8th February 2019

IPC votes to conditionally lift the RPC’s ban on 15 March

The International Paralympic Committee (IPC) today decided that as Russia will never accept the conclusions of Reports on systemic doping produced by Richard McLaren for the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), it will reinstate the Russian Paralympic Committee’s (RPC) membership on 15 March under strict conditions. ‘The RPC’s acceptance of the McLaren Report is intrinsically linked to the Russian Federation’s acceptance insofar as it has become clear that the RPC is unable to provide a response inconsistent with that of the Russian Federation’, read a November 2018 IPC Taskforce Report.

The Report also calls into question whether Russia accepted a Report produced by Samuel Schmid for the International Olympic Committee (IOC), which was the basis for WADA’s reinstatement of the Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA). On 20 September last year, WADA decided that as a last-minute letter from Pavel Kolobkov, Russia’s Minister for Sport, amounted to acceptance of the Schmid Report and therefore the conclusions of McLaren, it could reinstate RUSADA.

It would appear that the IPC Taskforce disagrees with WADA’s interpretation. ‘It is the Taskforce’s unanimous view that neither the Russian Federation nor, by consequence, the RPC have accepted the McLaren report’, reads its November 2018 Report (PDF below). ‘Indeed, it is questionable whether the Russian Federation has even accepted the findings of the Schmid report, but rather accepted a decision made by the IOC. As a consequence, the Taskforce therefore considers that the IPC reinstatement criterion relating to the McLaren report is not met.’

As previously reported, Kolobkov’s 13 September 2018 letter outlined that: ‘The Russian Federation fully accepted the decision of the IOC Executive Board of December 5, 2017 that was made based on the findings of the Schmid Report’. Taken at face value, Kolobkov’s statement only accepts the IOC decision of 5 December 2017, which was to suspend the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) and to allow certain athletes to compete in PyeongChang 2018 under the Olympic flag, amongst other issues. Kolobkov did not say that Russia accepts the Schmid Report, only an IOC decision based on the findings of the Report. 

The IPC Taskforce Report picks up on this point, and also outlines why acceptance of the Schmid Report is not the same as acceptance of the McLaren Reports, as WADA argued when reinstating RUSADA. ‘The McLaren report concluded (among other things) that within the Russian Federation an “institutional conspiracy existed across summer and winter sports athletes who participated with Russian officials within the Ministry of Sport and its infrastructure, such as the RUSADA, CSP and the Moscow Laboratory, along with the FSB for the purposes of manipulating doping controls”’, it reads. ‘The Schmid report suggests that this matter was coordinated by individuals operating outside of state direction, and there is also no mention of the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation (FSB). The Taskforce deems these differences to be of significance. The Taskforce does not wish to get drawn into a discussion on perceived semantics between the McLaren and Schmid reports. However, as set out above, the Taskforce considers that the McLaren report goes further than the Schmid report.’

The Taskforce outlines that: ‘Professor McLaren’s findings must be specifically addressed, whether by acknowledging the findings and tackling the problems, or by properly rebutting the findings. Unless and until the problems that led to the RPC’s suspension are fully understood and addressed, the Taskforce is of the view that there can be no meaningful change in culture, and that it would be almost impossible for Russian Para athletes to return to IPC-sanctioned competitions without jeopardising the integrity of those competitions.’ 

The IPC turnaround

The IPC Taskforce recommended that the IPC discuss options for resolving the issue of acceptance of the McLaren Report with WADA. Today, IPC President Andrew Parsons outlined that the RPC had implemented 69 recommended measures and Russian para athletes will remain the most tested athletes in the Paralympic movement. “With these factors in mind, maintaining the RPC’s suspension on the grounds of Russia’s continuing refusal to not accept the McLaren Report does not seem right”, he said. “We need to move things forward and find a solution that protects the integrity of Para sport, acknowledges the significant reforms made by the RPC, and enables the RPC to comply with its membership obligations.”

“At our meeting the Board concluded that disappointingly Russia most probably will never accept the findings of the McLaren Report, bearing in mind it has not provided any proper response to it since its publication in July 2016”, continued Parsons. “Therefore, the Board was faced with a fairly straight-forward question: should we dig our heels in and continue waiting for a very unlikely Russian response to the McLaren Report – a move that will keep the RPC suspended indefinitely and, as a result, Russian Para athletes ineligible to compete – or do we consider whether it is possible to find another way forward to enable the RPC to comply with its IPC membership obligations? The Board chose the latter and decided to lift the suspension under strict conditions.”

Strict conditions

The strict conditions that the RPC must meet are that:

• The RPC remains compliant with all the requirements of the World Anti-Doping Program and the IPC Anti-Doping Code;
• All relevant bodies must all be able to carry out their respective anti-doping activities in Russia without external interference;
• RUSADA must not be declared non-compliant by WADA;
• Up until 31 December 2022, Russian Para athletes will only be entitled to participate in certain competitions (including the Tokyo 2020 and Beijing 2022 Paralympic Games) if they have met the specified testing requirements;
• The RPC must contribute to the IPC’s significant costs resulting from the increased testing required in relation to Russian athletes under the IPC’s jurisdiction until 31 December 2022;
• The RPC must provide progress reports to the IPC every six months for at least the next three years.

One of the outstanding conditions which the IPC outlined that the PRC must fulfil before reinstatement was reimbursement of costs related to its suspension. In September last year, the IPC outlined that the RPC owed €257,500 for increased testing of RPC athletes and for the costs of the IPC Taskforce. 

‘The Taskforce is advised that the issue of costs has not been resolved by the RPC’, reads the November 2018 Taskforce Report above. ‘With respect to the reimbursement of costs, the Taskforce has spent little time on these criteria and has rather left this matter to the staff of the IPC to resolve. The Taskforce is comfortable with the future determination of the RPC’s compliance with this requirement to be the sole responsibility of the Governing Board, and does not consider that this matter requires further input and/or recommendations from the Taskforce.’ 

Today’s IPC statement doesn’t mention whether the RPC has met these costs. In September last year, RPC officials claimed to have begun to make payments to the IPC. However, as mentioned, the IPC Taskforce Report was published after this, in November.

Ducks in a row

The IPC Taskforce was made up of representatives from sporting organisations and a governmental sports integrity organisation. It was Chaired by British Rowing’s Andy Parkinson, former CEO of the UK Anti-Doping Agency (UKAD), and also featured Shin Asakawa, CEO of the Japan Anti-Doping Agency (JADA); Akaash Maharaj, CEO of the Global Organisation of Parliamentarians Against Corruption; and Sarah Fussek, the international ski federation’s (FIS) anti-doping coordinator.

“I acknowledge that some Para athletes may disagree with this decision or disapprove of the IPC Governing Board’s change of position on the original criteria”, said Chelsey Gotell, Chair of the IPC Athletes Council in today’s statement, recognising that some will view the decision as a climbdown. “Although I can certainly appreciate this perspective, I also think it is vital for Para athletes to consider and appreciate just how far the RPC has come since August 2016 and that this decision has been made with further protections put in place.”

It is significant that the IPC decided to reinstate the RPC under strict conditions, after following the IPC Taskforce recommendation that it consult with WADA about resolving the issue of acceptance of the McLaren Report. The IPC’s General Counsel is Liz Reilly of Bird & Bird. Jonathan Taylor of Bird & Bird Chairs WADA’s Compliance Review Committee (CRC), which recommended that RUSADA be reinstated under strict conditions.

The major finding of the McLaren Reports was that agents of the Russian State were involved in manipulating the doping control process. The IPC Taskforce Report shows that the Russian State is still exercising a modicum of control overt the RPC. ‘The RPC’s acceptance of the McLaren report is intrinsically linked to the Russian Federation’s acceptance insofar that it has become clear that the RPC is unable to provide a response inconsistent with that of the Russian Federation’, it reads, as mentioned at the start of this article.

‘The Russian Paralympic Committee welcomes the decision of the IPC’, read an RPC statement. ‘Although it seems to us late, it nevertheless allows us to solve the basic problems of full preparation and participation of the national teams of Russia in the XVI Paralympic Summer Games in 2020 in Tokyo (Japan). As they say, better late than never. The conditional criteria contained in the statement of the IASC, seem to us to be generally acceptable.’

Russia continues to maintain the line that State organised manipulation of the doping control process did not take place. This week, Richard McLaren confirmed that he has been served with a C$6 million lawsuit from a group of Russian rowers, who argue that the evidence in his Reports was not sufficient to prohibit them from taking part in the Rio 2016 Olympics. 

Whilst sport cannot be expected to hold governments to account, it can be expected to act with integrity in order to protect its athletes. “These strict conditions continue to highlight and safeguard the importance and value that the IPC Governing Board places on protecting clean athletes from corruptive measures that threaten the integrity of the Paralympic Movement”, said Gottell in today’s IPC statement. 

Whether today’s decision does that depends on who you believe clean athletes need protecting from – other athletes or corrupt officials. Whether they intended it or not, WADA and the IPC’s decisions will bolster Russia’s claim that State doping did not occur in its country and a few rogue athletes and officials were to blame. The decisions will allow Russia to claim that the doping problem, which is admits existed, was due to a few bad apples.

A fightback has begun. Last month, the IOC was accused of hiding evidence that Russian athletes were not doping from the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS). Last week, the Russian Athletics Federation (RusAF) said that it is taking legal advice regarding the suspension of 12 athletes. This week, McLaren has been served with a lawsuit alleging that his evidence is unreliable. If the contention that the Russian State subverted the doping control process begins to unravel, then sport only has itself to blame for not enforcing sanctions against those responsible.

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