If you’re a follower of eSplash! then you know that in 2016 I highlighted the ills of the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) blanket ban on Russian athletes here. If you are a follower of eSplash! you also know that I mentioned the possibility of the athletes claiming damages for their tarnished reputations. Fast forward to 2018 and 28 of the Russian athletes have had their lifetime bans overturned by the Court of Arbitration for Sport leaving a red faced IOC wringing their hands as they ponder the repercussions of their erroneous ban. One Russian daily called the ruling a ‘bang on the nose of the IOC’.
The ancient wisdom that one is innocent until proven guilty holds true eternally.
The IOC played Russian Roulette with the careers of Russian athletes by ordering a blanket ban based on only some proven cases of banned substances found in the samples of some of them. I pose the question once more – is it ethical to punish even one innocent athlete in an effort to catch 10 drug cheats?
The triumphant athletes have wasted scant time in pushing for their participation in the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics which commenced in February 2018. Their legal challenge was partially successful and they have been allowed to compete but under the title Olympic Athletes from Russia (OAR) and not their country’s official name.
The evidence of fact provided was insufficient to prove beyond doubt that the 28 had committed anti doping rule violations.
The IOC has been forced to embarrassingly reinstate medals of the 28 that were cancelled from the 2014 Winter Olympics – in the process returning Russia to the top of the medal table.
Claims of state sponsored drug cheating in Russia led to the blanket ban. While deceit in any competition is repugnant to justice, the confessions of guilt laden athletes who named their partners in crime should have led to lifetime bans on the specific
sportsmen and women mentioned and not the now infamous blanket ban.
A nightmare of equal magnitude was in the waiting. Russia is playing host to the revered FIFA (Federation for International Football Association) soccer World Cup later in June this year. If the ban was upheld, and more confessions from athletes pointed a finger at some Russian soccer stars, how would the host nation react if their local boys were not allowed to participate in the global fest because of another blanket ban?
What can we take home from all this; at some point the IOC rushed in to take action – possibly a well intentioned effort to curb drug cheating. However this is an exercise that has in the past proven to be slow and tedious as the proverbial chaff is separated from the wheat. One athlete at a time should be the way to mete out justice. Any medals illegally won can then be cancelled and passed on to the next worthy athlete. And what happened to natural justice? The athletes under the blanket ban were not even given a chance to argue their case before the ban was implemented. The IOC clearly rushed in and consequently ended up with a travesty of injustice. It seems more just to let 10 athletes illegally win than to punish one innocent one.
As we shift our focus back to the Winter Olympics and eagerly await the soccer World Cup, let us ponder on the events of the day when justice trumped Russian Roulette.
Qs. Gyavira Namulanda, MCIArb
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