Russian athletes have started to arrive in Rio ready to compete at the Olympic Games that start on August 5.
A Russian contingent has been allowed to take part at the Games after the International Olympic Committee (IOC) on Sunday decided against imposing a blanket ban on the nation.
This decision, which was welcomed by Moscow, comes despite a recent report commissioned by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) that established there had been widespread state-sponsored doping between 2011 and 2015.
In 2014 Middle-distance runner and former drugs cheat Yuliya Stepanova, who along with husband Vitaly Stepanov, blew the whistle on doping in Russia and was hoping to compete as a neutral.
But after the latest report, the IOC decided to prevent any Russian athletes with a previous record of doping from attending the Games.
Stepanova provided evidence in a series of documentaries produced by German journalist Hajo Seppelt, who was the first to lift the lid on alleged systemic doping in Russia.
The documentaries prompted a WADA investigation, which led to Russian track and field athletes being banned from competition by World Athletics, the IAAF, in November 2015. The ban is still in place.
Euronews interviewed Hajo Seppelt from German broadcaster ARD, who exposed the systematic doping in Russian athletics in a documentary.
Andreas Hinz, Euronews:
You have sharply criticised the doping by the Russian state many times. What do you think of the IOC’s decision?
Hajo Seppelt, ARD:
“It’s a declaration of bankruptcy in the fight against doping. It’s a setback for clean sport. The winners are those who cheat. This is the message of yesterday’s decision by the IOC. Because in the end they kowtowed to the Russian bear. Maybe it’s too much to say that the decision made the worst kind of state-sponsored doping since the GDR 30 years ago socially acceptable, but they didn’t put an end to it properly. The IOC puts the responsibility for the Russian Olympic participants in Rio in the hands of the international federations for individual sports. They now have twelve days to investigate whether those from Russia are to be allowed to take part. They have to establish whether the athletes on the list of potential Olympic participants were part of the state-sponsored doping (system) or not. This is absolutely impossible in twelve days.”
As you say, the international sports federations have little time. But wouldn’t it be wrong to put an embargo on all athletes if state-sponsored doping can’t be proved in every single case? You’ve said more than once: there might be Russian athletes who are clean. What about the presumption of innocence?
It’s not athletes who’d be banned but an individual federation or (in this case) the Russian Olympic Committee under whose responsibility the athletes train and take part in competitions. If a federation can’t guarantee that its athletes, who are under its responsibility, are clean, because the system under which they train and where they are tested for doping is contaminated and corrupt: in this case there can’t be a “level playing field”. Instead you have to suppose there are potential or actual cheats. That’s why we have the World Anti-Doping Code. According to this code, all member associations have to follow the rules. The Russians have broken the rules fundamentally – in a way we haven’t seen ever before. And so the question is whether, unfortunately, even clean athletes have to be banned as well. And certainly you can find such athletes in this system too.
What consequences will the decision have for the future of the Olympic Games?
It was the worst-case scenario, when it was found out that in 2016 and in the preceding years, at least over several periods, there was massive intervention by the Russian state, a politically controlled programme of deception. Athletes were trained under secret doping schemes. Their doping tests were suppressed or just disappeared – they were destroyed – in the event that there was something noticeable or they were positive. All that was done by the Russian sports ministry, supported by the secret service. If this level of manipulation and deception is not enough to say: ‘we have to ban the Russian National Olympic Committee’, then I don’t know what else has to happen until there will be meaningful measures in the fight against doping. Consistency by the IOC is missing. In actual fact, the IOC has sent a message to the world (saying): ‘Look, you can cheat as much as you like, you’ll still be welcome at the Olympic Games’.”
Since this interview was carried out, world swimming’s governing body FINA has announced that seven Russian swimmers are to be banned from competing at the Rio Olympics.