Swiss papers state that sport was sacrificed at the altar of geopolitics after the Lausanne-based International Olympic Committee (IOC) shied away from imposing a blanket ban on Russian competitors at the Rio Olympics in the face of systemic doping allegations.
“The IOC’s decision exposes its president’s ‘zero tolerance’ doping policy as lip service. A believable anti-doping plan would involve the opposite policy,” wrote the German language Tages-Anzeiger paper on Monday.
The Olympics body especially came in for harsh criticism for outsourcing the decision on Russian athletes to individual federations. In its announcement on Sunday, it left it to the governing bodies of individual sports to take a decision on each Russian competitor.
“The IOC didn’t seize the opportunity to profile itself as a strong institution that sees the big picture and acts against attacks on the integrity of Olympic sports. The IOC leadership instead looked for a cowardly solution that would delegate the responsibility downwards,” wrote the Neue Zürcher Zeitung paper.
The IOC was also accused of prioritising politics over sport. The French-language paper Le Temps wrote that by forsaking the opportunity to exclude Russia from the games, the IOC demonstrated that it “remains a prisoner of political and economic imperatives”. It accused the Olympic body of helping Russia “save face” with a view to preventing further discord between it and the West.
Tribune de Genève, another paper with a similar viewpoint, added that several federations and sporting bodies hoping for a strong signal “have been left with the bitter taste of a lack of decision-making, no doubt for reasons that are more political than to do with sport”.
It described the IOC’s lack of backbone by comparing it with other sporting bodies that took a harsh line on Russia. The International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) had decided to exclude Russia entirely, which was supported by the Court of Arbitration for Sport. “The IOC did not dare to take this remarkable opportunity,” the paper concluded.
Russia’s influence on the global stage was cited as one of key factors in the IOC decision.
“The IOC under the leadership of Thomas Bach shows itself more worried about maintaining a balance in sports politics which involves not falling out with its most powerful Russian partner,” wrote the Neue Zürcher Zeitung.
Le Temps wrote that IOC’s decision was influenced in part by the size of the Russian contingent and the athletic talent it brings to the sporting event. The Rio Olympics would lose some of its lustre without the competition between the Russians and Americans for the top spot, it added.
Impact on Olympics
According to the Swiss papers, the decision to allow Russian athletes to compete in the Olympics on a case-by-case basis will have repercussions on the Rio Olympics.
The games are due to start on August 5 in Rio, which leaves little time to sift the “good” Russian athletes from the “bad”.
“The question is how the athletes will prove their innocence, with barely two weeks to go to the start of the Olympics. Only superficial tests will be possible…and Olympic sports won’t become any more credible,” wrote the Neue Zürcher Zeitung.
The Tribune de Genève wrote that the decision to allow Russian athletes to compete could result in a triumphant moment becoming an embarrassing one. “By deciding not to decide” the IOC has allowed a scenario of dubious victory where a Russian athlete could stand on the winner’s podium at the Rio Olympics, wrote the paper.
Le Temps pointed out that the IOC had let down whistle-blower Yulia Stepanova who lifted the lid on the scandal by alerting journalists to state-supported doping programme. The 800m runner was not allowed to compete in the Rio Olympics for her role in the doping programme despite the IAAF giving her the green light to take part as a “neutral athlete”. “The IOC punished her by putting her in the same category as her doping compatriots,” wrote the paper.