IAAF ban on Russian participation at Rio: A tough call but a necessary one

Russia’s track and field team was barred on Friday from competing in the Rio Olympics, perhaps the sharpest rebuke yet against doping on the sport’s biggest stage.

“It was not an easy decision to make today . . . This is a sad day for everybody concerned,” IAAF President Sebastian Coe said at a news conference. “Any decision made today was going to be a sad day for our sport.”

Sebastian Coe Los Angeles 1984.jpg

Sebastian Coe retaining his Olympic 1500m title at Los Angeles 1984

Two interesting pieces of information have emerged. The first is that Russian athletes have been going to extraordinary lengths to avoid testing and the second is that the IAAF may consider individual athletes for inclusion in the Olympics, particularly if they had been tested outside Russia.

The very sad thing about this situation is that Russian athletes have not been using  illegal drugs will be covered by this blanket ban. For athletes who have devoted their lives to going to the Olympics, this is a terrible blow.

But the decision has been made that doping in Russia is a systemic not an individual problem and that it needs to be attacked at a systemic level. There is no doubt that this move by the IAAF will send a clear message to other countries that engage in systemwide doping. There has long been a suspicion that China falls into this category.

The other side of the Russian doping regime can be seen in the announcement in that:

Race walker Jared Tallent has finally received his gold medal for the 50km walk at the London Olympics, 1,405 days after the event took place.

Tallent crossed the line second at the 2012 Games, but was elevated to gold after Russian Sergey Kirdyapkin was stripped of his medal for doping by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) last March.

While the ban is very hard on the honest Russian athletes, it is worth remembering that there will be hundreds, possibly thousands, of world-class athletes who missed out on medals at Olympic Games and World championships and who may also feel they were beaten by athletes who were taking performance enhancing drugs.

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