Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin, might have more pressing problems to centre attention on – a certain nuclear-enabled despot in East Asia and a growing impasse with a Mr D Trump spring to mind – but it would be interesting to plumb the thoughts of the po-faced modern day Tsar on the volte face enacted on banned Russian athletes.
There is enough compelling evidence of a systematic corrupt and fraudulent cabal of institutionalised doping in Russia to show that this was entrenched in the country’s sporting psyche.
Yet the World Anti-doping Agency (Wada) has dropped its ban on 95 of the 96 athletes – none of them named – who were effectively banned from competition.
But as the New York Times points out: “Richard McLaren, the investigator who spent much of the last two years deconstructing Russia’s schemes and identifying about 1 000 implicated athletes, indicated that many cases would be hard to prosecute given Russia’s lack of cooperation in providing lab data, and its practice of destroying tainted urine samples that would be incriminating.
“Still, sports officials charged with building cases against the 95 athletes in question appear to have never followed up on certain leads.
Most notably, none requested interviews with the whistle-blower, Dr Grigory Rodchenkov – Russia’s former antidoping lab chief now living in the United States, whose tell-all account prompted McLaren’s inquiry report – raising questions about their willingness to discipline a major sports power.”
It also raises serious doubts about the kind of extra-judiciary power Wada is capable of wielding in banning athletes without a proper hearing.
We are not talking here about cases they cannot definitively prove, but a mound – no matter how noxious it might seem – of circumstantial evidence and hearsay. Arbitrary enforced injustice.
Who in reality guards the guards? Any fair-minded person must surely want drug-free sport.
But surely justice must also prevail. It is galling that two-time doper Justin Gatlin was confirmed as the world 100m champion in London, eclipsing Usain Bolt in his last solo race.
If you’ll excuse the phrase, it remains a bitter pill to swallow. Wada remains an essential element in the fight for fairness. But somehow there lingers the thought that they must also fight fair.