IOC chief: ‘Nuclear’ Russian ban in Rio threatens too much ‘collateral damage’

LAUSANNE, Switzerland, Aug. 2 (UPI) — The president of the International Olympic Committee on Tuesday defended his organization’s refusal to institute a blanket ban on all Russian athletes at the Summer Games starting in Brazil this week — saying the incidental damage from such a move would be too great.

Speaking at the start of a three-day IOC session in Rio de Janeiro, Olympic body president Thomas Bach said Tuesday that universally banning Russian athletes at the games over the nation’s ongoing doping scandal would be tantamount to figuratively throwing out the baby with the bath water.

Accordingly, he said, a ban like that would do more harm than good.

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“This blanket ban of the Russian Olympic Committee has been called by some the ‘nuclear option’ and the innocent athletes would have to be considered as collateral damage,” Bach told the 129th IOC session Tuesday. “Leaving aside that such a comparison is completely out of any proportion when it comes to the rules of sport, 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 IOC’s Executive Board decided on July 24 not to pursue a total ban on Russia’s participation in Rio, despite indications that Moscow has been sponsoring widespread doping among its athletes for years at past competitions.

“The Olympic Movement stands for life and the construction of a better future,” Bach added. “This vision of a better future for and through sport is what needs to guide us. This vision includes a more robust and efficient worldwide anti-doping system.”

The allegations of doping stem from claims by a Russian doctor and other officials over the past 18 months that Moscow has operated a structured and strategic doping program intended to give athletes an advantage in competition at global events.

At the last Olympic Games, in the Russian town of Sochi in 2014, the country won 33 overall medals — 13 of them gold — and emerged as the event’s most victorious nation, besting even Winter Games heavyweights like the United States, Canada and Germany.

The Russian doctor who claims to have participated in the doping program said roughly one-third of the medals won at Sochi involved athletes who took part in Moscow’s doping program.

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The doping claims, though, aren’t limited to the Sochi games. Russian Olympic officials retroactively found that more than a dozen athletes also tested positive for banned substances at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing.

Moscow, though, has vigorously denied running an athlete drugging program.

Some have said all Russian athletes should be barred from competition in Brazil, but Bach said Tuesday that the world Olympic body believes that type of punishment is too heavy-handed.

“We cannot deprive an athlete of the human right to be given the opportunity to prove his or her innocence. You cannot punish a human being for the failures of his or her government if he or she is not implicated,” he said. “These principles are now being implemented.”

A World Anti Doping Agency report last month concluded that there had indeed been state-directed doping by Moscow during the Sochi games. Instead of issuing a total ban, though, the IOC established strict screening criteria for Russian athletes in Rio and left it up to individual sporting federations to determine whether those athletes can compete.

Video courtesy International Olympic Committee

Bach said previously that course of action punishes the Russian government and doping athletes, but also gives legitimate competitors the opportunity to show they are clean and compete in Rio.

“If you are clean, you are respected and rewarded. You can follow and you must follow your Olympic dream as a clean athlete,” Bach said. “If we all contribute in this spirit then this painful situation can become a moment of catharsis in the fight against doping.”

By a show of hands at Tuesday’s IOC session, all but one member showed support for the Executive Board’s decision to refuse the blanket ban.

Anti-doping officials from the United States, Canada, Germany and many other nations have favored a blanket Russian ban in Rio de Janeiro.

So far, all Russian weightlifting and track and field athletes have been barred, though some are appealing their disqualification to the Court of Arbitration for Sport. The eligibility status for the remainder of Russia’s Olympic delegation has yet to be determined, but is expected soon.

Tuesday, Russian Olympic officials said about 200 of the nation’s athletes will participate in Friday’s Opening Ceremony, although some will obviously not participate in actual competition.

The Summer Olympics open Friday and run through Aug. 21. They are the first games in Olympic history to be held in a South American country. The only continent still yet to host any Olympic Games is Africa.

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