LAUSANNE, Switzerland: The International Olympic Committee held showdown talks Sunday on whether to ban Russia from the Rio Games over state-run doping, an unprecedented decision that could spark the Olympic movement’s worst crisis in decades.
While countries have been banned from past Games for political reasons, throwing an entire nation out for drug cheating would be a first.
But the IOC is facing global pressure to take exemplary action given the stunning nature of the allegations against Russia, as well as a run against the clock because the Olympics start in less than two weeks.
An independent report from the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) said Russia’s sports ministry directed a vast doping program with support from the state intelligence agency that saw thousands of tainted urine samples destroyed or swapped for clean ones.
The cheating affected 30 sports and went on during the 2014 Sochi Games and other major Olympic and international events, according to the WADA report released last week by Canadian law professor Richard McLaren.
WADA, along with 14 national anti-doping agencies — including the United States, Canada and Germany — and multiple national Olympic committees have called for Russia’s blanket ban from Rio de Janeiro. Russia’s track and field team is already barred over drug cheating.
IOC chief Thomas Bach began a conference call with the organisation’s powerful executive at midday (1000 GMT), the IOC press office said.
A final decision on Russia’s Rio eligibility was expected after the call.
With the Games set to start on August 5 — and the Russian Olympic Committee having already approved a 387-member team for Rio — the IOC needs a quick answer to one of the toughest questions it has faced in recent history.
Russia’s entire track and field squad has already been banned from the Olympics by athletics’ governing body the IAAF over an earlier WADA report which detailed “state-supported” doping.
The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) this week rejected an appeal by 67 Russian athletes against the IAAF ban.
The IOC has said it would closely study the CAS ruling as it tries to assess the legal basis for a collective national suspension.
A possible outcome from Sunday’s talks could see the IOC banning the Russian team while letting each summer sports federation determine an athlete’s eligibility on an individual basis.
That would be consistent with the IAAF approach, which was endorsed by CAS.
The key issue is whether the extent of the cheating in Russia gives the IOC grounds to punish athletes with no positive drug tests on their record.
“We will have to take a very difficult decision,” Bach said this week, addressing the ethical and legal tension “between a collective ban for all Russian athletes and… the natural right to individual justice for every clean athlete in the world.”
Officials in Moscow led by Russian President Vladimir Putin have vowed to crack down on doping while rejecting the validity of a blanket ban.
Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko, a central figure in the WADA report who has already been barred from Rio by the IOC, told the TASS news agency that “the principle of collective responsibility should not triumph.”
Some countries and Olympic sports figures agree.
Last Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev also intervened: “For me the principle of collective punishment is unacceptable,” wrote the 85-year-old Gorbachev in a statement, asking Bach to make a “just decision.”
If the IOC bans Russia from Rio, it will be the first time a country has been excluded since 1988, when South Africa’s IOC suspension over apartheid was in force.
The most extensive set of national bans came at the 1920 Games in Antwerp, when a long list of World War I “aggressors” — including Germany, Austria, Turkey and Hungary — were not invited.
Multiple countries have boycotted Games, however, notably the United States at Moscow 1980, which preceded Russia’s boycott of Los Angeles 1984. AFP