IOC wants retraction from Tass as Russian doping 'cold war' takes new turn
By Callum Murray
The ‘cold war’ that has broken out over doping in Russian sport took a new turn on Tuesday, with the International Olympic Committee demanding a retraction from Tass, the Russian news agency, over its version of an interview that Thomas Bach, the IOC president, gave to Japan’s Yomiuri newspaper.
Tass reported Bach as having told Yomiuri that he “still cannot understand” why Russian track and field athletes were sanctioned at the Rio Olympics. Virtually all Russian track and field athletes were banned from competing in Rio by the IAAF, the sport’s world governing body, in the wake of a major ‘state-supported’ doping scandal in the country.
The IOC itself resisted strong pressure to ban the Russian team in its entirety from the games, preferring instead to hand over to the respective international federations the decision on which Russian athletes were eligible to compete.
Bach is reported by Tass as saying: "Concerning suspicions of possible deviations in the Russian anti-doping system, I still cannot understand why Russian athletes had to be subjected to sanctions at the Summer Games. If there were violations, they were committed by federations, to which athletes in summer sports disciplines have no relation.”
However, the IOC told Sportcal: “The quote is totally inaccurate and does not reflect what the President actually said during the interview with the Yomiuri.”
The interview was conducted in the context of the recent leaks of athletes’ confidential medical data by the Russia-based Fancy Bears cyber-hacking team, which alleges that a range of top western athletes, aided and abetted by the World Anti-Doping Agency, have been abusing the therapeutic use exemption system to gain access to banned substances.
In relation to Fancy Bears, the IOC told Sportcal that Bach said in the interview: “We have condemned and will condemn this hacking attack. We are co-operating directly with WADA, I am in direct contact with WADA.”
Bach then went on to address the issue of sanctions against Russian athletes, according to the IOC, saying: “The IOC had to take a decision of justice. This is what we did. In the interests of all the clean athletes.
“Such a decision can be criticised. We have never had such a difficult decision where 100 per cent of the world is applauding - and this is not what we expected. Different continental athletes’ representatives were supporting this decision, as were athletes representing IFs who were also supporting. The public opinion, we also got very positive responses. Worldwide audiences understood what IOC was doing – we were doing justice, justice for the athletes.”
Bach then said, according to the IOC: “I still cannot see a reason to sanction summer sport athletes for irregularities or alleged irregularities in the anti-doping system committed by a system of which he is not part or by a winter sport.
“This is an issue of credibility – at the end of the day you have to look into the eyes of the athletes when you take such a decision. You can do this when you take a decision for justice and this is what we did. Our decision was not a political decision.”
The Tass report also implied that Bach criticised the MacLaren report, the independent report commissioned by WADA which contained many of the allegations of state-supported doping in Russia.
Bach is reported by Tass to have said that “Richard McLaren himself said that the investigation has not been finished yet… Before punishing, one should hear out the other side - the side of athletes. And this is what lacks in McLaren’s investigation.”
However, the IOC told Sportcal that what Bach actually said was: “Mr McLaren himself said it was an interim support and needs more time. That is why IOC supported the extension of his mandate. Also for every legal procedure according to all legal systems and human rights, [you] need to give the other side the right to be heard and present their case. This has not been done by McLaren. This is what the IOC will do with the Canivet Commission under the leadership of one of France’s leading judges.”
Earlier this month, WADA accused the Russian embassy in the UK of “choosing to propagate misinformation about data that was illegally obtained by a group emanating out of Russia.”
WADA was responding to a series of tweets on the Russian embassy’s Twitter feed that appeared to take Fancy Bears at face value in their accusations.
WADA said that it found the embassy’s behaviour “unfortunate” and added that: “Instead, we would like to see the Russian Government doing everything in its power to stop the attacks so that we can get on with rebuilding a compliant anti-doping program in Russia.”
Russian officials have claimed that Russian sport has been the victim of a political vendetta, a claim repeated by a Russian reporter at a press conference on the eve of the Rio Olympics who asked Bach: “Was it [the sanctioning of Russian athletes] a political attack on our sportsmen?”
Bach responded: "Those who say it is political should take note of the facts. There was a very serious report [the McLaren report] with detailed allegations against the Moscow laboratory and the Russian ministry of sport. When taking this decision, these allegations played a major role in why we also took measures against people implicated. This is why no official of the Russian sports ministry, from the sports minister down, will receive accreditation [to the games].”