IOC President Thomas Bach lashed out Tuesday against those calling for the "nuclear option" – a complete ban on Russian athletes from the Rio de Janeiro Games – as he and other members blamed global anti-doping officials for a scandal that has rattled the Olympic movement.
Bach opened the International Olympic Committee's three-day general assembly by seeking formal backing of the members for the executive board's handling of the Russian doping scandal. After a debate lasting more than two hours, Bach asked for a show of hands, and only one of the 85 members – Britain's Adam Pengilly – voted against his position.
Despite evidence of a state-run doping program in Russia, the IOC board rejected calls for a total ban and left it to international sports federations to decide on the entry of individual Russian athletes for the games, which open on Friday.
Bach again blamed the World Anti-Doping Agency for failing to act sooner on evidence of state-backed doping in Russia and releasing its findings so close to the start of the Games. He said it would be wrong to make individual Russian athletes "collateral damage" for the wrongdoing of their government.
"Leaving aside that such a comparison is completely out of any proportion when it comes to the rules of sport, let us just for a moment consider the consequences of a 'nuclear option,'" Bach said. "The result is death and devastation. This is not what the Olympic movement stands for. The cynical 'collateral damage' approach is not what the Olympic movement stands for."
"What is therefore not acceptable is the insinuation by some proponents of this 'nuclear option' that anyone who does not share their opinion is not fighting against doping," he added.
The IOC has been roundly criticized by many anti-doping bodies, athletes' groups and Western media for not apply a complete ban on the Russian team. Pressure for a full ban grew after WADA investigator Richard McLaren issued a report accusing Russia's sports ministry of orchestrating a vast doping conspiracy involving athletes across more than two dozen summer and winter Olympic sports.
"Natural justice does not allow us to deprive a human being of the right to prove their innocence," Bach said.
Underlying the deep split between Olympic leaders and anti-doping officials, Bach said it was WADA – not the IOC – that was responsible for the doping crisis.
"It is not the IOC that is responsible for the accreditation and supervision of anti-doping laboratories," he said. "The IOC has no authority over the testing program of athletes outside the Olympic Games. The IOC has no authority to follow up on information about the failings of the testing system."
Israeli member Alex Gilady echoed that view.
"I think it's not the reputation of the IOC that has to be restored, it's the reputation of WADA," he said.
Argentine member Gerardo Werthein also laid into WADA, saying "the failure to investigate serious and credible allegations more swiftly has left the sports movement … in a very difficult position facing incredibly difficult decisions in an impossible timeframe."
"At times WADA has seemed to be more interested in publicity and self-promotion rather than doing its job as a regulator," Werthein said.
WADA President Craig Reedie of Britain, who is also an IOC vice-president, spoke only at the end of debate to say that he would respond Wednesday in his report about his agency's activities.
Russian Olympic Committee President Alexander Zhukov claimed there was a political campaign against Russia and cited "discrimination" against clean athletes not connected to doping.
"I urge you to resist this unprecedented pressure that is now on the entire Olympic movement and not to let this pressure to split the entire Olympic family," he said.
Zhukov also took a swipe at WADA.
"Why should WADA not be responsible for the violations made by the anti-doping labs it has accredited?" he said.
U.S. member Larry Probst said it was wrong to attribute the problem to "international politics."
"We have a doping problem," the U.S. Olympic Committee chairman said. "And it's not just Russia, it's global. The current system is broken and we need to fix the problem."
Bach's position received support from most of the speakers during the debate, although some questioned the IOC decision to keep Russian whistleblower Yulia Stepanova – an 800-metre runner who helped expose systematic doping in her homeland – out of the games.
"If there was to be one exception, it should have been her," Richard Peterkin of St. Lucia said.
The strongest criticism came from Canadian member Dick Pound, a former president of WADA who has been outspoken in calling for a complete ban on Russia – something he had previously called "the nuclear option." He said the reputation of the IOC was on the line.
"We need to do a lot more to show that we really do care about fair play, honest competition and clean athletes," he said.
By the end, however, Pound was among the 84 members who voted in favour.
"The arrow's left the bow," he said. The decision has been made, it's not going to be changed between now and the start of the games."