Nick Butler

Brazil, more than most, is a country of contrasts. On the one hand, lavish growth and luxury, encapsulated by its Olympic dream; on the other, inequality and poverty experienced by those who have failed to reap the benefits of a system mired with corruption and mismanagement.

Most of those accredited for Rio 2016 will only experience this latter side fleetingly from car windows over the next three weeks as they speed between venues.

The Olympic Movement is getting increasingly used to operating in such a bubble, isolated from the general public. Once we had negated the lockdown security to enter the Windsor Marapendi Olympic Family Hotel, almost every official you met was keen to praise the decision last week to offer an olive branch to Russian athletes at Rio 2016, rather than a blanket ban.

Person after person spoke about individual justice and the importance of protecting "clean Russian athletes", making me think that if they had given half as much care to clean athletes from the rest of the world, then doping problems would have been solved years ago. 

Any questions about the culpability of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) or individual International Federations in the whole mess was met by the same response: "Why aren’t you focusing on the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), they are the ones who should have acted?"

These arguments are all well put and appear to make sense, but then when you go back out of the Olympic bubble you remember it is not quite as straightforward as that. Those outside are focused on winning the war on doping, while those inside seem more bothered about maintaining the status quo

When speaking to one International Federation President, I repeatedly tried to remind them of the scale of the allegations, but was told “I don’t give a s*** about what happened in Sochi, I don’t give a s*** about what happened in athletics, all I care about is my sport.”

The IOC appear increasingly in a bubble, cut off from wider opinion ©Getty Images
The IOC appear increasingly in a bubble, cut off from wider opinion ©Getty Images

This shifting of the blame onto WADA is emblematic of a top-down policy spearheaded by IOC President Thomas Bach.

“The IOC is not responsible for the timing of the McLaren report,” the German said at his press conference yesterday. “The IOC is not responsible for the fact that different information which was offered to WADA already a couple of years ago was not followed up. 

"The IOC is not responsible for the accreditation or supervision of anti-doping laboratories. So therefore the IOC cannot be made responsible either for the timing or the reasons of these incidents we have to face now and which we are addressing and have to address now just a couple of days before the Olympic Games."

There is an element of truth to this, and WADA certainly did make mistakes in following up on Russian doping allegations. But this slow response was partly due to the IOCs reluctance to encourage any criticism of Sochi 2014. Take their alleged pressure on the WADA Independent Observers to conclude positively, for instance. 

And, in the last two years, WADA have certainly bucked-up their ideas. They have conducted thorough and destructive investigations into the allegations and, arguably unlike the IOC, have prioritised finding the truth over worrying about the fallout.

WADA responded with a statement today outlining how the tight timeline of the McLaren Report so soon before Rio 2016 was "destabilising", but rightly claiming “"it is obvious, given the seriousness of the revelations that he uncovered, that they had to be published and acted upon without delay".

Bach, though, appears more annoyed with WADA and its President Sir Craig Reedie going off message rather than the senior Russian politicians, including Vladimir Putin and Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko, who sanctioned the state-sponsored doping programme. 

Sir Craig, the affable Scot who had hoped the WADA Presidency would offer one last prestigious job before retirement, is famed for playing the diplomatic game and for prioritising consensus over hostility. Here, though, he has now decided to act and is sticking to his guns, however much pressure Bach tries to heap on to him. 

Thomas Bach and Sir Craig Reedie pictured together in happier times in 2013 ©Getty Images
Thomas Bach and Sir Craig Reedie pictured together in happier times in 2013 ©Getty Images

But, apart from Sir Craig, there are only two other IOC members who have publicly called for a blanket ban: Canada's former WADA President and senior IOC member Richard Pound and Britain's IOC Athletes' Commission member Adam Pengilly. They are backbenchers who have long lost the party whip due to frequent moments of dissent. 

The International Federations for rowing, weightlifting and, arguably, canoeing are the only bodies to have joined athletics in taking a hardline stance.

IOC Athletes’ Commission chair Claudia Bokel is one who has signalled her opposition behind closed doors but is reluctant to do so publicly. Others still are certainly concerned and worried about the direction being taken, with some of these sympathising or even supporting the views of the "Rebel Three". 

If the IOC Executive Board had decided in favour of a blanket ban for Russia, you can guarantee that all those now hailing what a great decision it was to let them compete would be backing Bach, so keen are they not to get on the wrong side of the Olympic kaiser. 

Few are seemingly prepared to challenge IOC leadership, because, when all said and done, they "know where the bread is buttered". The head has led the heart, and political pragmatism has triumphed over idealistic principle.

Bach is also rallying the troops and making it known that those who show dissent will not be tolerated. His response to WADA has revived memories of his reaction to SportAccord following his schism last year with Marius Vizer, a rival who now finds himself in the unfamiliar position of being on the same side as Bach in their stance backing Russia over doping. 

After months of moving behind the scenes to curb the rival body’s power, the hostility erupted into the open when Vizer launched a tirade on the opening day of the SportAccord Convention in 2015, criticising Bach and his hallowed Agenda 2020 reform process. 

This provided the excuse they needed and a campaign was launched to push Vizer out of office in just 41 days. Behind the scenes, Bach and senior IOC officials were pulling the strings but publicly it was others who were fighting the battles on his behalf, like Association of Summer Olympic International Federations President Francesco Ricci Bitti and soon-to-be-disgraced former International Association of Athletics Federations head Lamine Diack.

A similar theme is emerging here, with Ricci Bitti again to the fore - along with the likes of International Swimming Federation chief Julio Maglione and, belatedly, Court of Arbitration for Sport head John Coates - in warning WADA they have gone too far.

WADA are being sidelined by the IOC in the same way SportAccord were pushed out of the picture last year ©SportAccord
WADA are being sidelined by the IOC in the same way SportAccord were pushed out of the picture last year ©SportAccord

WADA it seems, are now solely to blame, despite having a membership littered with International Federation and IOC representatives.

It is has now suggested that only WADA who seems to have internal conflicts of interests which affects its running, rather than virtually every organisation in sport.

But, unlike Vizer, who was isolated and without any support, WADA could prove a more formidable foe. This morning’s letter of support from 19 European Sports Ministers, for instance, demonstrated they retain influence in Governmental cloisters which matter so much to the IOC.

Sir Craig’s comments to Associated Press today are revealing. "Most of us will get over this,” he answered when asked about tension with the IOC. “It's all perfectly civilised."

By the term “most”, we wondered, was he excluding Bach, a man who has already gained a reputation for holding grudges against those who have wronged him? "Keep your enemies close," is never his strategy.

You wonder what the end game is for Bach. Will Sir Craig be pushed out the picture and replaced with someone more “sympathetic”. Someone like Turkish IOC Medical Commission chair Uğur Erdener, appointed last week to lead an IOC panel taking Russian doping decisions, perhaps?

Some believe that next year’s World Conference on Doping will aim to abolish WADA completely in favour of a new “independent body” taking drug testing away from the International Federations.

This, if done well, could work, but there are those who think the new system could in reality bring power back into the hands of the IOC, and, indirectly, the International Federations. Given the IOCs approach towards Russia, this could ensure the anti-doping agenda remains one of appeasement, only taking action when politically convenient.

Others think this is not the case, and claim the IOC is listening and will adapt, to an extent. Take the almost complete exclusion of any rhetoric about Agenda 2020 from Bach's messages in recent weeks, his manifesto which has been so exposed by this doping crisis. 

If the IOC get their next move wrong, their bubble could eventually burst. Then where will they be?