Doping allegations – who decides whether athletes compete in the Olympics?

 

SugarLoafMtnRioBBCWorldService

Sugar Loaf by BBC World Service, CC

The summer Olympic Games begin soon in Rio with the opening ceremony set for August 5th. (Actually, women’s soccer begins August 3rd and men’s soccer begins August 4th. You can check the schedule here.) In addition to news reports about Zika, infrastructure and societal problems, and stunning poverty in Rio, you may have also heard reports of doping issues and other rules violations. But what regulatory bodies govern participation in the Olympics and how should you begin your research in this area?

Let’s take a look at the recent decision of the Executive Board of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) regarding the Russian doping scandal. Reports of government supported doping by Russian athletes abounded after the Sochi games. The World Anti-Doping Agency appointed Canadian lawyer Richard H. McLaren to lead an Independent Investigation of the Sochi allegations. The report was issued on July 16, 2016 and detailed 3 key findings: (1) a Moscow testing laboratory operated, under the direction of the government, a system to protect Russian athletes described in the report as the “Disappearing Positive Methodology”; (2) a Sochi laboratory used a sample swapping technique to protect Russian athletes; and (3) the deliberate mishandling and swapping of samples at both laboratories was done under the supervision of the Russian Ministry of Sport.

On July 18th WADA’s Executive Committee recommended that the International Olympic Committee consider banning all athletes submitted by the Russian Olympic Committee and the Russian Paralympic Committee from participating in the Rio 2016 games.

 

MaracanaStadium

Estadio do Maracana by Luciano Silva, CC

So now what? Why does the IOC get to decide and what does it base its decision on? First, some history. The Olympic Games were re-established in the late nineteenth century and the IOC was created on June 23, 1894 as the governing authority for the Olympics. All organizations affiliated with the Olympics, such as International Federations (IFs), must agree to abide by the Olympic CharterIn order to participate in the Olympic Games, athletes must comply with the Olympic Charter and follow the rules of the International Federation (IF) for their sport.

After the McLaren Report, the IOC Executive Board had to quickly make a decision about the participation of Russian athletes in the Rio Olympic Games. On Sunday, July 24, 2016, they issued their decision. The Executive Board did not issue an outright ban, however, the onus was placed on the athlete to “rebut the applicability of collective responsibility in his or her individual case.” No Russian athlete will be able to participate in the Games without meeting certain criteria. The determination of eligibility will be made by the IFs after the athletes have met certain criteria including an individual assessment of the history of their anti-doping testing, mere absence of a positive test will not be sufficient. The athletes who are being banned from the games are failing to meet the criteria set out in Sunday’s IOC decision.

You can find official documents relating to the IOC through the Olympic Studies Centre. Some of the Centre’s documents collection is available online here. For links to more information about the International Federations for Olympic sports go here; and for more information about National Olympic Committee’s go here.

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