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Olympic Chief Defends Not Using 'Nuclear Option' Against Russia

  • RFE/RL

IOC President Thomas Bach (right) and WADA chief Craig Reedie have sparred over the massive Russian doping scandal.

IOC President Thomas Bach (right) and WADA chief Craig Reedie have sparred over the massive Russian doping scandal.

International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach called for an overhaul of the global anti-doping system while he defended not invoking the "nuclear option" and banning all Russians from the Rio Olympics this week.

At a committee meeting in Rio de Janiero on August 2, Bach criticized the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) again for presenting serious charges of Russian state-sponsored doping and cover-ups to the committee only weeks before the games were due to begin on August 5, forcing the committee and sport federations to scramble to determine the eligibility of 387 Russian athletes to participate.

Many of the committee's 86 members joined Bach's criticism in a heated debate, and WADA chief Craig Reedie acknowledged his organization's shortcomings. But peace between the feuding sport governing bodies appeared to be restored by the end of the day's session.

"It is not often that sport is confronted with what has come out of Russia," Reedie said. "It is really difficult to handle. It puts pressure on the IOC, athletes, and WADA. It is a natural reaction in this disturbed era that you point fingers."

Reedie added that the Olympic committee's preliminary move to ban at least 117 out of 387 Russian athletes from the games and other measures taken by different sports bodies in the wake of the scandal do not go far enough to deal with Russia's deep-seated problem with doping.

"It is absolutely essential we cannot have the biggest country in the world noncompliant on a permanent basis," he said.

Bach said his call for an overhaul of WADA was "not about destroying structures but significantly improving a system," creating a "robust and efficient system."

The Olympic executive board's July 24 decision not to impose a blanket ban on Russian athletes in Rio was endorsed 85-to-1 by committee members on August 2, despite WADA's recommendation of a total ban.

"It was called by some the nuclear option, and clean athletes were the collateral damage," Bach said. "Let us just for a moment consider the consequences of a nuclear option. The result is death and devastation. This is not what the Olympic movement stands for. The Olympic movement stands for life and the construction of a better future."

Like Bach, Israel's Olympic committee member Alex Gilady asked why WADA hadn't taken action against Russia when approached for the first time by whistle-blowers a few years ago.

"It's not the reputation of the IOC but that of WADA that has to be restored," he said.

Russian Olympic Committee President Aleksandr Zhukov blasted what he charged was "discrimination" against Russian athletes and rued the "ruined fates and broken lives of innocent athletes" excluded from the games.

He charged that the anti-doping agencies, athletes, media, and politicians who called for a total ban on Russia's participation were advocates of "political interference" in sports.

Zhukov was pleased with the committee's endorsement of the partial ban on Russian athletes in the Olympics, however.

"All my counterparts in the IOC stood up in supporting Russia, clean Russian athletes, and the idea that Russia must be represented in the Olympics. Without Russia, these Olympic Games would lose a huge portion of interest," he told reporters in Rio.

He added that the final lineup of Russians cleared to go to Rio will not be know until August 4, a day before the games begin, as many athletes have appealed their tentative bans to the Court of Arbitration for Sport and their final fate will be determined by a special commission set up by the Olympic committee to handle the Russian cases.

The games run from August 5-21.

Reedie said his agency is conducting an internal investigation of what went wrong in detecting the vast Russian doping operation. He said the agency needs more personnel and money to do better.

"I like to believe all of the system is not broken," Reedie said. "Part of the system is broken. We should start trying to identify those parts that need attention."

Some committee members criticized the inclusion of whistle-blower Yulia Stepanova among the Russian athletes banned from the games, saying it sends the wrong signal to athletes, who should be encouraged to come forward and reveal what they know about doping in their countries.

"Unfortunately, the decision to exclude Stepanova does harm the fight against doping," said Britain's Adam Pengilly.

With reporting by dpa, Reuters, and AFP