Nick Butler

North Korea aside, the two most interesting sporting political stories of 2018 so far have highlighted how the landscape has changed but that many problems still remain.

The first concerned the resignation of Dutch International Olympic Committee (IOC) member Camiel Eurlings after he allegedly assaulted a former girlfriend, while the second involves the bizarre anomaly by which Russian sliders accused of doping are banned from the Olympics but still permitted to race in all other international events.

Allegations against Eurlings first emerged in late 2015 and have been rumbling on behind the scenes in The Netherlands ever since.

His former girlfriend Tessa Rolink reportedly claimed to have suffered concussion, a broken elbow and severe bruising because of the alleged assault, but Eurlings was quick to deny all wrongdoing and supposedly filed counter-charges of libel.

The IOC initially claimed to have been "informed" about the "allegations made in the press" but said they could not make any further comment.

This sits right at the bottom of their food chain of responses which really mean they are doing nothing, even below their favourite speculation-stopper of "we have begun ethics proceedings and cannot say any more while an investigation is ongoing".

In March 2017, a somewhat murky settlement was announced involving Eurlings in which proceedings were supposedly settled out of court. The IOC swiftly declared that they had no further comment to make about a "private matter". Eurlings was left to continue in all his sporting positions and was seemingly in the clear.

Clamour to find out what really happened continued in The Netherlands, though, where Eurlings is a prominent business and political figure. He responded by belatedly putting out a statement shortly before Christmas expressing "regret" over the incident. This only caused criticism to intensify.

The IOC told us rather smugly last week that there were no "new facts" in response to a question about whether their stance had changed, but by then it seemed that his resignation was a matter of "when" rather than "if".

Camiel Eurlings resigned his IOC membership last week ©Getty Images
Camiel Eurlings resigned his IOC membership last week ©Getty Images

"We understand that Camiel Eurlings has taken the decision to step down as an IOC member, and accept with regret his resignation which will be formally presented to the lOC Executive Board," the IOC said when he finally did step-down from the "most beautiful volunteer job in the world" on Friday (January 5).

The issue is certainly not black and white. Eurlings was effectively hounded out by the Dutch press and public and nobody really knows the full story.

But it shows that, in Western Europe at least, the IOC can no longer discount public opinion when making a decision based purely on there being no "new facts".  

Eurlings, like other members currently facing IOC "ethics proceedings" but no concrete action, such as Israel's Alex Gilady and Kuwait's Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah, was also very much "one of the club" in the IOC world.

His interjection-record at IOC Sessions included praising the way the IOC had "taken the lead" in anti-doping reforms before Rio 2016 and hailing the great success of the Agenda 2020 reforms.

You wonder if the IOC would have acted differently if, say, Britain's Adam Pengilly was the individual accused.

Speaking of which, who better than Pengilly to replace Eurlings as chair of the IOC Communications Commission, surely a body which would benefit from some fresh and impartial leadership? He needs a job as well given how his IOC Athletes' Commission tenure expires next month.

I suspect there is about as much chance of this happening as an insidethegames journalist being chosen.

Pengilly has told the BBC today that the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) "dodged responsibility" because they decided not to rule on an International Bobsleigh and Skeleton Federation (IBSF) appeal against its own anti-doping hearing panel's decision to let Russian athletes compete despite their IOC suspensions following implication in the doping scandal.

CAS said that they did not have jurisdiction to intervene because "IBSF anti-doping proceedings are still pending and because the IBSF statutes and regulations do not stipulate that CAS can intervene on internal matters".

This means that sliders including Alexander Tretiakov and Elena Nikitina - the former men's gold and women's bronze medal skeleton winners in Sochi - are still free to compete and win medals on the World Cup circuit. This also seemingly means that the points they secure can help the qualification of other Russian/neutral athletes hoping to secure a spot in Pyeongchang.

Alexander Tretiakov won a silver medal at last week's World Cup leg in Altenberg ©Getty Images
Alexander Tretiakov won a silver medal at last week's World Cup leg in Altenberg ©Getty Images

It doesn't look good, particularly as bobsleigh and skeleton are most popular in the Western European markets where sport so needs to restore its reputation.

Sports lawyers are rather good at finding a complex legal explanation to justify any decision that they want to make. Some people consequently suspect that CAS' decision may have been made more for political reasons, although it remains unclear exactly what these could be.

The IOC are, publicly at least, on the same page as Pengilly. They have also criticised the decisions of both the IBSF and International Luge Federation (FIL) hearing panels to allow Russian athletes to compete and claimed their evidence was enough to justify a complete suspension.

The FIL, incidentally, deserves even more criticism than the IBSF because nobody in the organisation has shown the slightest indication to ban them. While the IBSF panel are only acting as they are because of the lack of opportunity to so far cross-examine chief witness Grigory Rodchenkov, the FIL claims they do not have the "necessary conviction" that implicated lugers are guilty.

There is a theory doing the rounds in anti-doping circles that the IOC are setting themselves up to fail when Russian athletes' appeals are heard at CAS, despite their public proclamations. The IOC under Thomas Bach are probably capable of such skulduggery but I don't really understand why they would do this.

Yes, they could put their hands up and claim that they have done their best and been let down by the system. But, given the way they have supposedly already compromised by allowing an "Olympic Athletes from Russia" team at the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics, nobody is going to fall for this. And it is a sporting system created, after all, by them.

There are still lots of outstanding questions surrounding these CAS appeals which we expect should be resolved later this week. Who will be the chosen arbitrators? When exactly will they be heard? Will appealing athletes be heard individually, in small groups or in one homogenous mass? And will Rodchenkov appear to testify? 

All we really know at the moment is that final decisions should be issued at the end of January.

It is not yet clear if ex-Moscow Laboratory chief turned whistleblower Grigory Rodchenkov will appear and be cross-examined at the CAS hearings ©Netflix
It is not yet clear if ex-Moscow Laboratory chief turned whistleblower Grigory Rodchenkov will appear and be cross-examined at the CAS hearings ©Netflix

It cannot be understated how important the first CAS appeals will be.

If the Lausanne-based body do rule in Russia’s favour and the IOC decisions are overturned, then all hell will break loose. Dozens of other International Federations (IFs) across Summer, non-Olympic and Paralympic sports are waiting for the verdicts before launching similar disciplinary action and will probably not bother if an unsuccessful precedent has been set. There will then be nothing to stop all Russian athletes, including the likes of Tretiakov and Nikitina, from appearing in Pyeongchang.

Russian figures would be jubilant and the anti-doping lobby hysterical.

If CAS rule in the IOC's favour and uphold the bans, then the pressure would shift onto the IFs to press cases with similar conviction.

If the IBSF and the FIL, for instance, did then refuse to suspend the implicated Russians, then surely they could be declared non-compliant by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA)? And it would make it far harder for the World Curling Federation and International Ice Hockey Federation to maintain their current stance of doing absolutely nothing. Oh, and the International Skating Union, who held the European Speed Skating Single Distance Championships in Kolomna in Russia over the weekend. 

Non-winter sports, including FIFA before the World Cup in Russia, would then face similar pressure to act.

Further questions would then arise over the suspensions awarded to each individual athlete. Violations occurring in Sochi happened before the latest version of the World Anti-Doping Code came into being in 2015. This means that a first offence only receives a mandatory two-year ban. It is possible, though, that an ambitious sporting governing body could push for a four-year ban on the grounds that they have committed separate offences of doping and sample tampering. 

I am not sure if such a thing exists as an "ambitious body" so far as Russian anti-doping matters are concerned.

This is all for the future, and the IOC would undoubtedly advise us "not to speculate" for the time being. But it is clear that the Russia situation has not yet been sorted out and that the final impact on the reputation of sport and the Olympic Movement in a changing landscape is yet to be determined.