Putin's shadow places the IOC in a tricky situation

I dealt a fair amount with Juan Antonio Samaranch, the man who provided much of the momentum for the Olympic Movement during difficult times. He weathered a series of boycotts that proved a blow to the old Olympic ideal, and also the taboo of professionalism. The Barcelona Games were spectacular, and not just for Spain. They represented recuperation. But whenever I talked to him, he was always concerned by a single matter: doping. More than concerned, pessimistic even. He saw it is a disease that would be difficult to combat. And that has been the case. WADA was created to battle doping and it achieves some partial successes, but the problem persists.

And now it has risen like a giant ghost with the evidence that Russia has been involved in a state-sanctioned doping programme. The Russian government and its secret service (the old KGB), stand accused of creating a cover-up system for its athletes’ doping, suppressing dozens of failed tests, particularly among weightlifters but across the board in general as well. The IAAF has taken the decision to ban Russian athletes from Rio, a decision backed by the Court of Arbitration for Sport. Now the International Olympic Committee (IOC) faces the difficult decision of expelling Russia from the Olympic fold or trying to find a tricky compromise solution.

Russia isn’t just any old country, but what it has done is not just any old infraction. Many people feel that if we were dealing with any other country, they would have been banned already by the IOC for a reasonable period of time. But Russia, and more so the Russia of today, with Putin in rebellious mood, striving to reconstruct the old Soviet superpower pride, is not led by just any statesman. What is to be done? Those Russian athletes that can prove they are clean could be permitted to compete, but under the Russian flag? Under a neutral Olympic flag? Would those athletes accept it? Can they? It is a difficult question, but it cannot be left unattended any longer.