USADA

Coleman case out because USADA doesn't do basic it demands of athletes: know the rules

Coleman case out because USADA doesn't do basic it demands of athletes: know the rules

It boggles the mind, truly, that the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency proved so inept, or something, that it moved Monday to announce it had “withdrawn” action against the world’s No. 1 sprinter, Christian Coleman. 

Was its official conduct negligent or more —was it reckless? Why the aggressive advocacy bordering — in recent months increasingly typical of the agency — on religious-style zealotry? Why the arrogance? 

How — seriously, how — could USADA not understand the rules? 

USADA’s basic mission, fundamentally before all else, is to understand the very rules that it says, time and again, over and over, that athletes must internalize, or else. 

And yet — because of USADA’s inability to understand the “whereabouts rules,” it very publicly brought a case against Coleman and, on Monday, embarrassingly — let’s be clear, embarrassingly, shamefully — dropped it.

Someone owes someone something, and before the very serious topic of money damages gets addressed, and that is a legitimate topic for discussion, because these past few weeks have been the height of the European professional track circuit, what there should be first is a very public apology, because — this was wrong.

Very, very wrong.

Frosty in PyeongChang

Frosty in PyeongChang

PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — Ryan Bailey is an American sprinter. 

He won a silver medal in the 4x100 relay at the London 2012 Summer Games. But he had to give it back because of teammate Tyson Gay’s doping conviction. Like many sprinters, Bailey then gave bobsled a go. Last January, Bailey tested positive himself for a stimulant in a case involving a dietary supplement called Weapon X. Based on a "light degree of fault,” a three-member American Arbitration Assn. panel gave him a mere six months off.

The United States Anti-Doping Agency appealed to the Swiss-based Court of Arbitration for Sport. In December, in a decision little noticed except in track and field and bobsled circles, in the arcane world of sports lawyering and of course in Ryan Bailey’s entourage, CAS slapped Bailey with two years — a signal to one and all not in the United States that anti-doping jurisprudence in the United States might well be considered, well, weak.

What in the world does this have to do with the CAS decision last Thursday to clear 28 Russians of doping at the Sochi 2014 Olympics? The prospect of an appeal from that decision to the Swiss Federal Tribunal? Tensions between the World Anti-Doping Agency, CAS and the International Olympic Committee? 

Pretty much nothing, and at the same time — it's a riff on everything.

 

On the Russians: the Olympics are about inclusion

On the Russians: the Olympics are about inclusion

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. 

An American story: dude had seven -- seven! -- substances in him

An American story: dude had seven -- seven! -- substances in him

If you saw “Icarus” and you are tempted to tsk, tsk about the Russians and re-fight the Cold War via proxy through the Olympics and international sport, remember, please, that karma has its own zen: the American way can gin up the most vivid details to rival any hole in anybody’s wall.

Kayle LeoGrande, the self-described “tattooed guy” who sparked the investigation that ultimately would bring down Lance Armstrong — the investigation that the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency would call “a massive team doping scheme, more extensive than any previously revealed in professional sports history” — that guy — just got tagged with his second doping strike — by USADA — with no less than seven — say that again, seven — not-allowed substances in him. 

Seven!

At one time!

A theater-of-the-absurd hearing in Congress

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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.”

It’s “skeleton.”

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.

Why?

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.

It’s complicated.

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.

Fair enough.

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.

Another view:

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:

https://twitter.com/lancearmstrong/status/71358750434402306

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.”

Easy:

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.

An imperfect compromise: IOC mostly gets it right

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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.

Russian president Vladimir Putin and IOC president Thomas Bach at the opening last June of the European Games in Azerbaijan // Getty Images

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.

To emphasize:

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.

Yulia Stepanova at the European championships earlier in July // Getty Images

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.”

Russia'Olympic committee president Alexander Zhukov at a meeting last week in Moscow // Getty Images

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.’ ”

Hurdles gold medal-winner Sergey Shubenkov at last year's track world championships in Beijing // Getty Images

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.”

Precisely.

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.

Oops.

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.

Choosing to be on the right side of history

The law of unintended consequences can be a horrible thing. Simply put, we don’t know what we don’t know.

If the Russians are kept out of the 2016 Olympics, what will be the import for sport? In politics? In global affairs? Don’t kid yourself. The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, can be deadly serious about a lot of things.

To be clear, this is a watershed moment in Olympic history. That’s why the International Olympic Committee needs to be on the right side of that history, and see that the Russians get to the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro.

The IOC president, Thomas Bach, at a meeting last month // IOC

There surely will be critics, loud and long.

But the right to be judged as an individual is central to everything the Olympic movement stands for.

At least in theory.

No question: Russia is a key player in the Olympic scene. Putin is arguably one of the three leading figures in international sport, along with International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach and, maybe, whoever is in charge of FIFA this week.

The Russians — unlike, for instance, the United States — have not only staged but helped to underwrite any number of significant recent events: the 2013 world track and field championships and Summer University Games, 2014 Winter Games and 2015 world swim championships. Not to mention any number of World Cups in any number of sports, winter and summer.

And, of course, they are due to stage the 2018 soccer World Cup.

Ordinarily, doping matters do not occasion news releases from the head of state, no matter where. Here, though, was Putin earlier this week, in a Kremlin statement, referring to the boycotts of the 1980 and 1984 Games:

“In short, people had their dreams broken and became hostages of political confrontation. The Olympic movement found itself in a serious crisis and faced divisions within. Later, some of the political figures of that era on both sides admitted that this had been a mistake.

“Today, we see a dangerous return to this policy of letting politics interfere with sport. Yes, this intervention takes different forms today, but the essence remains the same; to make sport an instrument for geopolitical pressure and use it to form a negative image of countries and peoples. The Olympic movement, which is a tremendous force for uniting humanity, once again could find itself on the brink of division.”

What happens if doping allegations keep the Russians out of Rio? No one knows.

Not much taken with the Russians? Just wait until the only places left to bid for major events are the Gulf States and, oh, Azerbaijan.

One thing we do know: the Russian matter has exposed the complete and utter hypocrisy from those who would ban athletes from an entire state without proven, reasoned, calm justification.

We know this, too, about Thursday’s decision by the Swiss-based Court of Arbitration for Sport: it is not, repeat not, the case that the Russians, even those on the track and field team, are absolutely out of Rio. The door is for sure open, as a close reading of the CAS matter makes plain.

This, too: the door is still open for Russians in other sports to take part in the Games, which begin Aug. 5, just two weeks away. Indeed, swimming’s international governing body, FINA, on Thursday put out a release saying it was “pleased” to “reveal” the “final entry list” for synchronized swimming at the 2016 Olympics. There on the list of eight teams, between Japan and Ukraine: Russia.

What we do not know is what the IOC, its policy-making executive board due to meet Sunday, is going to do in the aftermath of the CAS ruling, and amid extraordinary scrutiny.

At issue are arguments on both sides.

But the more compelling argument is in favor of the Russians.

That may be a super-unpopular position —especially in the west, and in particular the United States, Canada and Great Britain, where the mainstream media has largely been riding a nouveau Cold War-style rush to judgment.

But it’s true.

And for that core reason:

The Olympics are about fair play.

Everyone — repeat, everyone — deserves to be judged individually. That is the essence of fairness.

On Thursday, for instance, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency announced that Nataliya Lehonkova, 33, a track and field athlete from Ukraine, had tested positive in February for meldonium after taking it last August and November — but would not face sanction based on guidelines issued June 30 by the World Anti-Doping Agency.

She got judged individually.

Last week, USADA announced it was not going to levy sanction in the matter of an 18-year-old American gymnast, Kristen Shaldybin, of Highwood, Illinois, who tested positive June 7 for a prohibited diuretic. Why? Because it was in tap water that ran through the municipal water supply.

She got judged individually.

Remember, as Sting said, if in a very different context, the Russians love their children, too. The Russians are human beings. Just like you and me. That essential dignity deserves not just to be recognized but honored. That is the Olympic ideal.

For those who believe that what’s at stake is the honor and integrity of the Olympic movement,  check.

The arguments in favor of a wholesale Russian ban go like this:

One, banning the Russians means being on the side of "clean" athletes.

No, it doesn't. The authorities can't prove that anyone is "clean" any more than they can prove that the 68 Russians are collectively dirty. Marion Jones passed hundreds of doping tests. So did Lance Armstrong. Moreover, there's a strong element of intent associated now with the anti-doping rules, and notions such as "choice" can be subject to varying interpretation in different parts of our world. Maybe even in Russia.

Two, the McLaren Report offers evidence of state-sponsored doping. If ever a state deserved to be sanctioned, it’s now and that state is Russia. Yes, there will be collateral damage — in particular the 68 athletes on the track and field team. Sorry, you 68, about that.

That’s not the way any reasonable, rational or logical system of law, ethics, morality or policy works.

At least one of which we can be proud.

And for many, many reasons.

To begin:

In what context, primarily, does the phrase “collateral damage” assume its most significant meaning? War, of course. The Olympics are about promoting peace.

In the 100 year-plus history of the modern Olympic movement, a state has been kept away (or the Games canceled) for only three reasons: war, apartheid and the subjugation of women. Who wants to make the case that doping — no matter how serious — rises to the station of war, or apartheid, or the diminishment of an entire class of human beings?

The evidence in the case against Russia is based on allegation. Again, the entire case against Russia right now is based on allegation only. Are those allegations extraordinarily suggestive? Yes. Are they more likely than not true? Could well be. But have they been tested in a formal setting, under oath, subject to cross-examination? Not at all. Without that — without due process and, especially, the crucible of cross-examination — it’s unfair in the extreme to proceed with broad sanction.

-- The pole vault champion Yelena Isinbayeva Thursday, after the CAS decision, decrying "pseudo-gold medals." The last sentence, before the emoji string, says, "Power is always feared." --

The Russians can and should be held to the most rigorous standard. But so should everyone.

If you think Russia is the only nation in the world where you could allege state-sponsored doping — call me immediately, because I have a beautiful bridge in Brooklyn I would be delighted to sell.

The United States is the only country in the world where Olympic sport is not an arm of a federal ministry. Just three years ago, Turkey suspended 40 track and field athletes for doping, 20 of whom were under age 23. Because there has been no formal inquiry like the McLaren Report into Turkey, Turkey is in the clear but Russia is under the gun? What if adequately funded investigators were sent into — pick any one — Kenya, Ethiopia, China or Jamaica?

To be clear: that the United States does not operate a ministry of sport hardly excuses American athletes and their record over the years. See, again, Armstrong and Jones. And others.

To which the immediate response is: yes, but the Russians are (allegedly) state-sponsored! OK. Take off those red, white and blue American goggles. Now put on the red, white and blue Russian ones. For years, the U.S. Postal Service, an independent arm of the United States government, underwrote the Armstrong team. Now draw a meaningful distinction — go ahead, still waiting — between what is alleged in Russia and what has been proven in the United States in regard to Armstrong’s massive doping conspiracy and cover-up.

Perspective matters. A lot. Like due process and cross-examination.

The CAS ruling Thursday was decided on what lawyers would call narrow grounds, reference to a section of Rule 22 issued by track and field’s worldwide governing body, the International Association of Athletics Federations.

To be fair, international federations have to be able to approve and exert some degree of control over their member federations. No quarrel there.

But even in confirming that athletes whose national federations are suspended by the IAAF are ineligible for competitions held under IAAF rules, the CAS panel made plain the way out for the IOC — should it so choose.

Which, of course, it should.

First, the CAS panel explicitly noted that the IOC was not a party to the matter. Thus, the sport court said, it had “no jurisdiction” to decide whether the IOC could accept or decline Russian track and field athletes.

In practical terms, this amounts to blinking red lights and screaming sirens at a train crossing — it says, pay attention, because we just told you it’s OK to take the Russians even if we didn’t explicitly say so.

This is in line, and not coincidentally, with the position taken by the Association of Summer Olympic International Federations, which on Tuesday put out a statement that said, in part, “It is important to focus on the need for individual justice in all these cases and ASOIF endorses all IF decisions, including those that take into account collective responsibility of organizations under the IFs' governance.”

Next, the IAAF, recognizing that a wholesale ban could prove problematic, to say the least, sought June 17 to give the 68 Russians a path to Rio: prove a) “clearly and convincingly” that b) you were outside the country and c) subject to effective controls, then d) you could apply to compete but e) only as a “neutral” athlete.

So: not only did you have to be outside Russian jurisdiction, you also had to meet standards for being tested at a level comparable to your competition but without being told what those standards are. Who to look at? Who are your competitors? If you’re ranked 11th, who? Numbers 1, 2 and 3? Or numbers 8, 9 and 10? Someone else?

Let’s say we’re talking distance running. Now your competitors, for the sake of argument, might be Ethiopian and Kenyan. Hello?

What if you are a sprinter? The Jamaicans? The Americans? Jimmy Vicault, who is French?

What about any of that is fair?

Neutral athletes? What, Russians who “clearly and convincingly” could so prove are going to line up in Rio as a “neutral” nation, marching in the opening ceremony just in front of, say, Norway, their newly designed flag depicting a syringe with a big red X on it?

Would “Neutral” fans have to show up the stadium dressed only in gray?

Would those fans shout: “Go Neutral! Go Neutral!” Just like “U-S-A! U-S-A!” Or, “Aussie-Aussie-Aussie oi-oi-oi!”

Absurd.

So absurd that, in practice, only two of 68 Russians have been able to meet the IAAF conditions.

Accordingly, the CAS panel said it was “concerned” about the “immediate application with retroactive effect” of the IAAF’s June 17 policy, explaining: “Since such Rule invokes criteria based on long-term prior activity, it left no possibility in practice, and as applied, for the Claimant Athletes,” the Russians, “to be able to try to comply with them.”

Back to keeping-it-simple talk: “concerned” in legalese translates to “this is wrong, people.”

Essentially, it is super-unfair.

Which leads directly back to the central proposition:

The three core Olympic values are respect, excellence and friendship, all of which point toward fair play and the recognition that every single person in our broken world deserves to be accepted as an individual and, moreover, measured by his or her own conduct.

Anything less is a gross violation of the Olympic spirit, and on the wrong side of history.

And being on the wrong side, as history teaches, is very, very likely to provoke a whole host of unintended consequences.

CAS: Could, should, even might have been asked

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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.

If only.

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.

A photo posted by Yelena (@isinbaevayelena) on

-- 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?

IAAF president Seb Coe, here at the European championships earlier this month, attended Monday's CAS hearing // Getty Images

-- 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.

Really?

#Followthesun, and other hot (maybe) takes

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-- In advance of the publication in the coming days of highly technical planning details, it’s far-more-interesting logo-unveil time in the 2024 Summer Olympic bid game. Paris, for instance, came out a few days ago with a stylized Eiffel Tower. On Tuesday,  Los Angeles unveiled its logo and the tagline, “Follow the sun.” Reaction: let’s be honest here and admit that logos and slogans rarely play a huge role come voting time, with the exception perhaps of the incredibly on-point Pyeongchang 2018 tag, “New Horizons.”

The LA24 logo

The Paris logo

Mayor Eric Garcetti, left, with swim star Janet Evans and others applauding for LA24 bid leader Casey Wasserman

Following the sun: the wow factor from the 30th floor, looking west

At issue in this 2024 campaign is nothing less the fundamental direction of the Olympic movement: whether the International Olympic Committee is prepared to take LA mayor Eric Garcetti and bid leader Casey Wasserman up on what they said Tuesday to a fired-up crowd on the 30th floor of a downtown skyscraper, the sun setting gloriously to the west. The mayor: “Imagination is critical because it leads to hope. Hope leads to dreams. Dreams lead to innovation. That is the story of our city.” Wasserman said a "sense of relentless reinvention and new beginnings” anchor “LA2024’s distinctive value proposition for the good of the Games and the Olympic movement,” a bid with 97 percent of the venues already in place or planned (canoe slalom still to be figured out).

Let’s be honest some more, because at some point there has to be plain talk about this campaign, and it ought to start now, even though the vote isn’t until 2017 and lots can, and will happen. Right now, Europe — pretty much all of it — is a big question mark. As former U.S. treasury secretary Lawrence Summers wrote in Tuesday’s Washington Post, “These are difficult times in Europe with the refugee crisis, economic weakness, security issues and the rise of populist movements.” There’s LA, and then there’s Paris, Rome and Budapest. This campaign will doubtlessly feature any number of references to Paris mounting a fourth bid. At the same time, it needs to be understood that the LA effort is not just an LA, or SoCal, thing; it is America’s third bid, after New York in 2005 for 2012, Chicago in 2009 for 2016.

Straight talk, continued: logic and common sense say the IOC can hardly run the risk of turning down the three biggest cities in the United States in succession. (Of course, it can do so, and an IOC election can typically prove volatile.) But if LA does not win for 2024, it would be exceptionally problematic — and that is putting it gently — for LA to come back for 2028, or to see any other American city step up. It takes millions of dollars to run a bid, and in the United States that money has to be privately raised. The money is here and now for LA24. Imagine a 2024 loss — and then Wasserman going back to all those he hit up for $1 million apiece and saying, looking at 2028, something like, oh, well, now the IOC is going to treat us fairly. Not going to happen. The time is now.

-- IOC president Thomas Bach was in LA earlier this month, making the rounds after prior visits to Paris, Rome and Budapest, the other cities in the 2024 race. Bach then went up to Silicon Valley for talks.

Reaction: so curious that the far more important purpose of Bach’s California trip, the excursion to Silicon Valley, drew  minimal press attention. He met with representatives of Visa, Facebook, Twitter and Google, among others. The IOC needs big-time help in reaching out to young people; it is focused in particular on the launch of the Olympic Channel. If you’re an IOC member, looking at that line-up in California, and there’s a California bid, doesn’t that too comport with logic and common sense?

IOC president Thomas Bach, center, at Google HQ // photo IOC

-- One more LA note. The U.S. Olympic Trials for the marathon went down Saturday on a course that wound around downtown and the University of Southern California campus. Galen Rupp won on the men’s side. Many in the running press (there is such a thing) immediately pointed to the possibility of Rupp, silver medalist in the 10k in London in 2012, running both the 10k and the marathon in Rio.

Reaction: let’s wait to see what the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency has to say in the coming months, if anything, about Rupp and his coach, Alberto Salazar. As Kara Goucher, the women’s fourth-place finisher, said after the race, "Justice is coming."

Kara Goucher near the finish of Saturday's U.S. marathon Trials // Getty Images

-- Speaking of the IOC’s purported youth outreach: the Winter Youth Olympic Games in Lillehammer are on.

Reaction: did you notice? Did anyone — like, any teens or 20-somethings? The very best part about the YOG experiment is the Young Reporters program, which has produced a number of promising young stars. There’s also an argument that the Youth Games serve as a petri dish of sorts, allowing the IOC and, perhaps more important, the international sports federations to check out without real peril events such as skateboarding (Nanjing YOG, 2014) and, now in Lillehammer, parkour. Fine. But that’s not the point of YOG, expressed by former IOC president Jacques Rogge in launching it. It’s to connect meaningfully with young people. How’s that going?

-- Speaking of a way that actually works in reaching young people: kudos to organizers, and especially the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Assn., for the Big Air event a few days ago at Boston's Fenway Park. It featured jumps and tricks off a 140-foot ramp set up on the field at the iconic baseball stadium.

Reaction: terrific idea, terrific execution. Great stuff, especially on TV.

Women's winner Julia Marino, 18, of Westport, Conn., during the Big Air event at Fenway Park // Getty Images

-- USA Swimming announces a contract extension, through the end of 2020, for executive director Chuck Wielgus.

Chuck Wielgus // photo USA Swimming

Reaction: USA Swimming is one of a handful of well-run national governing bodies, and that is in significant measure due to Wielgus, who is a fundamentally decent human being. Anyone who knows USA Swimming knows Wielgus has wrestled for years now with cancer; he deserves widespread admiration and respect for the soft-spoken courage he has repeatedly shown in public in dealing with significant medical issues. Switching gears: the well-publicized challenges sparked by sexual abuse of young swimmers are not — repeat, not — Chuck Wielgus’ fault. Six years ago, in particular in regard to the comments he made on an ABC 20/20 investigation, was Wielgus at his best when he said he didn’t feel the need to apologize? No. Does an 18-year tenure deserve to be judged by one moment? No. And, now, USA Swimming is way ahead of the curve with its SafeSport program. If you want to criticize Wielgus, he deserves credit, too, for realizing, perhaps belatedly, what was wrong and helping to craft an industry-standard response. What should be Wielgus’ next goal: effecting fundamental change in the USA Swimming governance structure. Simply, the board of directors has too many people; it’s too big and unwieldy. Better for USA Swimming to do what it does best, and be a leader in the field, meaning slim down the board, before something happens — whatever that might be — to compel change under pressure.

-- Michael Phelps shows up in a swim brief and has fun with the Arizona State basketball-game "Curtain of Distraction."

Phelps doing his thing at the ASU basketball game // screenshot Pac-12 network

Reaction: you can just tell the guy is happy. Which means: watch out, world. Prediction, absent a huge surprise at the U.S. Trials: five Rio gold medals (200 IM, 200 butterfly, 100 fly, 800 relay, medley relay), and that is no knock on his friend and rival, Ryan Lochte. As long as Lochte continues to pursue the 200 backstroke — at the Olympics, the 200 back final goes down before the 200 IM final on the same night — it’s a lot to ask, particularly of the legs, to go for gold in the 200 IM, too. As for the butterfly events, Chad le Clos of South Africa is a major talent. But in saying last summer after winning the 100 fly at the world championships (Phelps did not swim at the 2015 worlds) that Phelps could “keep quiet now,” le Clos awoke the tiger, and probably foolishly. Phelps has always done best when someone goes and trash talks — ask, in sequence, Ian Thorpe, Ian Crocker and, of course, Milorad Cavic. The x factor for Phelps in Rio: the 400 free relay, one of the signature moments at the Beijing 2008 Games, when Jason Lezak turned in an otherworldly last leg to beat Alain Bernard and the French. For the past couple years, the French have been the world’s best in that event, and it’s not clear, at least yet, that even with Phelps the U.S. has what it takes.

-- The Zika virus takes over the Olympic news cycle, and U.S. soccer women’s national team goalie Hope Solo, among others, expresses concern about being part of it all in Rio.

Prediction: Solo goes to Rio.

-- Two former officials with the Russian anti-doping agency, which goes by the acronym RUSADA, die within two weeks. Founding chairman Vyacheslav Sinev, who left RUSADA in 2010, died Feb. 3. Then this past Sunday, Feb. 14, the former RUSADA executive director Nikita Kamaev, died, just 52, of a “massive heart attack,” the agency said. Kamaev had resigned just two months ago, amid the doping scandal that sparked suspension of the Russian track and field program. That scandal is tied, in part, to a November report from a World Anti-Doping Agency commission that suggested state-sponsored doping. On Feb. 11, three days before Kamaev’s death, the Russian prosecutor-general’s office (predictably) rejected the WADA commission report, saying it held no concrete facts proving state-sponsored doping.

Reaction: it's like a Russian novel, full of twists and turns and who knows what. For that matter: who knows, really, what is believed to be real in Russia, and what is not? This prediction, though: like Hope Solo, the Russian track and field team will be in Rio. The IOC is super-big on a concept called “universality,” which means everyone in the entire world coming together. It’s actually a fundamental rationale for the Games. Given that, how possibly can officials — in particular track and field’s international governing body, the IAAF, or more, the IOC — keep the Russian track and field team away? Also: who really wants to challenge Vladimir Putin, given the potential for many uncertain ramifications?

-- U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia dies over the weekend at a ranch in Texas.

Former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia // Getty Images

Chuck Blazer, once a senior soccer executive // Getty Images

U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch on the FIFA matter last December in Washington // Getty Images

Reaction: what might that have to do with sports? Turn to a case called Crawford vs. Washington, decided in 2004. The 6th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution says that in a criminal case, the defendant “shall enjoy the right … to be confronted with the witnesses against him.” What does that mean when someone makes a “testimonial” statement out-of-court but doesn’t (that is, can’t, for instance because of illness, or won’t, because of the assertion of privilege) testify in court itself? Writing for a unanimous 9-0 court, Scalia said the “testimonial” statement can’t be admitted as evidence — unless the defendant had a prior opportunity to cross-examine the person who made that statement.

So, again: sports? The U.S. Department of Justice inquiry into corruption at FIFA centers on Chuck Blazer, the American who was formerly a high-ranking soccer-world executive. Blazer reportedly has been ill for years with colon cancer. What if he dies before any trial? Would anything he had to say be admissible? For that matter, U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch has already been prominently mentioned as a potential Scalia replacement. Would the Justice Department be so interested in aggressively pursuing soccer stuff if someone else took over?

Who knew what, when? And what is to be done?

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The World Anti-Doping Agency-commissioned report that shines a long-overdue spotlight on Russian doping in track and field begs a question in Russian history. As Lenin himself wrote in the famous pamphlet published in 1902: what is to be done? At the same time, and though the report, released Monday, has little to nothing to do with the United States, a bit of political history from the American archives is worth noting, too. From the Watergate years: who knew what, and when?

Make no mistake.

On the surface, this report is about track and field.

Not really.

This is about the intersection of sport and politics, indeed domestic and geopolitics at its highest, most complex, indeed most nuanced levels. Its roots are in the way countries can, and do, lean on sports to advance nationalistic agendas of all sorts.

The WADA-appointed three-member Independent Commission upon the release of the report Monday in Geneva: Canadian lawyer and professor Richard McLaren, former WADA president Richard Pound and German law enforcement official Guenter Younger // photo Getty Images

The report is lengthy, more than 300 pages.

Much like the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency’s “Reasoned Decision” in the Lance Armstrong matter, made public in 2012, and for the same reason, it reads like a John le Carré spy novel.

That reason: it’s designed not just for insiders but for everyone.

The report is rich with Olympics 101, spelling out the acronym- and influence-rich scene, explaining who is who and what is what — for instance, on page 88, the helpful note that “stacking” means mixing oral steroids with injectable drugs.

In sum, this is what the report says:

— Corrupt state-funded agencies helped Russian athletes to dope and evade detection. These include the Russian athletics federation, which goes by the initials ARAF; the WADA-accredited testing laboratory in Moscow; and RUSADA, the Russian anti-doping agency.

— The successor to the KGB secret service, the FSB intelligence agency, oversaw the lab and embedded spies at the 2014 Sochi Games, according to witnesses.

— The Russian sports ministry exerted influence on the Moscow lab, issuing orders for athletes’ samples to be manipulated. There was a second, secret lab in Moscow; there, samples — blood and urine — would be pre-screened to identify clear ones for the WADA process.

— Finally, athletes would also get false identities to travel abroad to evade possible testing.

The first question in wondering what is to be done is to ask: if the scale of Russian doping was this monumental, evoking comparisons to the notorious East German regime in the 1970s, how did it take until now to get uncovered?

Answer:

It’s not as if certain people didn’t at the least have strong suspicions. They just couldn’t prove anything.

You don’t just stroll into Russia and go, hey, I have some questions for you — buy you a coffee and we’ll chat?

The report makes manifestly plain the lengths to which athletes, coaches, trainers and more sought to evade the providing of answers.

Further, the international sports movement moves in English. Russia does not.

Beyond that, to secure proof you need either cooperation or, to use a word, leverage. That leverage usually means action from the public authorities, police and prosecutors, who can demand answers at the risk of jail time or financial ruin.

This is what’s happening in France, where Interpol, the international police agency, is based, and where Part II of all of this is due to drop later this year. Last week, the French authorities said they had put under criminal investigation Lamine Diack of Senegal, the former president of track’s international governing body, the IAAF, on suspicion of corruption and money laundering. At issue are allegations Diack accepted more than $1 million in bribes to allow at least six Russian athletes to compete, including at the London 2012 Olympics.

Also under investigation are Diack’s legal adviser, Habib Cisse, and the former head of the IAAF anti-doping department, Gabriel Dollé.

Sports agencies do not wield subpoena power. And those who seek to enforce the rules of fair play have not always found easy sledding.

WADA is now 16 years old. As Monday’s report notes, “WADA continues to face a recalcitrant attitude on the part of many stakeholders that it is merely a service provider and not a regulator.”

The report actually underscores a fundamental flaw in the way, big picture, international sports work. There typically is no check-and-balance within the system.

The only reliable check is good journalism, and kudos here to Hajo Seppelt and the team from the German broadcaster ARD for the documentary last year that led to the WADA-appointed commission, and this report.

Reality: far too often, Olympic and international sports officials treat journalists with that pair of favorites, skepticism and derision. This week’s international federations forum at the IOC base in Lausanne, Switzerland — closed to the press.

Why?

Maybe because far too many are afraid of — the truth? And having it reported?

Earlier this year, Marius Vizer, the president of the International Judo Federation and at the time of SportAccord, said at the SportAccord convention, referring to Diack, “I dedicate and I sacrifice my family for sport, I mean sacrifice in a way of dedication, and in my eyes [Diack is] a person who sacrifices sport for his family."

Quickly, many others in the so-called Olympic family turned on Vizer. He lost the SportAccord job.

Time has now seemingly proven him right. So why were so many in senior positions so uneasy at hearing what Vizer had to say? Why was he so ostracized?

And what else -- beyond FIFA -- might be out there?

At any rate, and moving on to the rocks-and-glass houses department for those who think doping in sports is a Russia-only problem:

Cheating is never going to go away. There will always be doping. That's human nature.

From the WADA-appointed report: “… in  its considered view, Russia is not the only country, nor athletics the only sport, facing the problem of orchestrated doping in sport."

Just consider what the United States has been through in recent years: Marion Jones and BALCO, MLB’s steroid problem, Armstrong.

Here, though, is the key difference:

There is no federal sports ministry in the United States.

Dick Pound, the longtime Canadian IOC member and former WADA boss who headed the commission that produced Monday’s report, called what happened with regard to Russian track and field “state-supported.”

He said, “I don’t think there's any other possible conclusion. It may be a residue of the old Soviet Union system."

The report: “While written evidence of governmental involvement has not been produced, it would be naive in the extreme to conclude that activities on the scale discovered could have occurred without the explicit or tacit approval of Russian governmental authorities.”

This is where things get really interesting.

In the Olympic sphere, Russia is arguably the most important country in the world.

The short list why:

The $51 billion that went toward the 2014 Sochi Games. Hosting of the 2013 world track and field championships in Moscow, and the 2015 world swim championships in Kazan. The 2018 World Cup. The 2015 SportAccord convention, back in Sochi. And more.

Dmitry Medvedev, right, now the Russian prime minister, and sports minister Vitaly Mutko at the 2015 world swim championships in Kazan // Getty Images

Without question, the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, is one of the top five most influential personalities in world sport.

That short list:

Thomas Bach, the IOC president; Putin; the FIFA president, whoever that might be; Sheikh Ahmad al-Fahad al-Sabah, president of the Assn. of National Olympic Committees and a member of the FIFA executive committee; and Sebastian Coe, the recently elected head of the IAAF.

Why Putin?

When Bach was elected IOC president, in September 2013, it’s wise to remember, the very first phone call he took was from Putin.

The chairman of the 2022 IOC Winter Games evaluation commission? Alexander Zhukov, the head of the Russian Olympic committee.

There can be zero question that, as in the Cold War days, Putin is using sport — and its prestige — to advance his reputation and his nation’s standing, both domestically and geopolitically.

Either that, or you think that hosting the Winter Games, the swim and track championships and the World Cup are all just because Russia and Putin are just good sports.

So, mindful that the FSB was in on the deal, and that control in state-directed Russia can be everything, how far up the chain did the activities detailed in Monday’s report go?

Is it believable that Vitaly Mutko, the sports minister, really didn’t know?

Mutko reports to Putin. Really, neither knew?

Referring to Mutko, Pound said Monday he believes it was “not possible for him to be unaware of it.” And if he was aware, “he was complicit in it.”

Consider:

After the 2010 Vancouver Games, where Russian athletes won only three gold medals, the-then Russian president, Dmitry Medvedev, made a point of declaring that a raft of sports ministry officials ought to hand in their resignations, or be fired. The resignations ensued.

Medvedev, who segued back to prime minister after Putin took over the presidency again in 2012, also observed that Russia "has lost the old Soviet school ... and we haven't created our own school -- despite the fact that the amount of money that is invested in sport is unprecedentedly high."

Mutko, who has been an ally of Putin’s for years, survived.

The Russians then won the medals count in Sochi, with 33, and the most golds, 13.

A reasonable question: how did that happen?

Pound on Monday: “I don’t think we can be confident there was no manipulation” of doping tests at the 2014 Winter Games.

Monday’s report says the 2012 London Games were “in a sense, sabotaged” because athletes ran who shouldn’t have, because they were dirty. The report targets five Russian runners for lifetime bans. Among them: the London 2012 800 gold and bronze winners, Mariya Savinova-Farnosova and Ekaterina Poistogova.

They got to compete, the report said, because of the “collapse of the anti-doping system,” blaming RUSADA, ARAF and, lastly, the IAAF.

The report recommends that Russia be suspended until there is compliance with the World Anti-Doping Code.

Travis Tygart, the head of USADA, went hard Monday, saying in a statement that the “evidence released today demonstrates a shocking level of corruption,” adding, “If Russia has created an organized scheme of state-supported doping, then they have no business being allowed to compete on the world stage.”

Late in the day, Mutko's sports ministry put out a statement that said, "We are not surprised by most of the points in the report." It declared "we have undertaken measures to remedy the situation, including the appointment of a new ARAF president and head coach. It then turned on the IAAF, saying the ministry "is waiting for such measures from IAAF, where the new president also has zero-tolerance for doping."

Coe took over for Diack in August. On Monday, the IAAF issued a statement saying it would consider appropriate sanctions; such measures could mean no Russian track and field athletes at next year’s Rio Olympics; the Russians have until the end of the week to respond.

“The allegations are alarming,” Coe said. “These are dark days.”

Perhaps, then, that is what is to be done: no Russians in track and field in Rio.

Russian president Vladimir Putin, left, listens in as Russian pole vault champion and Sochi 2014 Olympic village mayor Yelena Isinbayeva, center, whispers during a visit to the Olympic village at the 2014 Sochi Games // Getty Images

Consider: Yelena Isinbayeva, the pole-vault diva and two-time (2004, 2008) gold medalist, the IOC Youth Olympic Games ambassador and Sochi Games Olympic Village mayor herself, would not get one more chance for gold.

Or perhaps Mr. Putin might not like that idea of no Russians in Rio, might not like at all the notion that Isinbayeva, a favorite, might not get the chance for a third Olympic gold.

And where would that lead?

What will be done? Who knows? Who thinks that sports and politics are, truly, separate?

We are living, in real time, in history.