KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTING —- The battle to keep Russia in the Olympics, only weeks away from the Rio Games, has been ramped up with a confrtontation between “shocked” veteran IOC member Pat Hickey and north American athletes’ anti-doping representatives.

How to deal with Russian athletes remain a tangle of words and intentions between the International Olympic Committee and president Thomas Bach on the one side and the world athletics federation (IAAF) and its leader Lord Sebastian Coe on the other.

Today it is expected that more fuel will be poured on the fire when Canadian expert Professor Richard McLaren publishes the findings of his investigation into allegations that Russian sports and security officials covered up dope checks at the Sochi Winter Games in 2014.

Pat Hickey . . . 'shocked' by the Scott email

The main claims emanated from an initial interview in the New York Times with Grigory Rodchenkov , the former head of the Moscow anti-doping laboratory who had fled to the US.

Now the United States Anti-Doping Agency and the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sports have both already demanded that the IOC should bar all Russian sportsmen and women from Rio.

High-profile endorsements

Their letter, according to Reuters, was circulated in an email sent out to Beckie Scott, who chairs the World Anti-Doping Agency’s athletes commission. Reportedly it was signed by USADA chief executive Travis Tygart and his Canadian opposite number Paul Melia.

Both the letter and its contents provoked a furious reaction from Irishman Hickey who heads the European Olympic Committees which is planning to stage in next European Games in Russia in 2019.

Hickey, in a formal statement issued last night, said:

“Today I have seen an e-mail that has been sent to a number of athletes and anti-doping organisations by Beckie Scott, chair of the WADA Athletes Commission, asking for the recipients to counter-sign a letter (attached to her e-mail) from the US and Canadian  National Anti-doping Agencies addressed to the president of the IOC.

“This letter calls upon the IOC to instigate a wholesale ban of the Russian Olympic Committee team in Rio 2016.  This unprecedented call for such a ban is based on what the US and Canadian National Anti-doping Agencies say are the findings of the independent McLaren Report.

“The e-mail from Beckie Scott and the attached letter has shocked and concerned me on a number of levels.

“Firstly, the McLaren report is meant to be a totally independent report that must remain totally confidential until its publication on Monday, 18 July 2016 at 09:00 in Canada.  It is clear from the e-mail and letter that both the independence and the confidentiality of the report have been compromised.

Evidence needed

“My concern is that there seems to have been an attempt to agree an outcome before any evidence has been presented.

“Such interference and calls ahead of the McLaren Report publication are totally against internationally recognised fair legal process and may have completely undermined the integrity and therefore the credibility of this important report.

“Secondly, I have checked with the chairperson of the EOC athletes commission and he has not been consulted about the request in the Scott e-mail for European signatories. Yet I note from her email that three European NADOS ‘amongst others’ have been approached to sign.

“It is clear that only athletes and organisations known to support a ban of the Russian Olympic team have been contacted.

“Finally I have to question on what authority the USA and Canadian Anti-Doping agencies prepared their letter and what mandate they have to lead an international call for a ban of another nation in the Olympic family.”

“Whilst I fully understand and share international concerns over the recent doping allegations, we cannot allow any individuals or groups to interfere or damage the integrity of fair and due legal process.”

More backing

Support for Hickey’s demand for a level playing field came from Julio Maglione, veteran president of world aquatics federation FINA, Nenad Lalovic (wrestling), Bruno Grandi (gymnastics) as well as from EOC executive committee members Zlatko Matesa (president of the Croatia NOC and a former Prime Minister) and Spyros Capralos (president of the Greek NOC).

Matesa said: “I am surprised by the premature calls for the Russian Olympic team to be banned ahead of the due process necessary to review and act upon the McLaren report.

“It seems incredible that important members of the Olympic Movement are seeking to build a global coalition to get another National Olympic Committee banned even before the requisite evidence has been published.

“This is not in the Olympic spirit and casts a shadow over the integrity of the McLaren report.”

Capralos added: “It is very disappointing to see prominent Olympic stakeholders attempting to get another family member banned from the Olympic Games in this rather underhand way.  The real victims of all of this will be athletes from all the nations who are seeking fair but universal competition.

“All of us want zero tolerance of doping and all forms of cheating in sport. However this must be conducted in an open and transparent way, not through building alliances of national prejudice based on supposition rather than evidence.”

USADA position

The USADA stance is no secret.

Travis Tygart, its ceo and the man who brought down Lance Armstrong, said last week: “If the claims about the 2014 Winter Olympics are true, we wholeheartedly agree with International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach that it’s an unprecedented level of criminality and we think those behind this criminal enterprise should not be anywhere near the Olympics.”

This is by far the most serious crisis to confront Bach since he was voted in as IOC president in succession to retiring Jacques Rogge in 2013. Bach has made no secret of his wish to hold the Olympic family together and keepi Russia on board, one way or another.

His ultimate nightmare scenario is that, if Russian track and field athletes are definitively banned from Rio, the country will withdraw its entire team and blame western political interests for infecting the sporting arena . . . a throwback to the tit-for-tat boycotts of the 1980s.

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