IOC widely criticised following Russian Participation at 2016 Olympics
12 August 2016 by Jason Torrance
Further to my recent blog about whether there would be any Russian athletes competing at the 2016 Olympic Games, we now have our answer – a resounding yes. The International Olympic Committee decided that the decision on Russian athlete participation would be that of each International Federation, providing that each athlete met criteria outlined by the IOC. These included taking into account past doping histories of those athletes, with those decisions then ratified by a three person IOC panel.
In total, as reported in the Daily Telegraph on 9 August, there are a total of 200 Russian athletes who have met the IOC’s criteria and been permitted to compete. Final numbers will not be clear until all International Federations have completed their processes. It is understood that this is far more than the IOC anticipated when it made its decision not to implement a blanket ban on Russian athletes.
The first major backlash against Russian athlete participation came in the women’s 100 metre breaststroke final when Yulia Efimova won a silver medal. This is despite the fact that Efimova tested positive for meldonium earlier this year (the same substance for which Maria Sharapova is now serving a 2 year ban), but was not banned by the International Swimming Federation (FINA), and has previously served a 16 month doping ban. Her participation is a result of a late appeal to FINA who are the International Federation who have allowed the greatest number of Russian athletes to compete, totalling 66. She was loudly booed by the crowd as she entered the arena and ignored by her fellow competitors. The women’s 200 metre final was also won by an athlete formally banned for doping, the Chinese swimmer Sun Yang.
One potential issue raised by the IOC’s criteria is that of collateral sanctions. Some would argue that once an athlete has been found guilty of doping, they should be banned for life. The British Olympic Committee famously lost a case against Dwain Chambers on this very point and had to amend it’s Olympic eligibility rules, meaning that Chambers could represent Great Britain at the London 2012 Olympics following a ban for doping earlier in his career. Part of the reasoning for this is because of scientific evidence suggesting that steroid use provides an athlete with benefits for many years beyond the length of any ban.
However many others argue, and are supported by the World Anti-Doping Code, that once an athlete has served their ban for a doping offence, they should be free to compete as any other athlete is. Indeed, the 2015 Code amended the ruling on athletes who compete in team sports being allowed to return to training prior to the end of their ban so that once their ban ends they can go straight back into the team if selected. Previously, many athletes argued that if they were not allowed to train with their team, the extra time they required to re-integrate with the team in terms of match fitness and tactics amounted to a collateral sanction.
Whichever side of the argument you agree with, it seems that fans at major games are not so willing to forgive. The reception received by Justin Gatlin, the American sprinter who has now served two separate bans for doping, will no doubt be just as hostile as Efimova’s and comparable to how it was at the World Championships by both spectators and media alike.
If you are an athlete or athlete support person and find yourself in a similar situation, Fisher Jones Greenwood LLP can help in this very niche area of the law. We can advise athletes and athlete support personnel throughout the course of anti-doping proceedings and provide expert representation.
We are also able to assist National Governing Bodies meet their regulatory duties and ensure that their anti-doping rules, practices and procedures are in line with those of UK Anti-Doping.
For expert advice on anti-doping, please contact Jason Torrance on firstname.lastname@example.org
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