Nick Butler

Russian journalists were on bullish form at the press conference which closed last week’s International Olympic Committee (IOC) Executive Board meeting in Lausanne.

"Italy, France, United States, Belgium and Australia were the top five in a World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) survey of countries failing the most doping tests in 2016, and Russia was only sixth" was the gist of one question. "Do you plan to make the national teams of these countries participate in the next Olympics under a neutral flag, or does this only apply to Russia?"

Barely had Bach finished pointing-out how only Russia was found to have fed samples through a mouse hole and tampered with them at an Olympic Games, before a follow-up question asked: "Will you provide compensation to Russian athletes cleared by CAS (Court of Arbitration for Sport) who were still banned in Pyeongchang?"

"We did not ban them," Bach drolly responded as only a lawyer can. "We did not invite them." 

The German's most revealing answer came when asked to explain the IOC's decision to appeal to the Swiss Federal Tribunal after the aforementioned CAS verdicts, which overturned suspensions against 28 Russian athletes accused of doping at Sochi 2014.  

The "chances of winning did not play a role" in their decision to appeal, Bach maintained, before adding: "The only factor which led us to the decision was this protection of the clean athletes who have finished behind these Russian athletes who have not been declared innocent". 

This suggested to me that the appeal is as much a PR exercise as a genuine attempt, although Bach was perhaps right to lower expectations and keep his cards close to his chest. 

Thomas Bach batted-off questions from Russian journalists during the Executive Board meeting ©Getty Images
Thomas Bach batted-off questions from Russian journalists during the Executive Board meeting ©Getty Images

An appeal can only be launched on the grounds that the legal process was abused.

The Swiss Tribunal will therefore not reanalyse the case nor take into account new evidence such as the Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS) database from the Moscow Laboratory. They will also not challenge the independence of the CAS arbitrators - unless new evidence about their integrity comes to light - because the IOC had squandered an earlier opportunity to do that.

The IOC can only argue on areas such as the standard of proof used, which some believe was a higher level than the "comfortable satisfaction" degree usually found in doping cases. CAS did concede that the "absence of direct evidence does not necessarily entail the absence of wrongdoing".

They may also claim that the cases were analysed in too isolated a way rather than as a whole. CAS may rightly argue, for instance, that there are rare abnormalities wherein female ice hockey players could show male DNA, but surely they should take into account the unlikelihood of this happening to multiple players? We have not seen the reasoned decisions against these individuals yet, and nor have the IOC, so it is hard to conclude further.

Some believe that the IOC made a lot of mistakes with their cases. Not waiting for the LIMS database, not challenging the two arbitrators linked to Russia and winter sport and not, despite the time they spent on it, undertaking better and more legally binding analysis of the scratches and marks on test tubes.

I do not know enough to really comment. But, while certainly worth a shot, the appeal does seem ambitious.

One of the only previous occasions when the Swiss Federal Tribunal overruled a CAS decision came in 2012 when they and FIFA ruled that Brazilian footballer Matuzalem could be banned from playing if he missed compensation payments amounting to a ridiculous €12 million (£10.5 million/$14.3 million) to former club Shakhtar Donetsk following a breach of contract. This was dismissed as "fundamentally unlawful" and "incompatible with the public order".

The IOC v CAS case appears far less clear cut, but we shall see.

Alexander Legkov is among Russian athletes sanctioned by the IOC before a successful CAS appeal ©Getty Images
Alexander Legkov is among Russian athletes sanctioned by the IOC before a successful CAS appeal ©Getty Images

The Russians should not be getting too cock-a-hoop, though, because of another legal verdict announced last week.

This was issued by the International Biathlon Union (IBU), somewhat ironically, as they are the body whose former President and secretary general are accused of collusion with the Russians in covering-up doping cases. 

Sochi 2014 Olympian Ekaterina Glazyrina has been handed a two-year ban - backdated to when she was provisionally suspended last February - and stripped of all results since 2013 after being convicted of doping based primarily on evidence collected by ex-Moscow Laboratory director Grigory Rodchenkov, and published in the Evidence Disclosure Package (EDP) of the McLaren Report.

Yes, this is the same Grigory Rodchenkov who the Russian media have been crowing is no longer believed after his claims "failed to stand-up in court" in the IOC cases. Here, though, the IBU anti-doping panel make it clear that Rodchenkov and State Sports Training Center employee, Alexei Velikodny, are each considered valid sources.

"Both are clearly identified in the emails and their function is well known and has been clearly explained," the IBU anti-doping panel concluded. "Arguing that these individuals are criminals does not diminish the evidentiary value of the emails."

It was then argued that their testimony saying Glazyrina's samples were "saved" - meaning covered-up - because of a December 2013 failure for the "Duchess cocktail" of banned steroids oxandrolone, trenbolone and metelonone, is also believed, because it was backed-up by other evidence.

This appears key.

In the IOC cases, the scratches and marks analysis on bottles was not deemed good enough. This meant that there was little to corroborate the claims of Rodchenkov except in cases, such as of still-sanctioned bobsledder Alexander Zubkov, where there were also impossibly-high salt levels in samples. 

Here, Rodchenkov's emails fit with the timeline of Glazyrina skipping the IBU World Cup in Oberhof before returning in Ruhpolding the following week after a delay which corresponds with the time it should take for the drugs to have disappeared from her system. Crucially, evidence is backed up by the LIMS data, which "confirms both that the athlete's samples were saved and provides the exact concentrations detected in the samples further of the initial screening procure, all of which mirror the contents of the emails".

Details of emails in the McLaren Report's Evidence Disclosure Package purporting to refer to Ekaterina Glazyrina ©McLaren Report
Details of emails in the McLaren Report's Evidence Disclosure Package purporting to refer to Ekaterina Glazyrina ©McLaren Report

The panel also frequently referred to a verdict last year against Russian long jumper Anna Pyatykh, who was sanctioned partly based on evidence found within the McLaren Report. CAS ruled then that the question of whether there is "sufficient evidence to demonstrate an ADRV (Anti-Doping Rule Violation) or not must be considered on a case-by-case basis".

Glazyrina has already vowed to appeal to CAS. But it is worth bearing in mind that the IBU Anti-Doping Panel was chaired by Christophe Vedder, the same individual in charge of the CAS panels which ruled against the IOC.

There is an alarming conflict of interest in this dual role - when is there not in world sport - but it also suggests the IBU case is a good one. Is it then a precedent that other International Federations (IFs) can follow?

Most are waiting and waiting before launching cases and it is likely that an unsuccessful IOC appeal to the Swiss Federal Tribunal will dissuade them further. Clearly, it is important to take time to build a good case, and Glazyrina's was considered among the strongest in the EDP.

To single-out another case only because the actual name of the athlete was mistakenly published, there are emails which suggest that Russian curler Ekaterina Galkina had a testosterone to epitestosterone ratio of 7.7-1 - way beyond the legal limit of 4-1. If, as appears likely, her case is backed up too by the LIMS database, then surely the World Curling Federation should feel emboldened to act?

This is, of course, dependent partly on the desire of each IF. 

I wonder if the biathlon case would have been completed if Anders Besseberg remained in charge of the IBU? 

There was certainly a long delay after the anti-doping panel held their hearing in October and there are, unconfirmed, rumours that Besseberg was frequently criticising the taking-up of the case at IBU meetings. Other governing bodies appear similarly reluctant to press ahead.

It is certainly not straightforward.

An International Bobsleigh and Skeleton Federation anti-doping panel concluded in December that testimony by Rodchenkov did not hold water because he had not been cross-examined, although they did not actually challenge the credibility of what he said. The International Weightlifting Federation, who have led the way in stripping quota places from countries which incur the most doping failures, quietly abandoned two cases based on McLaren Report evidence against Russians Ruslan Albegov and Oleg Chen in February. 

Was this an admission that they could not win cases against individual athletes?

Ruslan Albegov was suspended in November but then the suspension was quietly lifted in February. No details have yet been given ©Getty Images
Ruslan Albegov was suspended in November but then the suspension was quietly lifted in February. No details have yet been given ©Getty Images

There will inevitably be comments responding to this article criticising it for a focus upon Russia in a week of so many other doping stories. 

This is a fair point. Beijing Olympic 1,500 metres champion Asbel Kiprop's failure shines a further light on problems in Kenya and across athletics while also asking questions of the entire drug testing system. He claims to have been illegally given prior warning of an out-of-competition test and still failed for EPO. 

It is also a joke that Chris Froome is allowed to compete in the Giro d'Italia as an investigation unfolds into his failed test last year. I imagine that many others are, like me, feeling disinterested and disillusioned in the race as a consequence.

I also found myself reading about the Operation Puerto case today and the alleged 2010 admission by disgraced doctor Eufemiano Fuentes that he had information which would lead to the Spanish football team waving "goodbye to the World Cup and European Championship". Much of the blood bag information has still not been made public and probably never will be.

The Russia scandal is just one significant strand of a war against doping which is still largely being lost.

But a rare opportunity to bring justice to those involved should not be spurned.