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

Russian cross-country skier Alexander Legkov (center) leaps into the air as he is announced as the gold medal winner for the men's 50km race at the 2014 Winter Olympics on Feb. 23, 2014 in Sochi, Russia. Legkov was among numerous Russian athletes later identified and accused by a Moscow doctor and anti-doping officials as having taken part in the nation's alleged state-sanctioned doping program. Russia won 33 medals, 13 of them gold, during the 2014 Winter Olympics -- more than any other nation. File Photo by Maya Vidon-White/UPI | License Photo

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.

“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 Olympic rings are seen at Barra Olympic Park in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on Saturday — less than a week from the start of the 2016 Summer Games, which are being held in a South American nation for the first time. The games begin on Friday and run through Aug. 21.

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.

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.


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