Here we are again.
Professor Richard McLaren (whom I had the pleasure of meeting in 2013) has completed his long-awaited report commissioned by WADA into doping in Russian sport. He found – beyond reasonable doubt, to use his legal words – systemic state-sanctioned doping and cover-up across 28 sports, 21 of which are summer Olympic sports. The 28 sports are shown in this Chart taken from the McLaren Report.
This activity involved sporting organisations, security services and the Russian Government at least as high as the Minister of Sport, Vitaly Mutko. When Vladimir Putin was Prime Minister in 2010, he installed a deputy to Mutko, Yuri Nagornykh, who McLaren says coordinated a lot of the day-to-day activity. This centred around positive urine samples being passed to Nagornykh who would either deem the athlete as one the laboratory should ‘SAVE’ or one whose sample they could ‘QUARANTINE’ in case authorities decided it was needed at a later date.
It is without question that a state-sanctioned cover-up needs to be punished.
However, in the long term, world sport also needs to decide whether it wants to SAVE or QUARANTINE Russian sport and Russian athletes.
I think we should help SAVE Russia, and there are two aspects that arise from the McLaren Report that I want to touch on to this end.
WADA’s recommendations arising out of the McLaren Report.
Professor McLaren made no recommendations; he was asked to investigate and establish facts. WADA itself has no mandate – for example, to ban athletes – but it can make recommendations. They made seven of them. For a body that I have been critical of in the past – not least because its independence has been strait-jacketed by its fiscal relationship with the IOC – these recommendations are unprecedented.
WADA has couched its recommendations in cautious language and passive tense, but it nonetheless makes it clear to the 28 sporting bodies that they need to do something. Now. These include the big sporting organisations such as IOC, the International Paralympic Committee (IPC), FIFA, IAAF, UCI and FIBA.
WADA states that the IOC and IPC should “consider” declining entries submitted by Russia for the Rio 2016 Olympics, and that Russian Government officials should be banned from international competitions including Rio 2016.
The IOC, for its part, has already introduced some provisional measures and said it will “take the toughest sanctions available”. We’ll see. It’s a big test for Thomas Bach who, like too many top sporting officials, has not been known to rock the boat.
There is also an important decision tomorrow from the Court of Arbitration for Sport in relation to the IAAF ban on Russian athletes that is likely to guide the IOC.
One of WADA’s recommendations was directed at FIFA because of the role of Vitaly Mutko. He is not only the Sports Minister, but also the President of the Russian Organising Committee for the 2018 World Cup, the President of the Russian football association, an executive committee member of UEFA and a FIFA Council member.
Yesterday, my colleagues and I at #NewFIFANow called for Mutko to go. We also questioned whether the Confederations Cup in 2017 and the World Cup in 2018 should proceed in Russia if it is unable to accept responsibility. You can read more about the implications for football here.
President Putin has tried to have a bit each way.
On the one hand, he sees the McLaren Report through the prism of geopolitics and the Americans being out to ‘get’ Russia (Richard McLaren is Canadian). He rails against “interference” in sport and warns of a split in the Olympic movement. He disparages the whistleblower, Dr Grigory Rodchenkov. Presumably in an attempt to appease the IOC, he says that perpetrators will be temporarily suspended pending further investigation and “more detailed and objective information” from WADA.
Putin concluded: “There is no room for doping in sports. It is a threat to the health and lives of athletes, it is discrediting of fair sports competition.” On that we can agree.
Professor McLaren made it clear that he is supremely confident in what he has found so far, and that it’s only the beginning. It helps explain why WADA has been as bold as it has in its recommendations.
Where do we go from here?
I don’t mean in relation to the Rio Olympic Games and Russian athletes specifically, or solely about doping. I’m talking of the bigger picture issues at stake here for sport.
We love it. If we didn’t, we wouldn’t be doing what we’re doing. But don’t you hate what sport is doing to itself?
On the one hand, we see incredibly inspirational and heroic feats from someone like my compatriot, Mick Fanning. Or the fantastic efforts of Nike’s Serena Williams and Under Armour’s Andy Murray. Or the fairytale international tournament debut of Iceland at the Euro 2016.
But on the other hand, we see corruption on a scale which the US Attorney-General describes as “unconscionable” (football). We see the power brokers of world sport doing all they can to save their role, rather than sport itself (nearly all sport). We see the lives of whistleblowers and investigative journalists turned upside-down because they dare to speak the truth (nearly all sport). And we see state-sanctioned doping (Russia).
As I wrote here, sport no longer deserves autonomy.
It is time for people and governments to stand-up and demand this of their sporting federations and their governments. It is time for the Swiss Government, which is home to many of these organisations, to play its part as a global citizen and hold sport to account on our behalf.
And it really is time for a global sport anti-corruption body. One that is truly independent of all sport. One that has an overarching role with every sport. One that has powers to investigate. One that has the capacity and resources to deal with the myriad issues sport faces.
Today, it’s doping in Russia. Four years ago it was doping in cycling. The challenges in FIFA are ongoing. Governance issues are endemic and affect sports small and large. Experts suggest we’ve probably only touched the surface of match-fixing. And there are also big social issues such as racism, sexism and anti-homophobia in sport that are not being dealt with.
So much to do. As I’ve said before, sport is big, important and global. It deserves and needs its own anti-corruption watchdog.
This is how we SAVE Russia.