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 Russian ministry of sport said in a statement Friday that it was disappointed in the ruling. “We now appeal to the members of theInternational Olympic Committee to not only consider the impact that our athletes’ exclusion will have on their dreams and the people of Russia, but also that the Olympics themselves will be diminished by their absence,” the ministry said.
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.
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.
He said that the loophole for individuals had been created at the recommendation of lawyers who were mindful of possible court challenges; Russian athletes will have the opportunity to appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Switzerland.
“We do not believe that every Russian athlete cheated,” said Stephanie Hightower, the president of USA Track & Field, who took part in Friday’s vote. “It is unfortunate and regrettable that some may pay a penalty for the serious transgressions of their federation.”
On Friday, hours before the vote, Russia’s sports minister, Vitaly Mutko, made a final appeal, releasing an open letter to the I.A.A.F. that had been sent privately on Wednesday. “Russia fully supports fighting doping,” Mr. Mutko wrote, citing independent drug testing of Russian athletes that had been conducted by authorities from Britain in recent months and a new law that would make it a criminal offense “for an athlete’s coach and entourage to support doping.”
Those overtures were not enough.
Mr. Andersen said Friday that Mr. Mutko had privately acknowledged that Russia had inherited a doping culture from the Soviet Union.
Perhaps further contributing to officials’ skepticism, WADA released information days before Friday’s vote that called into question the credibility of Russia’s reforms. The agency said that the testing authorities from Britain had been threatened by members of Russia’s Federal Security Service and that many athletes — a significant number of them track and field competitors — had evaded drug tests with the help of sports officials as recently as this month.
Whistle-blowers have provided further details on the clandestine doping scheme the report described. Fearing for their safety, at least three of them have fled to the United States.
In Los Angeles, Grigory Rodchenkov, Russia’s former antidoping lab director, told The New York Times that he had worked for years at the direction of the Russian government to ensure the country’s dominance in international competition.
He said he had provided a three-drug cocktail of steroids and liquor to sports officials, who in turn provided those drugs to the country’s top athletes. According to Dr. Rodchenkov, Russian athletes took that cocktail to prepare for the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. They stopped taking the drugs one or two weeks before they were scheduled to be tested, he said, to avoid being caught.
“If you’re fighting doping, Russia should be withdrawn from the Olympics,” Dr. Rodchenkov said in Los Angeles last month. “Doping is everywhere. Many people in Russia don’t want to tell the truth. Lies and fear are absolute.”
Russian authorities have vehemently disputed Dr. Rodchenkov’s account, calling it the “slander of a turncoat.”
In a phone interview Friday, Dmitri Svishchev, head of the State Duma’s committee on sports, culture and youth affairs of Russia, called the decision “an injustice,” adding, “Russia has never denied that it has problems with doping, just as any other country.”
In general, nations have been barred from the Olympics because of geopolitical considerations, not doping. After both world wars, losing nations were kept out of the next Games. South Africa was barred from 1964 to 1988 because of its policies of apartheid. Yugoslavia was prevented from entering team events in 1992 because of United Nations penalties over the war in the Balkans.
It is unclear whether the I.O.C. can or will overturn the I.A.A.F.’s ban when it meets on Tuesday. The I.O.C.’s president, Thomas Bach, has emphasized in recent weeks “the difficult decision between collective responsibility and individual justice,” suggesting sympathy for Russian athletes with clean histories who are seeking to make it to Rio.
Still, Mr. Bach has also emphasized a “zero-tolerance” policy and said that if other Russian sports organizations were proved to be ridden with state-sponsored cheating, they, too, could be kept from the Olympics.
Katie Uhlaender, a skeleton racer from the United States, said it was difficult to react to Friday’s decision because the I.O.C. had yet to respond.
“If there are Russian athletes that can prove beyond reasonable doubt that they’re clean, let them compete,” she said. “But I literally started crying at the details of the Sochi scandal,” she said, referring to Dr. Rodchenkov’s account of having substituted out Russian athletes’ incriminating urine.
“What does it even mean to ban Russia?” she said. “Is sending them to their room or putting them in a timeout going to solve the problem?”