Despite widespread state-supported doping among Russian athletes at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) declined to give a blanket ban on Russia’s ability to participate in the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio De Janeiro.
This decision comes after an investigation that was based on the allegations made by Grigory Rodchenkov in May, the former director of Russia’s Moscow and Sochi anti-doping laboratories.
Rodchenkov, who has since moved to the United States out of fear for his safety, detailed the elaborate ways that he helped dozens of Russian athletes cheat.
The Doping Report
In response to the claims, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) commissioned the independent report, which was compiled by Canadian lawyer Richard McLaren.
After the report was released, the IOC resolved to “explore legal options” before ultimately deciding that the 28 individual sports federations, which make up the summer Olympics, were free to decide the fate of Russians on a case-by-case basis.
There is no historical precedent for a country’s entire delegation being banned from the olympics due to a doping regime. Any prior bans have been solely for political reasons, such as instigating a world war or perpetrating an apartheid regime. However, the size and scale of the Russian program is also without precedent.
Athletes such as Yelena Isinbaeva, the Russian world record holder and two-time Olympic gold medalist in pole vaulting, threatened to sue if she was banned from competing. She went as far to claim that, “It’s a direct violation of human rights, and discrimination”, while holding up forms documenting recent drug tests she had passed as evidence that she is clean. If Isinbaeva went forward with her lawsuit, other Russian athletes likely would have joined her.
Who has Jurisdiction?
The spectre of a retaliatory lawsuit raised the question of whether the IOC has the legal authority to unilaterally enforce a ban on the Russian delegation.
The IOC believes that they have that right, granted contractually by its charter. The preamble of the IOC’s doping rules states that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) is the supreme authority of the Olympic Games. It also makes clear that, “any person belonging in any capacity whatsoever to the Olympic Movement is bound by the provisions of the Olympic Charter and shall abide by the decisions of the IOC”.
As stated contractually, any dispute the Russian Olympic Committee may have with the IOC’s jurisdiction will be referred to the Court of Arbitration of Sport (CAS). CAS is a quasi-judicial body established by the IOC, and Rule 61 of the Olympic Charter states that any dispute arising in connection with the Olympic Games shall be submitted exclusively to them. The CAS has also been specifically tasked with taking over doping cases at the upcoming Olympic Games. The Olympic Charter makes it very clear that all doping disputes are handled by the IOC, or the CAS by extension through a “governing law” clause, presumably restricting the ability of Isinbaeva or other athletes to have a ban overturned.
The McLaren Report has effectively confirmed all of the worst allegations made by Rodchenkov. There is significant evidence that Russia operated a systematic and state-run doping program, particularly in Sochi. With no direct precedent, the IOC must truly set the standard by striking a balance between collective responsibility and individual justice. Despite having an apparent contractual right, the IOC reasonably could have expected to face a litany of lawsuits, and it is possible that their decision was at least partially motivated by compromise, with the end goal of avoiding litigation.
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