Sports or Politics?

Another international sporting event, the European Indoor Athletics Championships, drew to a successful close at Kombank Arena, Belgrade, Serbia yesterday. Yet the issue of doping of world class athletes remains unresolved.

Despite the fact that the global anti-doping regulator seems to be singularly targeting his country’s athletes, the Russian President has, in this first week of March, expressed respect for the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). Vladimir Putin said: We must pay heed to its work and its results, and to WADA’s demands, because we need to acknowledge that there are established and identified cases of doping here, and this is a totally unacceptable situation. Putin uttered those words in Krasnoyarsk, the city in eastern Siberia scheduled to host the 2019 University Games. The Russian president’s latest remarks show a reconciliatory mood while Krasnoyarsk’s hosting of the world’s top youth sports championship indicate Russia’s commitment to promoting world class athletics.

At the same time Putin’s remarks indicated a potential legal strategy for all those Russian athletes having to defend themselves in sports doping prosecutions. In particular, the Russian president referring to the controversial custody of his country’s athletes’ urine samples, mentioned: When we provided the test samples, there were no complains … If there was a problem with scratches of whatever kind, this should have been noted in the relevant reports, but there was nothing of this sort. In other words, these samples were stored somewhere, and we cannot be held responsible for the storage conditions. The bunch of glass bottles of Russian athletes urine samples, the Russian president was referring to, were taken from the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. These urine sample glass bottles were considered to be tamper-proof before last year’s scandal. They have been under the International Olympic Committee (IOC) custody secured in a Swiss laboratory for the past three years.

Obviously there is a controversy as to who tampered with the Russian Olympians’ urine samples. Nevertheless, the IOC launched disciplinary proceedings for doping against twenty eight Russian athletes who competed in Sochi.

In December 2016, Richard McLaren, a Canadian lawyer, led a team which concluded that 1000 Russian athletes were involved in a state-sponsored doping programme. In his last week’s remarks, Vladimir Putin cast doubt on the McLaren report’s findings submitted to IOC officials, referring to “inaccurate translations or inadequate evidence”.

Nevertheless, the Russian president largely acknowledged his country’s institutional failures admitting that our existing anti-doping monitoring system has not worked effectively, and this is our fault, and is something we need to admit and address directly.

Putin has been frank enough to admit Russia’s faults publicly and to acknowledge the need to rectify his country’s failures. In the international sports context, the question that naturally arises is the following: are the big sports powers in the rest of the world, for example the US, the UK or Germany equally scrutinized by the IOC?