18 May 2016

IOC to explore if athletes from ‘contaminated’ federations can compete

International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach is keen to explore whether athletes from ‘contaminated’ federations could compete in Olympic events, if they can prove that they are clean. The IOC yesterday asked the World Anti-Doping Agency to investigate allegations that the laboratory used for the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics may have been corrupted.

‘The results of the WADA investigation will also greatly influence the nature of the participation of Russian athletes in the Olympic Games Rio 2016’, wrote Bach today. ‘Should there be evidence of an organised system contaminating other sports, the International Federations and the IOC would have to make the difficult decision between collective responsibility and individual justice. It would have to consider, whether in such ‘contaminated’ federations the presumption of innocence for athletes could still be applied, whether the burden of proof could be reversed. This could mean that concerned athletes would have to demonstrate that their international and independently proven test record is compliant with the rules of their International Federation and the World Anti-Doping Code, providing a level playing field with their fellow competitors.’

Bach did not expand on how, in practice, an athlete from such a ‘contaminated’ federation might prove that they are clean. However he did indicate that the IOC may have to take such a decision balancing the interests of the athlete from the ‘contaminated’ federation against the interests of the world’s clean athletes.

“Whenever it comes to individual justice, this means individual justice for the concerned athletes, but also for the clean athletes around the globe”, he said in a teleconference call today, adding that whatever WADA’s investigation uncovers, “we will do everything to provide a level playing field for all the athletes around the globe and in this way, to protect the integrity of the competition in the Olympic Games in Rio”.

In a similar vein, Bach would not expand on whether NOCs or international federations would be expelled from the Rio Olympics. “I will not speculate on the result, because there will be a decision we will have to make between collective responsibility and individual justice”, he said. “If these allegations are proved, we will hold everybody implicated responsible. Different kinds of action are possible. This could be a lifelong ban for any implicated person – that means not only athletes or the immediate entourage; everybody implicated could be held responsible and could be banned from Olympic events. There could be financial sanctions on organisations involved. This could include the acceptance of a suspension or exclusion of entire national federations.”

“Whether some other federations have been contaminated in such a way, the presumption of individual innocence could still be applied”, continued Bach. “The burden of proof could be reversed. The suspension or exclusion of an entire federation – or federations – would then be accepted by the IOC.”

US investigation

In today’s conference call, Bach said that the IOC had “no information” on whether US authorities were investigating allegations of systemic Russian doping. Yesterday, the New York Times reported that the US Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York is pursuing conspiracy and fraud charges.

Almost exactly a year ago, the US Department of Justice (DoJ) was able to launch an indictment against senior FIFA figures, after it discovered that funds related to corruption had passed through US bank accounts. It is understood that prosecutors are now pursuing a similar line of inquiry regarding Russian doping allegations.

Retests & medal reallocation

Yesterday, the IOC announced that ‘up to 31’ athletes from six sports involving 12 National Olympic Committees (NOCs) had tested positive, following retests of samples taken at the Beijing 2008 Olympics. Retests were carried out on 454 samples taken at Beijing, and retests will also be carried out on 250 samples taken at London 2012.

However the IOC’s Medical and Scientific Director, Dr. Richard Budgett, revealed that it has yet to report a single adverse analytical finding (AAF) from the retests, as the B samples have yet to be analysed. “The B samples will be analysed at the beginning of June and the results will only take a few days”, he said in today’s conference call. “The proper adverse analytical finding will be issued in early June”.

Bach also revealed that there is some crossover between the 454 Beijing 2008 and the 250 London 2012 samples reanalysed. “Some of them are the same”, said Bach. “Athletes who participated in Beijing and London, and may qualify for Rio”.

If an anti-doping rule violation (ADRV) is determined, medal reallocation may prove tricky, as it could require re-analysis of more samples. “A positive case involving a medalist may then lead to another retest of another athlete who would theoretically feature in the medal ranking”, said Bach. “Only then, when we have the result of this other retest, then we would decide about the reallocation of medals.”

Bach indicated that the IOC has confidence in the doping procedures carried out at Beijing 2008 and London 2012, despite the disparity between the number of samples identified by the IOC for retests (454 for Beijing against 250 for London). Bach confirmed that retests had only been carried out using scientific methods not available at the time – not using testing methods that already existed.

Questions remain

Perhaps the most worrying aspect revealed today was that the the IOC has yet to confirm a single AAF from its retesting of the Beijing 2008 samples. This explains why it was only able to announce that ‘up to 31’ athletes had returned positive tests – analysis of the B samples may lessen that number. We will have to wait until June to get a final number.

Also concerning is how the reallocation of medals could play out. If any medallists are identified as having committed an ADRV through the retests, then speculation will also fall on those that finished below them. As Budgett outlined, reallocation of medals is likely to involve more retests on those lower-finishing athletes, which could then result in more positive tests, potentially turning Olympic medals into a farcical affair.

There is also the issue of how, in practice, an athlete from a ‘contaminated’ federation could prove that they are clean. By raising the question of balance between collective responsibility and individual justice, Bach has put the IOC in the unenviable decision of having to decide whether allegations against an individual federation are so egregious that their athletes cannot be allowed to take the starting line. How the IOC will be able to make such a judgment remains to be seen.

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