KEIR RADNEDGE COMMENTARY —- Russia’s latest punishment in the infamous and apparently infinite doping saga will have minimal effect on its perceived status in international sport. The effect on the credibility of sport is another matter entirely.
On Thursday the Court of Arbitration for Sport trimmed disciplinary measures imposed by the World Anti-Doping Agency from four to two years but upheld the original thesis that Russian doping manipulation had undermined the credibility of international sport in general and the Olympic Games in particular.
As it stands Russia’s sportsmen and women, according to the three-man CAS panel**, must now wear kit which “does not contain the flag of the Russian Federation, contains the words ‘neutral athlete’, and that the Russian national anthem is not played or sung at any official event venue.” Hosting international sports events is also prohibited up to the end of 2022.
The Russians have the right to go on taunting world sport by appealing yet again, to the Swiss Federal Court.
They may also seek a stay of execution pending the outcome of that process.
But, in effect, once the IOC executive board had refused to ban Russia from the Rio de Janeiro Olympics back in the spring of 2016 it was game over – in Russia’s favour.
International federations have reacted to the CAS decision by mostly following a similar circumspect tack to “note” the verdict while awaiting a substantive Russian response.
This was the stance taken, for example, by world football federation FIFA.
To be clear, Russia’s formal presence in the finals of the UEFA European Championship next summer, its hosting of four games in Saint Petersburg and that city’s staging of the 2022 Champions League final are not affected.
European events, according to WADA, are considered ‘regional’ rather than ‘international’ ie, world, tournaments.
At the most Russia, assuming they qualify, will line up at the finals of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar without their state flag or anthem. They may even escape that bruise to their pride on the grounds that registration for the World Cup had preceded the original WADA fatwa in October.
So the tawdry soap opera will echo on down the years instead of having been put to bed years ago. That reality is largely the Russians’ own fault.
For two reasons.
The first, obviously, was the system itself.
This was devised after a poor showing at the Vancouver Winter Olympics in 2010. A repeat on home ground in Sochi in 2014 had to be avoided at all costs. Hence the sophisticated dope test sample-swapping scheme laid bare in a report submitted to WADA in 2015 by Canadian law professor Richard McLaren.
Secondly, at that point the Russians could have held up their hands, promised root-and-branch reform and offered up a couple of high-profile scapegoats: say, the then Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko and the Moscow laboratory director Grigory Rodchenkov.
A few months of fire and fury and angry headlines in the west and it would all have been laid to rest.
Sports bosses are forgiving folk – especially when it concerns their own.
Instead the Russians griped and grumbled, denied and disputed, objected and obstructed so that five years after McLaren the disreputable business continues to poison the sporting well.
The legacy for Russia is that its reputation in the world of sport will remain as permanently tarnished as that of the former East Germany. The GDR’s own doping system remains, 31 years after the fall of The Wall, a vivid stain on sporting consciousness.
In fact all those Russian sportsmen and women ultimately stripped of medals may count themselves victims as much as their bitterly frustrated international rivals.
WADA president Witold Banka expressed only a diplomatically resigned sense of “disappointment” at the CAS judgment by comparison with furious Travis Tygart, head of the United States Anti-Doping Agency USADA. Tygart directed his ire not so much at CAS as at WADA.
This was rich coming from a country whose two major sports have no truck with WADA or its controls and regulations; the same country whose political leaders have perversely applied Rodchenkov’s name to their latest anti-doping legislation.
Very few people or sports bodies emerge with any credit from this shaming story. Most certainly not Rodchenkov, possibly the greatest cheat in all of sports history.
Sadly the damage – never mind to the Olympics or the Russians but to sport itself – is irreparable and ineradicable.
** The panel was: Mark L Williams (Australia, president), Prof. Luigi Fumagalli (Italy) and Dr Hamid G Gharavi (France/Iran)