Richard Pound is the senior active member of the International Olympic Committee and was founding president of the World Anti-Doping Agency. He chaired the WADA Independent Commission that reported on corruption in Russian athletics in November, 2015.
Within minutes of the formal release of Richard McLaren's report on systematic state-sponsored doping in Russia, the World Anti-Doping Agency issued recommendations to the International Olympic Committee to ban the Russian team and Russian officials from the Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro next month.
The report set out the details of a system that protected Russian athletes from being found guilty of a doping infraction. The system was deceptively simple and centred on the WADA-accredited laboratory in Moscow. The lab was technically competent, but was not independent from the government. When preliminary screenings indicated a likely positive test (i.e., showing the presence of a prohibited substance), the lab had standing instructions to provide that information to the deputy minister of sport, who examined the list and determined whether the athlete should be "saved" or "quarantined."
If the athlete was to be saved, the sample was reported as negative and the lab records were altered to confirm that status. If the athlete was marked as quarantined, the analysis proceeded in the normal fashion and positive cases were reported as such. Russian athletes at the highest levels could be certain that, whatever their samples may have contained, they were protected from ever registering a positive test.
The report also explained the mechanics of ensuring that Russian athletes did not test positive at the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi. Stung by indifferent results in Vancouver in 2010, Russia was determined to improve its medal count in 2014. The usual alteration of results couldn't work, due to the presence of outside experts and observers in the Sochi lab. So an alternate, Le Carré-like, scheme was adopted. Russian urine samples that might be positive were passed through a "mouse hole" drilled through a wall from the secure zone in the lab to an unsecure portion; the samples were opened, emptied and refilled with clean urine provided in advance by the athletes, resealed and brought back to the secure area. Not a single Russian athlete tested positive in Sochi.
When the scheme was revealed by the former director of the laboratory, who had fled Russia, WADA commissioned Mr. McLaren to head an investigation. Although given less than 60 days to do his work, he was able to verify the information provided, analyze samples still available from Sochi, commission a means to open supposedly tamper-proof containers and reseal them in a manner that escaped normal observation, and identify the elements of the overall doping system.
Even though Mr. Mclaren acknowledged that he was only able to scratch the surface of the thousands of computer records and documents provided to him, his report makes it obvious that not only did such a system exist, but that it was inconceivable that higher government authorities didn't know about it. This was not merely a case of a few "bent" doctors or coaches operating outside the system – it was the system itself, designed, created and operated by the state.
Many, especially athletes, have echoed the recommendations of WADA that Russia be excluded from Rio.
Despite Russian political rhetoric, this is not a "political" issue – it is a matter of tawdry, organized, cheating in sport.
The IOC, however, seems to be hesitating and expresses no appetite for a blanket ban of Russia. There may be some legal implications, some of which may be highlighted in a decision by the Court of Arbitration for Sport on appeals lodged by Russian athletes declared ineligible by the international federation governing track and field, expected to be released on July 21. Others may revolve around the legal basis for suspending a national Olympic committee on the eve of the Games. What does seem evident is that IOC leadership shows no appetite to accept the recommendations of WADA, the body it was instrumental in creating precisely to monitor and lead the worldwide fight against doping in sport.
The risks for the IOC at this tipping point are serious, and its credibility is very much on the line. Talking the talk is all well and good. But being prepared to walk the walk to protect the ethical basis of sport and the clean athletes, who live by their promises to play free of drugs, is far more important. That time has come.