to be made public Friday.
If ever a sport and a situation were ripe for reform, this would seem to be the moment. Right?
As Usain Bolt said Friday, "I know Seb Coe is trying to make track and field more transparent so everyone can see what's happening, so one person is not pulling control. That's a bold move for him, a bold move for the IAAF president."
As Coe himself said in Saturday's opening remarks, “The walls of the organization were too high to see over and too much power rested in the hands of too few people,” adding, “We should have known more.”
He asserted, “We can not let this happen again,” adding, “It’s bad enough that any of this happened. But it can not happen for a second time. Not on our watch or anyone else’s watch."
In general, the IAAF proposal sketches out four areas of focus:
1. Independent anti-doping, integrity and disciplinary functions, the idea to launch an integrity unit in April 2017
2. A better gender balance
3. A bigger voice for athletes
4. A redefinition of roles and responsibilities for each national federation with the concurrent idea of strengthening what in IAAF terms is called “area representation,” broadly speaking the continents.
The proposal further suggested that IAAF business decisions be delegated to an executive board that would meet regularly, roughly once a month. The IAAF council would set policy. The congress, with a registry of more than 200 national representatives, would continue to be the federation’s “supreme authority,”meeting annually.
The idea, per the working paper, was to cast one vote Saturday on the adoption of two — count them, two — constitutions. One set of rules would take effect in 2017, the other in 2019. The 2017 plan revolved mostly around the integrity plank. The rest — a new structure for vice presidents, council and executive board — would take effect in 2019.
As Coe put it in the forward to the working paper, “Now is the time for change. The time to rebuild our organization for the next generation. To be the change we want to see.”
Svein Arne Hansen, president of the European Athletics Federations, wrote in a statement posted to the federation’s website: “To be clear, our sport’s reputation has already been damaged and failure to pass these reforms will do further damage in the eyes of the public, with governments and with partners in ways we can only imagine at this time. It will hurt the federations and it will hurt the athletes at all levels.”
That elicited on Twitter this response from Paula Radcliffe, the British marathon standout:
In remarks that helped to open Saturday’s session, Haile Gebrselassie, the distance champion who is now head of the Ethiopian track and field federation, said, “Billions of people around the world, they have to trust us.”
Echoed Andreas Thorkildsen, the Norwegian javelin champion: “It’s transparency and trust — what I believe is very important for us going forward.”
A few moments before, Prince Albert of Monaco had told the audience, “Today is a pivotal moment for the future of athletics,” meaning track and field, “and the hopes and dreams of clean athletes worldwide.”
The prince added, “Sport has the unique capacity to transcend borders, to build bridges between populations, to ease tensions within societies. We all need to make sure it remains a force for good a beacon of hope for generations to come. We need to rebuild this trust.”
All this uplifting stuff. All this excellent theater. All good.
Now let’s talk straight.
“Today is the day we must bury our own interests for the greater good — to do what is right,” the chair of the IAAF athletes’ commission, Rozle Prezelj of Slovenia, said.
As always, the devil lurks in the details, and in the difference between theory and practice.
Coe acknowledged from the head table that he had gotten pushback before the meeting about bringing in new people and new teams, including chief executive Olivier Gers. Referring to the clear concern underpinning that pushback, was it because “I want to ditch responsibility?”
He answered the rhetorical question: “Simply not true. Given the year that our sport and I personally have gone through, I hope all of you in this room will agree that is ridiculous,” even though obviously some in the room had been the ones making that “ridiculous’ suggestion and such pushback revealed the concern if not fear of moving from president-as-king governance structure that had long held at the IAAF.
That gender balance thing:
The IOC has for years pushed those in the Olympic movement to not just promote but welcome women at executive and leadership positions.
Progress has been halting.
The IAAF proposal perfectly illustrates why.
It calls for the number of vice presidents to stay at four with the proviso that by 2019 there be one of each gender and by 2027 two of each.
Let’s say you were one of the four men currently holding a vice-presidential seat. How inclined would you be to robustly agree to such a proposition if such agreement put you at serious risk of losing your position?
And what about section 3.6 in the proposals, relating once more to those vice presidents. It says a vice president can’t simultaneously serve as an area president.
Such “interlocking directorates” have long been a mainstay of Olympic sport despite the potential for conflict of interest, the rationale behind 3.6. It’s nonetheless easy to see why, in real life, such a change would mean a significant diminishment of authority and influence for someone who might currently occupy both spots.
As for the image of the sport and the ability to instill trust:
In theory, very few dispute the notion that stuff failing the smell test shouldn’t happen.
In practice, however, what smells in one part of the world maybe doesn’t in another.
For instance, explain this, and it’s not like it’s a secret, because anyone can read all about it right there on the internet:
The Assn. of Balkan Athletics Federations is a thing. It has 17 members. From, mostly, the Balkans — you know, the likes of Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Montenegro.
So why was the “6th Balkan Athletics Gala,” according to the internet, held Nov. 19 in that bastion of Balkan-ness, Dubai?
Where the presidents and general secretaries of those member federations were invited to “share the excitement of the glorious moments”?
Hypothetically: what if a key player in Dubai had regional if not global ambitions? Would such a person stand to gain influence with some number of potential voters by inviting them out of the chill of the autumnal Balkans down to sunny Dubai?
Oh, the currents -- and thus the genuine concern from many of the reform-minded on Friday night.
The IAAF, meanwhile, made life all the more difficult for itself Saturday by insisting on what per the rules was called a “special majority” to enact its reforms — in essence, a two-thirds majority.
In all, 197 delegates (up from an initial count of 196) were on hand. Two-thirds meant 132 (if no abstentions).
A test question highlighted the obstacles: are you happy to be in Monaco? 177 said yes, 17 no, a couple had no opinion. Seventeen people were not happy to be on an expenses-paid trip to one of the world’s fanciest destinations? A second run-through of the test question, after the number of delegates was fixed at 197, gave these results: 156-37, 81 percent to 19 percent, with four abstentions.
Later, the Portuguese representative observed that such transparency was highly unusual at a sports function, and that many delegates had taken a cellphone picture of the results up there on that big screen. Would the real votes be displayed as well?
Yes, Gers said.
“For those who don’t want the vote to be transparent: make the right choice,” Radcliffe said from the floor, her hands quivering with emotion as she clutched the microphone.
In the end, that very transparency unquestionably helped seal the deal. No question by Saturday morning the Coe political operation meant the package would have passed the two-thirds threshold. But, also unquestionably, there would have been considerably more no votes. It’s another for everyone in the “family” — as that word was used many times in the 42 pre-vote floor comments — to talk the talk. It's quite another to see a very public “no” vote on a matter of such import.
No votes came from, among others, Saudi Arabia and Thailand.
Immediately after, Bobby McFerrin came on the audio feed: “Don’t worry. Be happy.”
Another choice might well have been Johnny Nash's 1972 No. 1 hit -- or if you prefer, the 1993 Jimmy Cliff version on the soundtrack of the Jamaican bobsled flick Cool Runnings. It famously proclaims, "I can see clearly now."
Next votes. Because there are plenty yet to come.
"Look," Coe said in a post-vote news conference, "I hope the public perception of our sport is helped by what they’ve seen today but that isn’t primarily why we did it. We did it because we were in need of change."
RIO de JANEIRO -- Lilly King is a great swimmer. But a good sport? One who lives — in her gold-medal moment — the key Olympic values: friendship, excellence and respect?
Much of the English-speaking media proved all too eager Monday evening to latch on to an easy — and false — narrative that abruptly cast King as a virtuous American hero, striking a blow for drug-free sport in winning the women’s 100m breaststroke while slaying the notorious Russian, the sudden villain Yulia Efimova.
To read the rest of this column, please click through to NBCOlympics: bit.ly/2aNToSB
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.
Three years ago, in the space of a week, 40 track and field athletes in Turkey were suspended for doping offenses. Each got a two-year ban. Of those 40, 31 came in a one-day chunk. Of those 31, 20 were 23 or younger.
Did track and field’s international governing body, the International Association of Athletics Federations, move to ban Turkey? No. Was what happened in 2013 within the current four-year Olympic cycle? Obviously. And yet — the IAAF is seeking now to effect a ban against Russia, and 68 track and field athletes, for the Rio Games? Logically: explain the difference, please.
At a hearing Tuesday, the Swiss-based Court of Arbitration for Sport — meeting behind closed doors — took up the matter of the Russian ban. An appeal, brought by the Russian Olympic Committee, challenges the IAAF action last November, upheld last month, that seeks to suspend the Russian track and field federation and those 68 athletes, including pole vault diva Yelena Isinbayeva, from the Games amid allegations of a state-sponsored doping conspiracy.
CAS intends to deliver a ruling Thursday. That decision is widely expected to help guide International Olympic Committee policy heading toward the Aug. 5 start of the Games.
Leaving the hearing, Isinbayeva told Russia 24, a state-owned news channel, that she was “optimistic.”
She should be.
-- Yelena Isinbayeva on her Instagram account from Tuesday's CAS hearing in Switzerland --
The case pits the notion of collective responsibility against what is elemental in any system of justice, individual adjudication.
Because the CAS hearing was conducted in secrecy, nobody knows what was discussed, or what the three-member CAS panel might have asked.
Like the matter of the Turkish track and field bans three years ago, which assuredly provides an intriguing precedent, the only limit to what might have been asked is the imagination.
Here, then, are a variety of queries that might have been, should have been, maybe even were asked:
— The presumption of individual innocence is a bedrock principle in the law. Why should that presumption be stood on its head in this matter?
— In theory, this CAS case is limited to track and field. However, since any decision is likely to weigh significantly on any IOC action, please answer this fundamental inquiry: why, if a Russian track and field athlete might be banned, should a Russian synchronized swimmer or gymnast — with no record of doping, per the report advanced Monday by the respected Canadian law professor Richard McLaren — be similarly affected?
Doesn’t that underscore all the more the imperative for individualized justice?
— The IAAF task force that reported in June to the federation’s policy-making executive council asserted, at point 5.2: “A strong and effective anti-doping infrastructure capable of detecting and deterring doping has still not yet been created. Efforts to test athletes in Russia have continued to encounter serious obstacles and difficulties; RusAF appears incapable of enforcing all doping bans; and RUSADA is reportedly at least 18-24 months away from returning to full operational compliance with the World Anti-Doping Code.” RusAF is the Russian track and field federation, RUSADA the nation’s anti-doping agency.
These absolutely are serious allegations deserving of careful consideration. At the same time, these same allegations could be made of any of dozens of nations in our world. To name just a few of note in the track and field context: Kenya, Ethiopia, Jamaica. Why a ban aimed only at Russia?
In noting Russian sports minister Vitaly Mutko’s assertion that “clean Russian athletes should not be punished for the actions of others,” the IAAF task force responded, at point 6.1: “There can only be confidence that sport is reasonably clean in countries where there is an engrained and longstanding culture of zero tolerance for doping, and where the public and sports authorities have combined to build a strong anti-doping infrastructure that is effective in deterring and detecting cheats.”
Same question: why Russia only when reason and logic dictate a lack of confidence elsewhere in the world as well?
Jamaica, for instance, contributed only $4,638 toward WADA’s $26 million 2016 budget. Kenya and Ethiopia, $3,085 apiece. How do such contributions in any way suggest legitimacy in the campaign to ensure doping-free sport?
— From the same June IAAF task force report: "At a time when many athletes and members of the public are losing confidence in the effectiveness of the anti-doping movement, the IAAF must send a clear and unequivocal message that it is prepared to do absolutely everything necessary to protect the integrity of its sport ..."
Doesn't this sort of rhetoric merely confirm the theory, advanced by many, that the IAAF bid to ban the Russians is nothing but a play rooted in politics and, as well, public relations?
That the IAAF took the easy way out with the understanding that, per the checks and balances built into the international sport system, this court could then address the Russian grievance -- the IAAF knowing it could then proclaim it had been tough but got overruled by sport's judicial branch?
-- In a bid to remediate the ban, the IAAF established this policy:
"If there are any individual athletes who can clearly and convincingly show that they are not tainted by the Russian system because they have been outside the country, and subject to other, effective anti-doping systems, including effective drug-testing, then they should be able to apply for permission to compete in International Competitions, not for Russia but as a neutral athlete."
Remediation is a basic principle of law. When such a policy permits one or perhaps two of 68 to qualify, how is this sort of remediation in any way reasonable or fair?
— Mr. McLaren's report, commissioned by the World Anti-Doping Agency, alleges state ties in the wide-scale doping of Russian athletes, and across various sports.
The report suggests that such evidence rises to the level of “proof beyond a reasonable doubt.” Has any of that evidence been tested in a formal tribunal, in particular by cross-examination? If not, isn’t any claim of “proof beyond a reasonable doubt” empty?
— Mr. McLaren’s report says that he would have offered more evidence but he ran out of time. Is it a coincidence, or something more, that Monday, July 18, was an IOC deadline for “entry by name” to the 2016 Games? Is that why Mr. McLaren’s report came out that morning?
More: if Mr. McLaren wanted or needed more time, why didn’t he just take it and provide a more thorough inquiry?
— Mr. McLaren’s report offers literally no proof that Mr. Mutko authorized any of the alleged misconduct it details. Without such evidence, how can a broad-based sanction stand?
— Switching to technical matters, first the Olympic Charter.
Rule 27.3: the national Olympic committees hold “the exclusive authority for the representation of their respective countries at the Olympic Games.” Again, “exclusive.” That means, in this instance, the Russian Olympic Comnittee.
On what legal grounds does the IAAF, an international federation, assert it has the right to interfere with such exclusivity?
Back up to Rule 26.1.5. The IFs, the Charter says, “assume the responsibility for the control and direction of their sports at the Olympic Games.” Nowhere does that rule provide an IF any say over entries.
But Bylaw 2.1 to Rules 27 and 28 does: the NOCs “decide upon the entry of athletes proposed by their respective national federations.”
More on the same point:
Rule 40 says a “competitor” must “respect and comply with the Olympic Charter and World Anti-Doping Code.” The Russians assert they have been submitting to regular testing over the past several months.
Bylaw 1 to that rule says each IF “establishes its sport’s rules for participation in the Olympic Games, including qualification criteria, in accordance with the Olympic Charter.” Again, not entry.
When the Charter seeks to use the word “entry,” it does so. Rule 44 declares, “Only NOCs recognized by the IOC may submit entries for competitors in the Olympic Games.” Not an IF. And no note here about IF review of any entries.
Bylaw 4 to Rule 44:
“As a condition precedent to participation in the Olympic Games, every competitor shall comply with all the provisions of the Olympic Charter and the rules of the IF governing his sport. The NOC which enters the competitor is responsible for ensuring that such competitor is fully aware of and complies with the Olympic Charter and the World Anti-Doping Code.”
Rule 46 details the 'role of the IFs in relation to the Olympic Games." Bylaw 1.7:
“To enforce, under the authority of the IOC and the NOCs, the IOC’s rules in regard to the participation of competitors in the Olympic Games.”
To emphasize: doesn’t that plainly relegate an IF such as the IAAF to the secondary role of “enforcing” participation “under the authority” of the IOC and, in this instance, the Russian Olympic Committee?
— The World Anti-Doping Code, in Article 10, explicitly envisions sanction only when an individual athlete is tied to specific misconduct. How to jibe a broad ban with the Code?
— The Code, Article 11: “In sports which are not Team Sports but where awards are given to teams, Disqualification of other disciplinary action against the team when one or more team members have committed an anti-doping rule violation shall be as provided in the applicable rules of the International Federation.” How can the IAAF apply a broad ban to an entire “delegation” when the rules specifically call for sanction against a “team” such as a 4x100 relay?
— Again from Article 11: consequences against teams are premised on an “Event” or “Event Period’ such as the period of an Olympic Games. There is no “Event” here. How can a broad sanction against the entire Russian delegation, not a team, stand?
— The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency’s charge was, essentially, to be a contractor. When, exactly, did USADA — which has been lobbying furiously in the Russian matter — become a self-proclaimed Olympic movement “stakeholder”? And is that appropriate?
— Like USADA, the IAAF has said it broadly seeks to promote — to take from an IAAF news release — “clean athletes and sport justice.” Is it really here to protect “clean athletes”? Or to protect just the ones it wants to protect?
— Outside each and every U.S. Post Office flies an American flag. The U.S. Postal Service served for years as the primary sponsor of Lance Armstrong’s team during the Tour de France. USADA’s “Reasoned Decision” calls the Armstrong matter “a massive doping scheme, more extensive than any previously revealed in sports history.” What is the distinction between, on the one hand, sponsorship by an independent agency of the U.S. government and, on the other, what is alleged to have happened in Russia?
Cycling’s worldwide governing body, the UCI, did not move to ban the entire American cycling team. Yet the IAAF is seeking to ban the Russians.
The most important note from the compelling report released Monday in a World Anti-Doping Agency-commissioned inquiry into allegations of Russian doping is super-clear and, because of that, all the more striking: there is no recommendation about what, as Lenin might have put it, is to be done.
This means the door has, purposely, been left wide-open for Russian athletes to take part in the 2016 Rio Olympic Games. As they should.
To be clear:
The report, produced by respected Canadian law professor and anti-doping expert Richard McLaren, offers evidence that strongly — reiterate, strongly — suggests the involvement of the Russian state in promulgating a program designed to evade anti-doping controls.
Over its 103 pages, the report offers up a narrative of holes in walls, disappearing positives and more.
But — and this is the key — the report does not tie specific athletes to specific misconduct. At least yet. Without that, it fails law, ethics, morality and common sense to bar anyone from Rio.
The report also — and this is essential, too — asserts, and repeatedly, that the evidence it is offering up is “beyond a reasonable doubt.”
If only that were the case.
Instead, the report is rife with internal contradictions and more that demonstrate in a vivid fashion the glaring conflict in trying to ban anyone on these grounds.
In sum, the McLaren report amounts to a prosecutor’s brief. A solid salvo. He and his team deserve considered respect. And WADA deserves applause for commissioning his inquiry.
There has not yet been any sort of cross-examination, in a formal setting under oath, of considerable chunks of the evidence offered up in the report.
Thus calls for bans or more sparked by the McLaren report amount to howling from the mob. Not justice.
The Olympics are better than that.
The Olympics, at the core, are about fair play.
If the argument is that the Russians corrupted that ideal, the response is elemental: two wrongs do not make a right.
Neither the International Olympic Committee's policy-making executive board nor the Swiss-based Court of Arbitration for Sport -- both meeting this week to consider the Russians -- are obliged in any way, shape or form to dish out collective responsibility when every principle of fairness calls out for individual adjudication.
WADA, upon the release of the report, put out a statement urging that Olympic authorities “decline entries” from Russia for Rio. WADA is under intense geopolitical pressure. Such a statement is super-cool PR, enabling WADA to play CYA in advance of reviews from the IOC and CAS.
The close reader will also note the disclaimer in the “preamble” to the WADA statement, from president Craig Reedie. WADA, he expressly notes, “does not have the authority or remit in respect of entries to competitions.”
There are now two probable paths ahead:
One, the IOC president, Thomas Bach, has already done a deal in Russia to effect a ban for one Games. This would, among other things, serve as protection for the next major summertime sports event involving the Russians, the 2018 World Cup.
This seems unlikely.
Putin, in a statement put out Monday by the Kremlin, after noting the 1980s-era boycotts led by the United States of the Moscow Games and, then, in reprisal, by the Soviet Union in 1984 in Los Angeles:
“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.”
If you're going to ban Russia, you might want to ban Kenya while you're at it. Unlikely? If so, how is it remotely fair to ban Russia?
And this: eight years ago, literally during the 2008 Beijing Games, Russia and Georgia fought a brief war. If neither was kicked out of the Games then, and people were actually dying, the IOC would now take the step of implementing a ban (against Russia) because of -- allegations of doping?
Option Two, and far more likely:
The IOC board meeting Tuesday produces rhetoric but no more. CAS issues its decision later this week, perhaps Thursday. The IOC waits after that to “process” (pick your word) everything that’s going on. Then it waits a little bit more. The next thing you know, the IOC says it really needs more information, the sort McLaren makes plain that he has or has access to but has not yet himself processed and, oh, by the way, it’s now too late — see you in Rio, Russians.
One thing that has not been super-cool: the aggressive push from Travis Tygart, head of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, and others in the United States and Canada to keep the Russians out.
Their statement over the weekend, calling for a ban on the Russians, suggested — rightly or wrongly — that the McLaren report had been leaked to Tygart, and others, in advance. It had not.
Everyone gets the right, at least in the United States and Canada, to speak their mind. That’s not the issue. The issue is that actions lead to consequence. And — you can believe — many important and influential people in the broader sports movement are irritated, big time, and at Tygart in particular.
It’s not only that such banging-the-drum has not been helpful. Believe it — again — it actually has intensified the risk of seeing happen the exact opposite of what has been asked for.
You can like Putin, or not. Fear the Russian president. Loathe him. Respect him. Whatever. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that Putin is arguably on the top-three list of most important personalities in the Olympic movement. Putin matters. And Russia matters.
More from Putin in Monday’s statement:
“The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency and several anti-doping agencies in other countries, without waiting for the official publication of the World Anti-Doping Agency’s commission, have hastened to demand that the entire Russian team be banned from taking part in the Rio de Janeiro Olympics.
“What is behind this haste? Is it an attempt to create the needed media atmosphere and apply pressure? We have the impression that the USADA experts had access to what is an unpublished report and have set its tone and even its content themselves. If this is the case, one country’s national organization is again trying to dictate its will to the entire world sports community.”
Putin goes on to say:
“Russia is well aware of the Olympic movement’s immense significance and constructive force, and shares in full the Olympic movement’s values of mutual respect, solidarity, fairness and the spirit of friendship and cooperation.
“This is the only way to preserve the Olympic family’s unity and ensure international sport’s development in the interest of bringing people and cultures closer together. Russia is open to cooperation on achieving these noble goals.”
Make of that whatever you will. The important thing is that, unprompted, these last two paragraphs also found their way into the Kremlin release.
As Olivier Niggli, the new WADA director general, noted in the agency’s news release: “...senior Russian politicians have started to publicly acknowledge the existnce of longstanding doping practices in Russia, and have conceded that a significant culture change is required.
“The McLaren Report makes it ever more clear that such culture change needs to be cascaded from the very top in order to deliver the necessary reform that clean sport needs.”
That’s going to take time, and money. WADA needs way more than the $26 million a year it gets now, and any number of the roughly 200 nations in the world need to step up big time if the campaign against doping in sports is to become, truly, a priority.
In the meantime, there remains the pressing question: what is to be done?
Thomas Bach, the IOC president, observed a few days ago in an interview with Associated Press and other wire services:
“It is obvious that you cannot sanction or punish a badminton player for infringement of rules or manipulation by an official or lab director in the Winter Games,” the keen student noting that Reedie is a former badminton champion who went on to be president, in the 1980s, of the international badminton federation.
“What we have to do,” Bach said, “is to take decisions based on facts, and to find the right balance between collective responsibility and individual justice. The right to individual justice applies to every athlete in the world.”
Just to take one of many examples from within the McLaren report:
A graph, page 41, shows the number of “disappearing positives” in various sports.
The Russian synchronized swim team is a powerhouse. Is there any mention of synchro on that list? And yet the Russian synchro team should be banned? On what grounds?
Gymastics — where is “gymnastics” on that list? Answer: nowhere.
This is why — shortly after the release of Monday’s report — Bruno Grandi, president of FIG, the international gymnastics federation, put out a statement declaring that clean Russian gymnasts must be allowed to compete in Rio.
He said, ”The rights of every individual athlete must be respected. Participation at the Olympic Games is the highest goal of athletes who often sacrifice their entire youth to this aim. The right to participate at the Games cannot be stolen from an athlete, who has duly qualified and has not be found guilty of doping. Blanket bans have never been and will never be just."
Even McLaren himself, in the report, observes, at page 4, and “IP” in this context refers to McLaren, the “independent person” commissioned by WADA:
“The third paragraph of the IP’s mandate, identifying athletes who benefited from the manipulations, has not been the primary focus of the IP’s work. The IP investigative team has developed evidence identifying dozens of Russian athletes who appear to have been involved in doping. The compressed timeline of the IP investigation did not permit compilation of data to establish an antidoping rule violation. The time limitation required the IP to deem this part of the mandate of lesser priority. The IP concentrated on the other four directives of the mandate.”
Elsewhere, the report asserts, and repeatedly, that evidence rises to meet the law’s most demanding standard, that required for conviction of a criminal case in the United States, “beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Here, a refresher basic: that is for a jury or a tribunal to decide, not the investigator.
Assume, though, that everything in the report is dead-bang true. It's easy to point a finger at "the Russians." It's a little different to say -- more, to prove -- that Igor, or Sasha, or Svetlana, or whoever had his or her sample swapped. Even if you can prove that, does that mean Igor or Sasha was doping? Did he or she know the sample was being swapped?
At page 87 of the report, McLaren notes, "The Moscow Laboratory personnel did not have a choice in whether to be involved in the State-directed system."
By the same logic, did athletes in this system have a "choice" in alleged use of illicit performance-enhancing substances? The report, page 49, details the concoction of a doping cocktail -- the Russians called it "the Duchess" -- that consisted of the steroids oral-turinabol, oxandrolone and methasterone. These were dissolved in alcohol -- Chivas for the men, vermouth for the women -- and swished around the mouth for ready absorption.
It doesn't take much imagination to conjure up a situation in which a Russian coach approaches Igor, Sasha, whoever with a glass of the Duchess and says, more or less, "This is your treatment." In such a situation, would an individual athlete feel he or she had the "choice" to say no?
For sure, whatever is in the system is an athlete's responsibility. This is a fundamental premise of the anti-doping rules. But the rules also now expressly acknowledge that intent to cheat -- or not -- matters, too.
As for further specifics that cut to the credibility of what's at issue:
McLaren “did not seek to interview persons living within the Russian Federation. This includes government officials,” page 8. So the report is deliberately one-sided?
“I am aware,” McLaren writes at page 21 in reference to the principle witness, Dr. Gregoriy Rodchenkov, the former director of the Moscow lab, “that there are allegations made against him by various persons and institutional representatives. While that might impinge on his credibility in a broader context, I do not find that it does so in respect of this report.”
Of course broader allegations might significantly impinge on Rodchenkov’s credibility. That’s another basic. Putin goes on for an entire paragraph in his statement about such allegations. Yet these assertions are not explored in any detail? Moreover, just to play common sense — how is it that Rodchenkov finds himself now in Los Angeles? From what source or sources might he have money to, you know, pay rent and buy dinner?
At page 25-6: “The compressed time frame in which to compile this Report has left much of the possible evidence unreviewed. This Report has skimmed the surface of the data that is available or could be available. As I write this Report our task is incomplete.” By definition, “incomplete” means exactly the opposite of “beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Page 56, and a reference to the FSB, the Russian security service: “… it was not possible to fully determine the role of the FSB in sport and doping. The IP has only gained a glimpse into the FSB’s operations.” A “glimpse” does not make for proof beyond a reasonable doubt.
More of the same at page 59, referring to a specific FSB agent: “Were FSB [agent] Blokhin’s actions approved at the highest level of the FSB and the State? The IP cannot say.”
Without being able to say, there is a hole in this well-meaning report big enough to drive a truck through. About, oh, the size of the tunnel underneath the stadium in Rio from which the athletes enter for the opening ceremony.
See you there, Russian delegation. Behind your red, white and blue Russian flag.