RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — IOC President Thomas Bach spoke out Tuesday against the “nuclear option” of imposing a complete ban on Russian athletes for the Rio de Janeiro Olympics, prompting a debate that laid much of the blame for the scandal on global anti-doping authorities.
Bach opened the International Olympic Committee’s three-day general assembly by seeking formal backing from the full membership of the executive board’s handling of the Russian doping scandal.
Despite evidence of a state-run doping program in Russia, the IOC board rejected calls for a total ban and left it to international sports federations to decide on the entry of individual Russian athletes for the games, which open on Friday.
Bach again pointed blame at the World Anti-Doping Agency for failing to act sooner on evidence of state-backed doping in Russia, and said it would be wrong to make individual athletes “collateral damage” for the wrongdoing of their government.
“Leaving aside that such a comparison is completely out of any proportion when it comes to the rules of sport, let us just for a moment consider the consequences of a ‘nuclear option,'” Bach said. “The result is death and devastation. This is not what the Olympic Movement stands for. The cynical ‘collateral damage’ approach is not what the Olympic movement stands for.”
“What is therefore not acceptable is the insinuation by some proponents of this ‘nuclear option’ that anyone who does not share their opinion is not fighting against doping,” he added.
The IOC has been roundly criticized by many anti-doping bodies, athletes’ groups and Western media for not apply a complete ban on the Russian team. Pressure for a full ban grew after WADA investigator Richard McLaren issued a report accusing Russia’s sports ministry of orchestrating a vast doping conspiracy involving athletes across more than two dozen summer and winter Olympic sports.
“Natural justice does not allow us to deprive a human being of the right to prove their innocence,” Bach said. “This is why the IOC executive board granted this right to the Russian athletes.”
Underling the deep split between Olympic leaders and anti-doping officials, Bach said it was WADA — not the IOC — that was responsible for doping problems in Russia.
“It is not the IOC that is responsible for the accreditation and supervision of anti-doping laboratories,” he said. “It is not the IOC which can be held responsible for alleged corruption between the leadership of an international federation and a national member federation to cover up doping.
“The IOC has no authority to declare any organization non-compliant with the WADA code. The IOC has no authority over the testing program of athletes outside the Olympic Games. The IOC has no authority to follow up on information about the failings of the testing system.”
Israeli member Alex Gilady echoed that feeling.
“I think it’s not the reputation of the IOC that has to be restored, it’s the reputation of WADA,” he said.
Russian Olympic Committee President Alexander Zhukov was among the many delegates taking the floor, and he lashed out at what he called a political campaign against Russia and “discrimination” against clean athletes not connected to doping.
“I urge you to resist this unprecedented pressure that is now on the entire Olympic movement and not to let this pressure to split the entire Olympic family,” he said.
Zhukov criticized the IAAF for banning Russia’s track and field team and took a swipe at WADA, saying the same agency which sought a complete ban is the same one that had supervision over Russia’s anti-doping agency and doping lab.
“Why should WADA not be responsible for the violations made by the anti-doping labs it has accredited?” he said.
Bach’s position received support from most of the speakers during the debate, with the strongest criticism coming from Canadian member Dick Pound, a former president of WADA who has been outspoken in calling for a complete ban on Russia — something he had previously called “the nuclear option.”
“We need to do a lot more to show that we really do care about fair play, honest competition and clean athletes,” he said.
Pound complained that, before the executive board’s decision, rank-and-file IOC members “‘were not asked for our opinion and had no chance to give it.”
“The decisions have been very unpopular in a number of countries and it’s difficult for IOC members to explain why this particular option was taken,” he said.
With the decision already in place for Rio, Pound said the IOC should set aside another meeting in the future to deal with the whole issue.
“What we’re dealing with here is how we handle a threat to the Olympic movement caused by systematic anti-doping corruption in a particular country, state run, that’s going to require all of us to think about it,” Pound said.