by Craig Wright
Just when you thought we were going to be able to focus on the biggest sporting event in the world, so doping rears its ugly head again.
The findings in WADA’s latest report were not totally unexpected – there had been rumours circulating for the past couple of days that the commission, led by Dr Richard McLaren, were going to announce yet more positive tests, and possibly even expand the field of scrutiny as far back as the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. That, in itself, would have been enough to reopen the discussion about doping by predominantly Russian sportsmen and women.
However, it’s the scale of the findings that have rocked the sporting world. In the report, Dr McLaren outlines a programme of state-run doping that is more akin to something from the pen of the likes of John Buchan or Ian Fleming than the stadia and arenas of the sporting world. At least 580 positive tests across 30 sports were alleged to have been illegally tampered with by the FSB, the Russian secret service, in the period between late 2011 and 2015.
Four years. That time period takes in the World Athletics Championships in Seoul (2011), Moscow (2013) and Beijing (2015), the football World Cup in Brazil (2014) and the European Championships in Poland and Ukraine (2012), the World Swimming Championships in Barcelona (2013) and Kazan (2015) and the inaugural European Games in Baku (2015) to name a few. That’s before we even mention the small matter of the two Olympic Games in London (2012) and Sochi (2014). Of course, this is by no means to say that doping practices were widespread at each and every one of these events. This is just to put into perspective what four years means in sporting circles.
Think that’s unbelievable? That’s barely scratching the surface of the report. McLaren and his team then go on to outline further details of the alleged programme. How about the statement that, prior to the Sochi Winter Olympics, a frozen bank of ‘clean’ urine was created to help mask positive tests? Or the twist that the FSB worked in a building next to the Sochi anti-doping lab, swapping out positive samples for negative equivalents through a small hole in the wall? Maybe you’d be gripped by the fact that tampered samples were only detected by McLaren’s investigation by the evidence of microscopic tool marks on the sample lids?
It’s a plot straight from the silver screen.
Instead of the Hollywood blockbuster, however, we’re left with more questions than answers. The elephant in the rapidly-shrinking room is, of course, what does this mean for Russian participation in Rio? As it stands, Russian track and field athletes are currently banned from participating in the upcoming Olympics. However, in the wake of this report, the IOC now has to make a decision it would have preferred not to have to consider – do they incur the wrath of Russian sponsors, broadcasters and politicians and bar Russia from, at the very least, this Olympiad? Do they risk undermining the WADA commission and allow Russia to compete? Or do they frantically try and find a suitable compromise against the backdrop of a ticking clock?
We shouldn’t have to wait too long for an answer – the IOC are due to make a decision tomorrow as to the course of action they will take, with many former athletes calling for the expulsion of the Russian team. IOC president Thomas Bach has said that the “toughest sanctions available” will be implemented, but what will they be?
The questions won’t stop there, though. Russia are due to host the next major tournament in world football – the 2018 World Cup. Russian minister for sport Vitaly Mutko chairs the organising committee for that tournament, and sits on the executive board of FIFA. However, Mr Mutko has also been implicated in McLaren’s report, which says it is “inconceivable” that he was unaware of what was going on. As a result, expect questions to be asked – fairly or unfairly – over Russia’s suitability as a host for global sporting events.
And then there’s the final question. The big one. How many more scandals, reports, positive tests, doping bans and corruption are we going to be made aware of in the months and years to come? As it stands, seven anti-doping laboratories around the world are on WADA’s ‘blacklist’ – in addition to Moscow, the laboratories in Lisbon, Beijing, Bloemfontein, Madrid, Almaty and Rio itself are currently suspended – whilst Kenya, Jamaica, Turkey and the USA have all fallen foul of the global anti-doping code of conduct in recent times. Doping is unquestionably a global problem, but finding a global solution is still, somehow, a bridge too far for all involved.
Is it a good thing that this is coming out into the public domain? Of course it is.
Will there be any lasting impacts of this report? Only time will tell.
Have we heard the last of this story? Absolutely not.