Is it right that Russian athletes are being reinstated by Court of Arbitration?

This week Fraser Watson’s words of wisdom are about the news that some Russian athletes are being reinstated by the Court of Arbitration for Sport . . . and it is powerful stuff!

The world of international sport, where cheats can prosper, where deception is pardoned.

Where even the most comprehensive evidence seemingly isn’t enough to bring those who disgrace competition, and decimate all that it stands for, to justice.

And where spectators who spend hard earned money making global events what they are, now have every right to query the legitimacy of what they are watching.

Yes, all of the above amount to sweeping generalisations, but ones which ring alarmingly true following the spineless decision of the Court of Arbitration of Sport (Cas) this week to overturn the suspensions of 28 Russian athletes for doping at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. A further 11 appeals, were partially upheld.

Going against the Oswald Commission

Russian athlete 2This despite the Oswald Commission, opened following the findings of the World Anti-Doping Agency's now infamous McLaren report, concluded Russian athletes benefited from a state-sponsored doping programme between 2011 and 2015.

Their delivered evaluation of a ‘cover-up that evolved from uncontrolled chaos to an institutionalised and disciplined medal-winning conspiracy’, left little by way of uncertainty.

And yet regardless, whether it be through pure cowardice or a misguided perception their role is to fight for ‘elite’ athletes, Cas have crumbled when we needed them most.

The implications on the upcoming 2018 games will be complex and chaotic, and in terms of 2014, it’s that now familiar Olympic tale.

The cost to dedicated, ‘clean’ athletes

Athletes who dedicated their lives to winning a coveted medal, or who made inconceivable sacrifices just to compete in Sochi, will now forever remain empty handed in the face of cheating. Those lucky enough to up-graded into a top three position, and four Russian appeals were disregarded, will do so without the podium, anthem, and medal ceremony they once dreamed of cherishing.

Others meanwhile, will forever wonder whether the field they competed in was legitimate.

Of course, to accuse the afore-mentioned Russians of being pioneers in doping would be short sighted. The Mitchell report in baseball, the Armstrong era and Festina affair in cycling, the BALCO scandal in athletics, and numerous doping violations in Summer Olympic, World, and Commonwealth Games. All have blown open what at first appeared pulsating viewing, and hammered home a brutal truth. For many of us growing up, much of the exciting sport we watched was little more than a lie.

Cheating brings what amounts to a slap on the wrist

And despite the now tedious claims that athletes are cleaner, that testing is more advanced, and that punishments are more stringent, it appears the deception continues. And when those responsible are getting a slap on the wrist or the most methodical cheating imaginable, it is small wonder.

Very much like the infamous Armstrong and his US Postal Service teammates, the Russian Winter Olympians didn’t invent the culture of doping. They just found ways of being better at it than their predecessors.

Some Brits are not innocent either

But we here in Britain tend to point fingers from an illusionary moral high-ground. The likes of Sir Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome were originally elevated as bastions of a new, transparent era of fair competition in cycling where excellence, and not illegal indulgence, brought rewards.

Whilst Wiggins has not been found guilty of any doping violations, his apparent use of therapeutic use exemptions, together with Froome’s failed test for salbutamol, has seen Team Sky and Sir David Brailsford not so much fall from their high horse, but plummet off it at a rate of knots.

Tyson Fury meanwhile, is on the verge of a return to boxing. Him overcoming his battles with depression and cocaine have been championed by the public who long to see him meet Anthony Joshua in an iconic heavyweight bout. So much so, the fact he also cleared the path to return by negotiating a back dated doping ban with UKADA after testing positive for nandrolone, made little in the way of column inches.

Imagine if a Russian competitor from Sochi had done the same!

We should of course, always remember the majority of professional athletes have competed perfectly ably, and continue to do so, without delving into a murky underworld of doping and deception. It is they I sympathise with most. For many, through no fault of their own, their eras are tarnished, their true ranking in their own field will never be known.

And now a chance to take a major step towards eradicating such ambiguity, has been missed.
Cas had an opportunity to send a powerful and clinical message to the world of sport, and not just those involved in Olympic Games. No ruling will ever eliminate drug taking for good, but implementing life bans for those who are categorically guilty of it, would have been a start.

Authorities badly undermined

Instead, the authority of the IOC, and organisations seeking to bring drug culprits to justice, is severely undermined. The message now? If you’re caught cheating and duly punished, keep fighting it, denying it, and pressing your case. Then eventually, you’ll find your haven of exoneration.

So the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea, followed by the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, will both of course attract a worldwide audience – and be worth millions (billions) of pounds in the way of sponsorship and revenue. Dreams will be made, heartening success stories will emerge, and the globe will be captivated by a multi-cultural celebration of the world’s greatest athletes.

And for those planning on watching intensely, whether it be from the sofa or stadium seating - enjoy the action.

But it is worth remembering that a lot of it won’t be real.