To rectify the leniency granted to Russian Olympic athletes over reports of state-sponsored doping, the International Paralympic Committee has taken it out on those with physical disabilities.
And to think that the IPC thought this moral stand would strengthen their public image.
If you have been more concerned with podium placing and incredible Olympic stories, let me catch you up to speed.
Richard McLaren, a Canadian attorney and Western University law professor, was retained by WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency) to investigate claims from a Russian lab director turned whistle blower who was fired by government authorities and fled to the United States. On 18 July 2016, McLaren published a 97-page report covering significant state-sponsored doping committed by Russia at the 2014 Sochi Winter Games.
The report cites 643 positive samples that were covered up through intricate methods carried out by government officials by order of Russia’s Ministry of Sport. In layman’s terms, this went straight to the top. Vitaly Stepanov, the aforementioned lab director, suggests that at least four gold medalists had positive samples disappear.
Once the report was published, the ball was in the IOC’s court. Russia was found with their hands so deep in the cookie jar that it was expected that a harsh punishment was imminent; WADA recommended a blanket ban of all Russian athletes, something that seemed a very real possibility.
But on 24 July, the IOC rejected WADA’s request, instead diverting the responsibility to the individual sport federations. When all was said and done, 111 of the 389 total Russian Olympic athletes were barred from competing. This included all 67 competing in athletics (track and field) with the remaining having been banned for having tested positive at some point in their career.
No doubt a half-measure, but one that many could sympathize with; practically none of the athletes implicated at the Winter Games were competing in Rio and to punish them for their government’s wrongdoing would be drastic. However, it was clear that the IOC had set a precedent that a blanket ban of athletes would never be enforced due to doping.
Or at least, a blanket ban of able-bodied athletes.
On 7 August 2016, the IPC (International Paralympic Committee) voted unanimously to ban the entire Russian team from the 2016 Summer Paralympics, citing the Russian Paralympic Committee’s inability to enforce the IPC’s Anti-Doping Code and the World Anti-Doping Code.
To allow Olympic athletes without prior doping history to compete but to ban Paralympic athletes is disturbing.
In my many experiences with Paralympic athletes, they want and deserve to be treated in the same manner as their Olympic counterparts; these are the best in the world at their sport and that is what makes them special, not that they have a disability. But purely from an optics stance, this looks like a human rights injustice. To prevent physically disabled athletes from competing in an event they have trained four years for is disheartening, even more so when the punishment levied in the ongoing games was by contrast so light.
One obvious reason for the discrepancy is that the governing bodies are not the same. The IOC and its Para-sport counterpart the IPC are separate, but I would hardly call them independent. Since 2000, the IOC signed a co-operation agreement with the IPC to strengthen their relationship. Since then, the IPC President has been elected a member of the IOC, and funding from the IOC to the Paralympic games has been increased. An amended agreement that will run through 2032 was just inked this past June.
For these two organizations to be so intricately linked, it is shocking that they could not get on the same page in this instance. They are both reviewing the same report, but the difference is the money at stake.
The 2012 games brought in $3.4 billion for the IOC. Of that, $2.6 billion were from the rights fees broadcaster had to pony up to show the sport on their networks. Russia, a perennial powerhouse in Olympic competition no doubt makes up a decent size slice of that pie.
In comparison, the IPC made $11 million in the same year. The financial implications of losing a country from competition is a fraction of what it is on the main stage. Without dollar signs in their eyes, the IPC could take this morals over medals mentality and ban Russia.
The intention came from the right place, but the IPC needs to realize that they can not overstep their big brother because they are not financially handcuffed.
Russia’s National Paralympic Committee has until 28 August to appeal, and I have no doubt that they will. The IOC and IPC claim to have this harmonized relationship, and for the two organizations to not be on the same page is an embarrassment and a perceived attack on those with physical disabilities.
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