Now that the Russian Paralympic team has been banned from participating in the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio, it remains to be seen if Moscow will be able to defend the interests of its athletes in the international court system.
Kseniya Ovsyannikova, right and Anna Petukhova, members of the Russian wheeled fencing team, attending a press conference on Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. Photo: RIA Novosti
Shortly before the opening ceremony of the 2016 Summer Olympics, the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) banned the entire Russian team from participating in the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio due to doping allegations. This followed closely behind the controversial decision by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to ban Russia’s track and field athletes and weightlifters from the Summer Olympics.
Not surprisingly, the latest decision to ban Russian Paralympic athletes has been met with a flurry of criticism. Russia considers the decision to be unfair and plans to appeal it within international legal and sports tribunals. Even outside Russia, this decision came as a surprise, because after all, even the much more influential IOC had decided against banning the entire Russian national team.
“This is unfair and legally more than doubtful,” said Vladimir Lukin, head of the Russian Paralympic Committee, during a press conference.
“The International Paralympic Committee has taken an inhumane and cruel action against the hundreds of Paralympic athletes who are absolutely clean and not even suspected of doping,” Lukin added. “Due to the decision of officials, they cannot pursue the sports, to which they have dedicated their entire lives. For many of them, generally speaking, this is the whole meaning of their lives.”
This controversial decision was made on the basis of the same Richard McLaren report, in which it was alleged that the Moscow anti-doping laboratory, in cooperation with Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB), was exchanging failed test samples of athletes with clean ones. However, the manufacturers of these test tubes still claim that such a hack is technically not possible.
The main drawback of the McLaren report is that it is built on the testimony of just one person – the former head of the Anti-Doping Center, Grigory Rodchenkov. Moreover, his involvement in this fraudulent scheme provided the grounds for the accusations.
“The report accused of wrongdoing the people who participated in the Winter Olympics in Sochi,” said Vadim Aleshkin, a silver and bronze medalist in track and field at the Paralympic World Cup.
“But what have Winter Paralympics got to do with the Summer Games? Of course, it could be claimed that we are all one big sports family," Aleshkin told Russia Direct. "But this squabble has nothing to do with our types of sports! Our national team, during the years from 2011 to 2015, did not have one athlete caught for doping!"
The deputy chairman of the Sports Committee of the State Duma and 6-time Olympic medalist, Mikhail Terentiev, also questioned this report.
“A number of publications have claimed the report includes only one of our Paralympic wrestlers, while wrestling is not even part of the Paralympic Games program – this type of sport doesn’t even exist," said Terentiev. "With all these inaccuracies, the question arises – why did they block these athletes on the path to their dreams?”
By the decision of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), the presumption of innocence ceased to operate for Russian athletes, because if a sample was changed, it is difficult to say for sure who the guilty party really is. Meanwhile, Olympic Committees in many countries insisted on the fact that even if a country is banned, its athletes should be allowed to compete under the Olympic flag. That is, punishment would still be meted out, but specifically against the Russian state.
Moreover, the Olympic Charter stipulates that it is the athletes that compete, and not countries. The reality is that in the Olympic Games there have been many precedents of denying entire national teams the right to participate in competitions, but this had always been due to political reasons – for example, when Nazi Germany was not allowed to participate in London in 1936, or when South African athletes were banned from going to Tokyo in 1964, because of apartheid in that country.
Russian athletes, in fact, are not being allowed to participate, not because of the annexation of Crimea or military actions in Syria, but namely due to violations of the rules of the game. In this case, does it make sense to punish athletes for the decisions of the management? This decision may lead to the erosion of Olympic values, and lead to the belief that all Russians practice doping, which, of course, is akin to stereotyping and oversimplification.
Experts have expressed the view that this ban is not an attempt to “step on the throat of the athletes” but, rather, a provocation against the Russian authorities. It seeks the dismissal of all those officials mentioned in the McLaren report, first of all, the Minister of Sport Vitaly Mutko.
However, the minister seems unsinkable – his position has not been affected, not by the poor performance of Russian Olympic athletes in Vancouver, not by the unsuccessful performance of the national soccer team (even under the leadership of the most expensive coach in Europe, Fabio Capello), much less this recent doping scandal.
Be things as they may, Russia is planning to challenge the decision of the IPC, having already filed the corresponding claims. Time is short, but there are still a few weeks left before the Paralympic Games. Bearing in mind the experience of their Olympic peers, Russia’s Paralympic athletes have not lost hope, and continue their training.
“All athletes of major sports are registered in the ADAMS (Anti-Doping Administration & Management System). This is a special system that is implemented every quarter," Aleshkin said. "That is, wherever I may be, at any time of the day, they may come and take samples from me. Moreover, my samples are not even stored in Russia. I am absolutely open and clean, all my life, all my tests have always come out negative – so what am I guilty of?”
“I am not worried – I am sure there is sanity out there, at least in the people who work in the court, and who will have the last word,” he added
The resentment of ordinary athletes is fully understandable. Sergey Gutnikov, general director of the Special Olympics Committee of St. Petersburg and president of the Federation of Disabled Sports, on Aug. 10 announced that if the decision to participate in the competition will not be in Russia’s favor, then another lawsuit would be filed.
This new lawsuit would seek compensation for training costs incurred in preparation for the Olympics. After all, a ban from participation in the Games means lost wages for Paralympic athletes. However, Gutnikov stresses that, in his opinion, there are no reasons to justify the suspension and he remains hopeful that the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in Lausanne, Switzerland will overturn the decision.
Recommended: "The Russian doping scandal: Who is to blame?"
It is hard to predict the prospects of the Russian claim. On the one hand, the IOC, having refused to follow the principle of collective responsibility, has given a signal to the CAS that not every athlete should be banned from competition. However, on the other hand, the CAS still denied the claim of the Russian Track and Field Federation, although it stated that responsibility should be individual.
In that case, the CAS justified its ruling by the fact that, once the rules of an international federation provide for the exclusion of one of its members, the judges have no right to interfere in it. The same clause is written in the rules of the IPC. Therefore, for the time being, the final decision is really unpredictable.