Olympics Cracking Down on Cheating
Russia’s Track and Field Team Barred From Rio Olympics
Russia’s track and field team is barred from competing in the Olympic Games this summer because of a far-reaching doping conspiracy, an extraordinary punishment without precedent in Olympics history.
The International Association of Athletics Federations, the governing body for track and field, announced the decision Friday, ruling in a unanimous vote that Russia had not done enough to restore global confidence in the integrity of its athletes.
Russia won 18 medals in track and field — including eight golds — at the last Summer Olympics. But when the Rio Games begin on Aug. 5, no track and field athletes will compete under the Russian flag. Not even East Germany, which conducted a notorious doping scheme throughout the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s, faced such a penalty.
“Politics was not playing a part in that room today,” Sebastian Coe, the head of the track and field organization, said about the vote Friday. “It was unambiguous.”
The case against Russia has advanced over the last seven months. Reports by the World Anti-Doping Agency and by news organizations have detailed a state-run doping scheme that punctured the integrity of the Olympics, seemingly upending many of the results from the 2008 Beijing Games, the 2012 London Games and the 2014 Sochi Games.
The allegations were wide-ranging and detailed: Athletes were given a three-drug cocktail of banned substances and liquor; authorities helped athletes evade drug tests by surreptitiously swapping out tainted urine; thousands of incriminating samples were destroyed; drug testers were threatened by members of Russia’s Federal Security Service.
But perhaps the most influential force in the track organization’s decision was the outcry from athletes outside of Russia. A groundswell of Olympians across sports agitated for penalties after WADA had been slow to respond.
“Athletes have been losing sleep,” said Lauryn Williams, a track and field and bobsled athlete from the United States. “You can’t have faith in anybody who is Russian.”
The I.O.C., the ultimate authority over the Games, was scheduled to discuss the decision on Tuesday. If Olympics officials amended the ruling against Russia, it would be an unusual move, as they have historically deferred to the governing bodies of specific sports.
Russian track and field athletes have been suspended from international competition since last fall, after publication of a WADA report accusing the nation of an elaborate government-run doping program. Although Russia denied those accusations, the country’s track and field authorities did not contest the suspension when given an opportunity in November.
Since then, however, Russian officials have striven to persuade global decision-makers that they could be trusted in coming Olympic competitions, volunteering to go beyond standard eligibility requirements and to send only athletes who have not been disciplined for drug use.
Global track officials said Friday that individuals who could “clearly and convincingly show they are not tainted by the Russian system” — because they have been outside the country and subject to rigorous testing — could individually petition to compete for a neutral team.
Such a policy could prove controversial. The sophistication of Russia’s operation, whistle-blowers have said, has made some athletes on steroids appear clean because incriminating urine samples have been swapped out or because athletes imbibed drugs with liquor to minimize the period during which the drugs can be detected.
“Two or five or 100 negative tests do not mean an athlete is clean,” Rune Andersen, chairman of the I.A.A.F. task force that is monitoring Russia, said Friday.