This week has been an interesting week in the world of international sports and health law. The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) announced today that it will uphold the suspension of the Russian track and field team originally imposed by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) from the upcoming games in Rio in a month’s time. Russia was originally suspended from track and field events by the IAAF in November 2015 after an independent publication by the World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada) alleged systematic and state-supported doping and recommended lifetime doping bans against a number of athletes and coaches. Russia accepted this ban without requesting a hearing and the Russian sports minister apologized at the time for not having identified that doping was taking place without directly admitting state involvement.
The allegations against Russia worsened this week with the publication of another Wada-report called the McLaren Independent Investigations Report into Sochi Allegations that reviewed Russian activities across a range of sports on numerous international sporting events, from roughly 2011 up to and including the 2014 Sochi Olympic Games. The Report suggests that Russian systemic doping of athletes extends well beyond the track and field team, and was directly overseen by the Ministry of Sport and may have involved active participation by members of the Russian secret service who assisted with sample swapping. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) responded to this report in a statement where they called this a “shocking and unprecedented attack on the integrity of sports and on the Olympic Games” and said that they would “not hesitate to take the toughest sanctions available against any individual or organization implicated”. These allegations have led to calls to have the entire Russian Olympic and Paralympic teams banned from the Rio Games, a process that is currently underway through the international sporting tribunal system.
Despite the ban, it may be possible for some Russian athletes to compete if they are nominated by the Russian Olympic Committee and pass numerous drug tests, but their participation would have to do so under the banner of the IOC and not under their home flag of Russia. It remains to be seen what will happen to the secondary challenge against the wider Russian teams and opinions about the correctness of the findings are mixed. Many athletes have come forward praising the decision as being a strong warning for those who would seek to cheat through doping methods, while others have argued that a blanket ban runs contrary to the principles of justice for the clean Russian athletes who have qualified for the Rio Games without having undertaken doping.
With the Olympic torch on day 80 of 95 on its way to Rio, this is just one more dramatic piece to what has already shaped up to be an incredibly dramatic event with political overthrows, violence in the city’s favelas, fears about Rio’s water quality and the ever present threat of the Zika virus, all of which have somewhat overshadowed enthusiasm for the Games themselves and have left some calling to have the Games cancelled. Despite these difficulties, the Games are set to start in just 15 days time and will undoubtedly be exciting however, let us hope that the excitement on the field far exceeds any excitement off the field!