Guilty Russia's Return is a Done Deal

Russia says it will have it all cleaned up in 90 days: an amazing turnaround from Moscow calling the allegations of state?sponsored doping \"baseless\" and a \"political hit-job\".

Published: 18th November 2015 08:19 AM  |   Last Updated: 18th November 2015 08:19 AM   |  A+A-

Russia says it will have it all cleaned up in 90 days: an amazing turnaround from Moscow calling the allegations of state?sponsored doping "baseless" and a "political hit-job". What, you might wonder, happened to cause such a shift at the Kremlin? Vitaly Mutko, the same sports minister who railed against the World Anti-Doping Agency's 323-page report, now says on Russian television: "In three months we will once again go to the international federation to present ourselves as compliant with its standards. We hope our team will be reinstated."

By March, it will be springtime in Moscow for athletics. Putin's purges will have cleared out those Russian officials who committed the cardinal error of being caught, and the Moscow lab which oversaw the "intentional and malicious destruction" of more than 1,400 blood or urine samples will be "compliant" again, thus clearing the way for Russia to compete in track and field at the 2016 Rio Olympics.

"Compliance" is a vital word here, because it suggests a willingness not to commit future transgressions. Those already on the charge sheet will be washed away by future obedience. Thus have the Kremlin, the International Association of Athletics Federations and the International Olympic Committee conspired to turn the normal rules of crime and punishment on their head. It is a brilliant ruse, but one for which we should not fall.

The suspension of Russian athletics by the IAAF ought to have been for the institutionalised doping and corruption exposed by Wada. Instead, Russia was shown the carrot before the stick, and given every reason to think there was no real urge by the world governing bodies to start the Rio Games without a country accused by Travis Tygart, the American attorney who hunted down Lance Armstrong, of hiding behind "a wall of deception and lies".

Russia hates taking lectures from the United States, and could recite any number of Uncle Sam's own violations, from the Carl Lewis era through to Balco. The difference, though, is that the Russia scandal involves a top-to-bottom conspiracy, from government through security services (the FSB) to coaches, athletes, labs and the former president of the IAAF, Lamine Diack, who is accused of extracting bribes to cover up positive Russian tests.

Allow me to draw a couple of unavoidable conclusions. One is that Russia, the IAAF and the IOC did a deal from the earliest days, either explicit or implied, to "save" the Rio Games from expulsions and boycotts. The other is that both bodies are petrified of what else might come out, and are desperately trying to clear up the Russia mess so everyone stops poking around. Dick Pound, Wada's witch-finder in chief, offered the clearest possible evidence for this theory when calling his own report "the tip of the iceberg". So the "murky compromise" feared by Ed Warner, the head of UK Athletics, has indeed come to pass.

Shine a light for a moment on Mutko, who says he has agreed a "road map" with Lord Coe and the IAAF. Pound said of Mutko: "It was not possible for him to be unaware of it [Russia's doping programme]. And if he was aware of it then he was complicit in it."

Initially hostile to Wada's allegations, the sports minister now says of Russia's provisional suspension: "It is a predictable and understandable decision. We need to understand what they want and where they see threats. We will develop a joint road map and try to do it quickly. I think we can do all the work in two to three months. I hope in 90 days our team will be reinstated." Just in time for the World Indoor Championships.

This dramatic change in tune can be traced to last Wednesday, when President Putin abandoned his own truculent stance. "It is essential that we conduct our own internal investigation and provide the most open - and I want to underline the most open - professional cooperation with international anti-doping structures," he said. He took a final swipe at the hypocrisy of other countries but went on to say: "A sporting contest is only interesting when it is honest," while promising to take personal responsibility for the clean-up.

What prompted this volte-face? An independent tactical shift by the Kremlin, or a promise that if Russia played ball the "sabotaging" of the London 2012 Olympics would be laid to rest?

Consider this, too, from an IAAF spokesman: "Everyone within the IAAF will work tirelessly with authorities in Russia on the reinstatement of the All-Russia Athletics Federation as soon as possible, as this is the best outcome for the athletes. This is the first and only priority right now for the IAAF and for Russia." This "first and only priority" also happens to be a curious way to administer justice. It amounts to hugging the perpetrator, wiping the slab clean of a state doping programme and fooling the public that future "compliance" eliminates current non-compliance. As further proof, Vadim Zelichenok, acting president of the All-Russia Athletics Federation, says he has "worked out a crisis plan" and "discussed the measures that will help us to restore our IAAF membership in two or three months".

So the pious West may just have endorsed an almighty purge of Russian officials who were carrying out orders. "They have to change to beat the suspension from the Olympic Games. Not just the athletes involved, but the coaches as well," says Olga Korbut, the former Soviet gymnast. "They have to change all who have been involved - doctors and coaches and everybody. They have to be replaced and start over again without cheating."

Korbut finds an ally in Thomas Bach, the IOC president who is on such good terms with Putin. "This is, first of all, to make sure that all the implicated officials, coaches, doctors and so on, will be held responsible and sanctioned," Bach said. "Secondly, there will be a complete renewal and reform of the national athletics federation, and thirdly, that all the doped athletes will be punished and the clean athletes will be protected."

There will, Bach promised, be "verification". So all the ducks are lined up. But Warner's fear of a "murky compromise" was backed up by another worry. "Sports scientists will tell you the benefits of the use of illegal performance-enhancing drugs persist well beyond, for example, a two-year ban," Warner said. "So even if Russia is allowed back in to the Olympics next year there will be athletes lining up who may or may not have served bans, or may never have been caught."

Or, as the British runner Jo Pavey, put it: "Even if they aren't taking drugs now, how do you know that they aren't still getting long-term benefits?" Russia are not the only offenders, by a long stretch, but they are the beneficiaries of this Faustian choreography. As Pound said definitively in his report: "It's worse than we thought."

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