Sports Legal Blog

RUSSIAN ROULETTE OR JUSTICE?

The Olympic games are come and gone and the world watched with awe as the lean disciplined athletes gave their all to do their nations proud. However the Russian contingent were not a happy lot. The International Olympics Committee (IOC) placed a blanket ban on all Russian based athletes sparking off a public outcry in […]

June 11, 2020

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The Olympic games are come and gone and the world watched with awe as the lean disciplined athletes gave their all to do their nations proud. However the Russian contingent were not a happy lot. The International Olympics Committee (IOC) placed a blanket ban on all Russian based athletes sparking off a public outcry in Russia. Russia officially launched action against the doping ban imposed on its athletics team, filing a case at the Court of Arbitration for Sport in a bid to have the suspension revoked in time for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio. The case was brought jointly by the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) and dozens of top Russian athletes. Konstantin Vybornov, a spokesman for the ROC, confirmed that the appeal had been filed with the court in Lausanne, Switzerland – it was heard in July. A small number of Russians were allowed to compete only after proving they had been based outside the country and were subject to testing from respected anti-doping agencies. They numbered only one hundred, a paltry figure compared to Russian contingents so intimidatingly visible in previous Olympic games. The International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), track and field’s world governing body, suspended Russia in November 2015 after a report detailed widespread doping. IAAF informant Yulia Stepanova, a former drug cheat whose statements – including undercover footage of apparent doping confessions – were used in the case which led to Russia’s ban, formed an important part of the evidence against Russia in the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) investigation. She was cleared to compete at the Olympics under a neutral flag. The 800m runner was handed a two-year ban in 2013 and – with her husband Vitaly Stepanov, a drug-testing official – made allegations about the level of cheating among Russian athletes. President Vladimir Putin criticized the suspension, saying that the entire body and its athletes could not be held responsible if someone tested positive for banned substances. President Putin also warned that investigations should have been based on facts and not rumors. The IOC’s initial position against Russian based athletes begs the question – is it ethical to punish even one innocent athlete in an effort to capture ten drug cheats? Surely the principle of equitable distribution of justice would have been defeated if the IOC’s blanket ban was allowed to stand. The first allegations against Russian athletes came in November when the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) accused the country’s athletics and anti-doping bodies of massively breaching anti-doping rules. Russia’s track and field team was suspended last November after WADA allegations. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) upheld the IAAF’s decision to ban Russia from this summer’s Olympic Games in Rio, after deciding the All-Russia Athletics Federation (ARAF) had failed to adequately tackle doping issues. Russia’s Olympic Committee spoke out for the Russian athletes earlier in June, writing to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and asking the body to allow those who didn’t engage in doping to compete. “These athletes are the majority in Russia. They try to reach their goal – participation in the Olympic Games – due to their hard work and constant training,” the letter said. Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko also wrote an open letter to the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) head Sebastian Coe, so that the world would know that “Russian sport is healthy and clean, and not like it is shown abroad.” “Russia’s athletes must not be singled out as the only ones to be punished for a problem that is widely acknowledged to go far beyond our country’s borders,” he wrote. Natural justice suggests that all the athletes should have been given an opportunity to defend their good name against any claims made. The clean athletes should then have been allowed to compete at the Rio games (as was the case) as they would stand out like shining examples to young upcoming athletes on how to charter the choppy waters of doping in modern day sport where egotistical rewards threaten to overshadow the ethics and morality of fair competition. European Athletics explained that athletes at the championships wore bibs with messages such as “I run clean,” “I jump clean” and “I throw clean” in a statement against performance-enhancing drug use. Considering that Russia is facing another blanket ban at the upcoming Paralympic Games, one is left to ponder on whether the IOC is playing Russian Roulette with the careers of Russian athletes or executing justice in track and field events as it should… Qs. Gyavira Namulanda, MCIArb Partner Future Works Quantity Surveyors and Building Economists