RIO DE JANEIRO—On another day of drug shame for the Olympic Games, the Paralympic organization proved it has the moral fortitude so sadly missing from the International Olympic Committee.
The entire Russian Olympic team has been banned from competing at next month’s Paralympics in Rio after organizers studied the very same evidence produced for the IOC and decided it was morally reprehensible to let a nation compete when they had been caught red-handed cheating on an industrial scale.
"I believe the Russian government has catastrophically failed its Para athletes. Their medals over morals mentality disgusts me,” said Philip Craven, president of the International Paralympic Committee (IPC).
"The complete corruption of the anti-doping system is contrary to the rules and strikes at the very heart of the spirit of Paralympic sport.”
The Olympic spirit survives but only at the Paralympic Games.
Craven’s bold ruling and his explosive attack on institutionalized drug cheating served only to highlight the Olympics’ lack of conviction. Hours before his announcement, a stunning undercover investigation into doping in distance running emerged from The Sunday Times and German broadcaster ARD.
Footage showed the Kenyan Olympic team’s track and field manager, Major Michael Rotich, bragging that it was safe to use blood-boosting drug EPO in Kenya and claiming that he would be able to warn athletes about upcoming tests in exchange for a large cash payment.
Kenya has dominated distance running at the Olympics and beyond since the early 1990s.
The country’s drug-testing facility was shut down earlier this year by WADA, the world anti-doping authority, prompting calls for Kenya’s track and field team to be banned from Rio along with the Russian track and field athletes.
Instead, new anti-doping laws in Kenya allowed WADA to remove the country from their non-compliance list on Thursday. Their athletes will begin racing next week.
Rotich, who was due to take part in the Kenya team’s flag procession at the Opening Ceremony on Friday, has been sent home following the allegations.
In the videos that were filmed earlier this year, Rotich told an undercover reporter who was posing as a corrupt athletics coach that it was easy to protect cheating athletes.
He said it was very unlikely athletes training at the popular high-altitude camps at Iten in Kenya would be tested. “Here it is not likely and if it was then we would know,” he said.
For $13,000 he said he would inform an intermediary at least 12 hours in advance if drug testers were planning to call on a particular athlete. “Yeah, I will tell him. Any time, any time,” he said.
Drug testers can only detect EPO in urine for a short time after it is used. With a 12-hour warning, athletes can usually flush it out of their system. If that doesn’t work Rotich said his warning would give the athlete time to invent an excuse for disappearing. “I mean some of those compassionate ones like you had a sick child and you . . . slept in the hospital or something [or pretend] something happened to a close relative,” he said.
As well as the Kenyan athletes, foreign stars—including British Olympic gold medalist Mo Farrah and former world champion Paula Radcliffe—have used the high-altitude training facilities.
No doubt, the IOC will condemn the latest revelations and then do absolutely nothing about it. They must learn from the leadership of the Paralympic Committee if they are to salvage the reputation of the Games.
Russia reacted with horror to the IPC announcement in Rio and insist they will challenge the ban at the Court of Arbitration for Sport, which has a massively overworked temporary tribunal running in Rio.
Mikhail Terentyev, head of Russian Paralympic Committee, said the IPC decision would reduce the Paralympic Games to a rump competition.
"The Paralympic Games without Russians are games in a cut-down form," he told Russia’s Tass news agency. "Our team is one of the best in the world and its results are proof.”
You certainly can’t argue that they have shown a prodigious ability to gather Paralympic medals. At the Sochi winter games, they won 80 medals. That’s 65 more than Germany, who finished in second place.
Craven is not convinced that this success should be applauded. "Their thirst for glory at all costs has severely damaged the integrity and image of all sport," he said.