By Neil Clark
The announcement by the International Olympic Committee that Russia would be banned from the PyeongChang Winter Olympics – but that Russian athletes, if proven ‘clean’ from doping would be able to compete under a neutral banner- has to be seen in its wider geopolitical context.
The decision comes amid a backdrop of unrelenting Russophobia fueled by Western elites who are furious Russia has thwarted their plans for regime change in Syria and is generally getting in the way of US hegemonic aspirations and the neocon/globalist agenda.
Revealingly, straight after the IOC decision was announced leading Russophobes, like US Senator John McCain, were renewing their calls for the 2018 football World Cup to be taken away from Russia, showing that this is about the reviving of Cold War politics and not drugs. It’s clear ‘The Endless War’ lobby in the West wants Russia isolated, humiliated and banned from everything. Sport is only one front in their obsessive campaign, attacks on the Russian media is another. In the current climate, it is virtually impossible Russia would get a fair hearing.
Question One: How would you feel if you were an athlete who had trained hard for four years for the Olympics only to be beaten by someone who it later transpired had cheated by using drugs?
Question Two: How would you feel if you were an athlete who had trained hard for four years for the Olympics only to be barred from competing for your country because someone else from your country had been held to have taken drugs?
I’m sure you’d agree that both cases you would feel very aggrieved. It’s right and proper that drug cheats should be punished – from whatever country they come from – so long as the evidence is there. It’s also right and proper that the innocent don’t pay for the sins of the guilty.
The job of sporting authorities is to make sure that justice is done. That means banning athletes who are proved to have broken the rules, but not imposing blanket bans when evidence of a state-sponsored drug program is missing or inconclusive. And not allowing geopolitics to play any part in their deliberations.
Russia should be treated like any other country; we can surely all agree on that. Alas, that isn’t what appears to have happened.
Last year, there was a blanket ban on Russian Paralympians competing in Rio- imposed by the IPC, which has representatives from six NATO countries on its 14 member board – punishing athletes who had never done anything wrong.
Russian athletes have been banned (and stripped of their medals) without proof of their guilt being published by the IOC’s Oswald Commission – which was set up in July 2016 to investigate the second part of the McLaren report (more of which later). The IOC says it will publish the evidence of ‘violations’ in ‘due course’ – but if they have it – why not now.
How can it be right to ban people without publishing the evidence?
This witch-hunt against Russian athletes goes back to the McLaren report. How authoritative was that? Answer: not very. If you think that’s just ‘Russian propaganda,’ ITV Sports editor Steve Scott acknowledged in November that we are not in “beyond reasonable doubt territory” – in his article “Did the McLaren report into Russian doping overstep the mark.”
For the first part of the report – McLaren, a law professor from a country (Canada) which is a geopolitical adversary of Russia and whose anti-doping agency head, had along with his US counterpart, tried to lobby the IOC to ban ALL Russian athletes from the Rio Olympics last year admitted he “did not seek to interview persons living within the Russian Federation.”
This is a breach of a fundamental principle of natural justice – namely “audi alteram partem” (“listen to the other side”). That wasn’t all that was unsatisfactory about McLaren’s report. There was the lack of supporting evidence for its claims. The line was “we don’t know how they tampered with the urine samples, but we know the Russians did it.” And of course, the report was heavily based –as ITV news conceded last night- on the testimony of just one man- Grigory Rodchenkov- former head of Moscow’s anti-doping laboratory who defected to the US. But just how trustworthy a witness was he?
For the second part of his report McLaren did meet “some” Russian officials, but not all who have been accused.
Furthermore, as recently as November 27, WADA chief Craig Reedie said that while there were “hints” and “claims” of evidence of a systematic state-sponsored Russian doping scheme, 95 of the 96 cases of Russian athletes WADA is investigating have been suspended because “there was not sufficient evidence to pursue an anti-doping violation.”
Yet despite this, before the announcement in Lausanne yesterday, there were exhortations from Western media commentators for the IOC to “do the right thing, ” i.e., ban Russia – based on a report which had more holes in it than a giant slab of Swiss cheese.
Imagine if Thomas Bach, IOC President, had announced Russia would not be banned as conclusive evidence of a state-sponsored doping program had not been presented – which was indeed the case. Then much of the Russia-bashing Western media would have turned their guns on Bach and his committee accusing him, and them, of being “corrupt” and “in cahoots with Putin.”
Remember the attacks on the IOC when they didn’t impose a blanket ban on Russia at last year’s Rio Olympics? How much did that influence the IPC to make their decision?
As I noted here, all roads in the campaign to ban Russia, lead back to the US and Canada.
Far from providing ‘conclusive evidence’ the McLaren report was struggling to do the job of getting Russia banned.
In February, leaks from the hacktivist group ‘Fancy Bear’ revealed the IOC was not satisfied with the ‘proof’ in some parts of the report and asked 56 questions about 16 of the accused.
An earlier leak also revealed that Martial Saugy, the former director of the WADA’s accredited doping Laboratory of Lausanne accused the McLaren report of making “incorrect allegations.”
McLaren needed a major leg-up in 2017, and it was given one, by US Off-Broadway playwright called Bryan Fogel. Fogel’s documentary film Icarus, which featured interviews with Rodchenkov was released in August. In fact, it was Fogel and Rodchenkov taking the story to the New York Times in May 2016 which led to the McLaren report in the first place.
What started as a ‘Super Size Me’ experiment in doping ended up turning into – in the words of The Independent – “an explosive expose of Russia’s Olympic cover-up.”
“Icarus may be the best non-fiction film of the year,” declared the Financial Times. “A coup for a first-time documentarian,” enthused The Atlantic.
Icarus won prizes at film festivals in the US and UK, and it’s also been tipped to make the Oscars short-list, but not all were convinced that it had proven its case. “Netflix doping scandal doc is flawed but fascinating,” was the title of The Guardian’s review. “There’s an inescapable slipperiness to Rodchenkov’s character that makes his testimony slightly hard to swallow,” wrote Gwilym Mumford.
In an interview with the FT, Fogel, who we’re told “stumbled” into the Russian doping story, reveals that he believes Russia has a “cultural” problem with drugs.
“The mentality of an entire culture of people, of a country, is different,” he says. “You have to place yourself in that perspective . . . If you’re growing up in a world like Grigory (Rodchenkov) under communism, and everybody is doping, his mother injects him with steroids — nothing is wrong.”
Fogel’s film fits in very conveniently with the current wave of Russophobia.
Last night, some were asking on social media if without Icarus Russia would have been banned.
The aim of anti-Russian propagandists in the West is quite clearly to portray Russia as a ‘doping nation’ that never tells the truth. But, as that wise old saying goes, if you point one finger, you have three pointing back at you.
As I wrote here, it was only in 2003 when allegations were made by a top American official about widespread US doping:
Wade Exum, the US Olympic Committee’s former Director of Drug Control, handed over more than 30,000 pages of documents to Sports Illustrated magazine and the Orange County Register, which he said showed that over 100 American athletes had failed drug tests between 1988-2000, but had still been allowed to compete.
Carl Lewis, the US Olympian later admitted he had tested positive for banned substances before the 1988 Games in Seoul where he won Gold but claimed that ‘hundreds’ of fellow Americans had also escaped bans.
“There were hundreds of people getting off,” Lewis said. “Everyone was treated the same.”
But guess what? There was no McLaren style report and no blanket ban on US athletes. And no film made about the story like Icarus.
As for the charge that under ‘communism’ “everyone is doping” let’s think back to the 1954 World Cup final. Then the best football team in the world (and arguably the team of all time) the Magical Magyars from communist Hungary, were surprisingly beaten 3-2 in the final by West Germany after they had thrashed the Germans 8-3 in the Group stage. How did the so-called ‘Miracle of Bern’ happen? For years Hungarians believed they had been cheated. And so it proved. A 2013 report commissioned by the German Olympic Sports Federation, whose head incidentally is IOC Chair Thomas Bach, revealed not only that the German players had been injected with the methamphetamine Pervitin, but that West Germany had operated a 20-year state-sponsored doping program with the full knowledge of politicians and sports officials.
Will Hungary be awarded the 1954 World Cup and those who finished second behind the 100 American competitors who failed drug tests be promoted? If we’re changing the results of Sochi and stripping Russians of medals, shouldn’t we be doing it across the board?
You don’t have to be Russian, or Hungarian to feel angry about the double standards.
When it comes to doping and punishment for alleged doping some countries, namely the US and those closely allied to Washington, are most definitely more equal than others.Changes in the military situation in Syria: the new position