‘A bad conscience is easier to cope with than a bad reputation.’
It’s the common mistake when it comes to mob mentality, and this has been no different. All week, in the frenzied clamour to vilify Russia and have them removed from the Olympics, few have bothered to draw breath and take a step back. Of course far beyond just track and field, the country should play no part over the coming weeks but while that’s an important stepping out of sparks that have been spat onto the carpet, the real issue is the wildfire making its way down the hillside.
Russia may seem like the big picture when you’re up so close, but what Richard McLaren’s report has shown is something even more concerning than the state-sponsored doping implemented by the host nation around the Sochi Games in 2014 and far beyond. That’s because it’s also re-enforced the notion that the World Anti-Doping Agency is not fit for purpose, that this is a smokescreen to project the idea of a battle being won, and that in reality and in its current format anti-doping has actually lost the war.
For sure, kicking out Russia is necessary and the IOC will discuss the matter today, with a decision promised by Wednesday, but that’s a short-term fix that avoids inherent issues again belched up.
On Monday, when McLaren announced his findings, there was a rush to congratulate Wada. Not many however rushed back through the clippings as, if they had, they’d have found troublesome quotes from its president Craig Reedie. Also an IOC member in a huge conflict of interest, in 2014 he could be found praising Russia’s anti-doping efforts and suggesting the nation was taking strides. “I always tried to be a glass-half-full man,” he said. It was a comical statement given Russia’s phantom lab was actually passing full glasses of urine through a hole in the wall, where tainted urine was replaced. Thus Reedie’s comments cannot have been made safe in the knowledge nothing was wrong, making they were propaganda plastering over ineptitude.
And still no one should be surprised. A little over a year earlier, in late 2012, London discus silver-medalist Darya Pishchalnikova contacted Wada, admitting her own cheating and the part her own authorities played while pleading to assist in a crackdown. The email was forwarded urgently to those high up in Wada but their response was worse than inaction. Instead they unethically and dangerously passed her email back to Russia’s own officials and kept on living the lie.
The headlines now are about state-sponsored doping, but Wada’s choices assured they sponsored this too and little wonder when you consider their decision-making arm is made up of representatives from governments and the Olympic movement. Would you hand yourself in for a crime? Indeed the obvious answer made Olympic Council of Ireland President Pat Hickey’s rubbishing of the McLaren Report disturbingly shrewd in a realm of self-protectionism and self-gain.
For anyone who has followed sport for any length of time, there’s been a perception that something was not quite right with Russia. Those looking in knew as much, and it seems many already on the inside knew plenty as well. Yet whistle-blowers and logic could not convince Wada to act, and in the end it took journalist Hajo Seppelt’s investigation to push them off the cliff. Now they are back-slapping simply because they’ve hit the ground.
What the Russia debacle has told us is that along with the technology to open the tamper-proof urine vials, a hole in the wall is what it takes to beat anti-doping. The science to catch dopers of course needs work, but it isn’t nearly the biggest issue. Instead, the inability of the authorities to use the tools at their disposal is the largest enabler of cheats today. That’s only half the problem however as this is a case of law and order. Once you’ve caught the doper you’ve to impose a severe punishment as, if not, you might as well not have caught them to begin with.
That made the Court of Arbitration’s decision to uphold the ban on Russian track-and-field athletes crucial but even more important is that other sports follow this lead. The disincentive to dope is firstly the risk of being caught and secondly the sanction, and it’s bad enough that the risk of catching cheats is low but, if other Russian sports get off, then the risk of punishment is low too. That would raise the question of why do we even have anti-doping?
And still that query lingers as this has again proven the system is geared for failure. All we have seen over the last two years is organisations from Wada itself to the IOC to the IAAF and on to UK, US and Irish bodies saying they are shocked by revelations. But those revelations have always been brought up by journalists so who exactly is in charge of anti-doping anyway? Wada have neither the will nor authority which leaves specific bodies to incriminate their own. Only sport is about money not fairness, and such self-harm would chip away at this cornerstone.
It’s why in Ethiopia testers have to apply for a visa but when a request is made the authorities let athletes know in advance. It’s why in Spain the blood bags in Operacion Puerto were locked away for so long. It’s why in Kenya their regulators have been dragging their heels for half a dozen years. It’s why in Jamaica training camps are often moved, resulting in athletes being hard to find.
These countries may not be doping on a Russian level, but if a country can do it, you can imagine small groups within a country can do it. Besides, whereas Russian officialdom have been guilty of actively engaging in doping, many others are guilty of not engaging in stopping it. It’s nearly as bad as they are therefore facilitators and enablers, just like Wada have shown themselves to be.
Despite all this though few are stepping away from the mob mentality brought about by Russia’s guilt. But those that do can see catching them hasn’t been a solution, rather another terrifying example of the scale of the problem.
Sunday Business Post
24 July, 2016