Mike Rowbottom

Save for one word, I agree with the New Year statement issued by International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach who said that, following "systematic manipulation of the anti-doping system in Russia during the Olympic Winter Games Sochi 2014", the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) has "served its sanction".

For "its",  read "a".

Sir Craig Reedie, the beleaguered President of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), has said he is "bitterly disappointed" that the December 31 deadline for access to data in the Moscow Laboratory - the key stipulation in WADA's controversial September 20 decision to lift the ban on the Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA) - has not been met.

Despite Sir Craig's lamentable assertion that he could "100 per cent guarantee" Russia would co-operate, the Russian authorities have blocked the data extraction as the equipment WADA's investigative team proposed to use was not, it turns out, certified under the country's law.

Right now I am struggling to rid myself of a vision of Sir Craig, whom I have known for many years to be a decent and honourable man.

I am put in mind of the bit in Gulliver's Travels where Jonathan Swift's eponymous hero travels to the land of the Houyhnhnms, the breed of virtuous, rational horses who have no word in their vocabulary for "lie" and can only use the phrase "the thing which is not" when Gulliver attempts to tell them what it means.

Call it cynicism, but many observers have been less than stunned that the information sought since January 2017 has not suddenly been offered up by the Russian authorities following WADA's attempt to move things on by letting RUSADA back into the fold on the understanding - gentleman's agreement? - that it would all be over by Christmas. Or the New Year at least.

WADA President Sir Craig Reedie,
WADA President Sir Craig Reedie, "deeply disappointed" by Russia's failure to meet its December 31 deadline for handing over data from its Moscow Laboratory, will not have felt one tiny bit better following the IOC President Thomas Bach's New Year message to the sporting world ©Getty Images

As such, Sir Craig's bemused reaction has an unworldly, Houyhnhnm-like quality to it.

However, what can surely be said of WADA's volte face - and now red face - is that it has nothing of cynicism about it.

Which brings us to Mr Bach's New Year message.

If Sir Craig is bitterly disappointed in Russia's apparently contemptuous failure to deliver on their commitment - despite what look like genuine efforts in some parts of their mighty forest, notably from the current RUSADA director general Yury Ganus - then how must he feel about the IOC President's latest missive to the sporting world?

Call me old fashioned, but let us assume for a moment that both WADA and the IOC want to preserve the notion that cheating in sport, and in particular, systematic cheating in sport, is a bad thing.

Might it have been a good idea for Mr Bach to wait and see what the outcome was regarding the December 31 deadline?

Or did he know which way the wind was blowing? In which case the message resembles a boot in the guts to the already bowed WADA body. And, far more importantly, to the notion of clean sport.

Russia was denied the right to compete under its own flag at last year's Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang and its athletes had to operate under the banner of "Olympic Athletes from Russia". However, they were restored to full Olympic status almost as soon as the Games had concluded.

Under the terms of the September 20 deal, RUSADA is now facing the threat of being declared non-compliant again when WADA's independent Compliance Review Committee (CRC) meets in Montreal on January 14 and 15.

But now Bach is going out of his way to stress that the ROC has already been punished enough.

"In Pyeongchang, we sanctioned the systematic manipulation of the anti-doping system in Russia during the Olympic Winter Games Sochi 2014," he said in his New Year's message.

"The IOC sanctioned those entities involved, proportional to their levels of responsibility.

"At the same time, we upheld the principle of individual justice to which every human being is entitled.

"This is why we created a pathway for clean, individual Russian athletes to compete in Pyeongchang, but only under the strictest conditions.

The New Year message from IOC President Thomas Bach hinting that the Russian Olympic Committee will be free to take part in the Tokyo 2020 Games has been described as
The New Year message from IOC President Thomas Bach hinting that the Russian Olympic Committee will be free to take part in the Tokyo 2020 Games has been described as "extremely unhelpful" - but unhelpful to whom? ©Getty Images

"In this way, we did justice to all athletes, regardless of their passport.

"With its suspension from the Olympic Winter Games Pyeongchang 2018, the Russian Olympic Committee has served its sanction, while in other organisations procedures are still ongoing."

Does the translation - "don't worry guys, we've drawn a line, see you at Tokyo 2020!" - appear too crude?

Question. How can the ROC be judged separately from the system in which it sits - a system that has manifestly failed to convince large swathes of the sporting world that it can now be trusted?

The latest turn of events has provoked widespread - albeit, largely western - expression of anger and resignation.

UK Anti-Doping's Athletes' Committee, chaired by Olympic rower Sarah Winckless, has released a statement saying RUSADA should be re-declared non-compliant immediately.

"The Russian state need to prove unequivocally that they have learned from the biggest doping scandal under WADA's watch, and that they will for this date forward be committed to a drug-free, transparent regime across international sport," the statement read.

"Otherwise the WADA Compliance Review Committee and the WADA Executive Committee must now, immediately, declare RUSADA non-compliant.

"They should only consider a declaration of compliance once WADA has received and verified the electronic data as well as access to all the samples in the Moscow Laboratory."

In tweeting his support of this statement, Britain's Rio 2016 gold and silver medal-winning cyclist Callum Skinner, a member of the Committee, added: "It's time for Craig Reedie, Olivier Niggli and Thomas Bach to listen to athletes. We call on WADA to do what is right by the athletes, their families, their fans and their sport."

Sweden's Olympic biathlon champion Sebastian Samuelsson has also advocated an immediate re-suspension of RUSADA, tweeting: "No meeting needed. Conditions was very clear."

John Treacy, the 1978 and 1979 world cross-country champion who is now chief executive of Sport Ireland, described Bach's comments as "extremely unhelpful", saying that they demonstrated "why the IOC are out of touch with athletes".

He added: "The comments also underline why the IOC should not be involved in the decision making when it comes to matters of anti-doping."

Ireland's National Anti-Doping Agency is one of 16 to have released a joint statement on the issue, saying that the anti-doping world expects a "decisive response" and that the CRC should be convened without "further delay".

Britain's four-times Olympic rowing champion Matthew Pinsent tweeted the following message: "Dear President Bach - as the full scale of the Sochi doping scandal broke in 2016 Russia promised full cooperation with any and all investigations. How has this manifested itself? 

"Dozens of athletes are still waiting for their rightful medals. Twenty-nineteen marks the fifth year of waiting."

Andrew Triggs-Hodge, Britain's rowing gold medallist of 2008 and 2012, tweeted: "Severely losing faith after IOC undermines WADA in Russia's attempt to hide the athletes that they doped. Shame the Olympics have turned into a money machine for selected few."

Another British double Olympic champion, skeleton athlete Lizzie Yarnold, tweeted: "Almost five years since the Winter Olympics in Sochi, five years of clean athletes being cheated out of the medals they should have won."

Meanwhile Britain’s women's marathon world record holder Paula Radcliffe has tweeted in response to the Bach comments. "Compromising and failing not only the athletes, but also the Olympic ideals of sport and fair play," she said. 

"The very things the IOC should protect at all times."

In 1981 Bach, a team fencing gold medallist for West Germany at the 1976 Montreal Olympics, joined Britain's then Olympic 1,500 metres champion Sebastian Coe as one of six athletes invited to speak at the IOC Congress at the German spa town of Baden-Baden.

Both men were eloquent as they called for a series of measures to improve the life of Olympic athletes - and most pressingly, a more resolute stance against doping, including the possibility of imposing lifetime bans.

Later that year, Bach became a founder member of the IOC's Athletes' Commission.

"Nothing less than the future of the Olympic Games and the Olympic idea was at stake," Bach recalled as he returned to Baden-Baden in 2011 for a 30th anniversary celebration of that Congress.

Thomas Bach, then vice-president of the IOC, speaks in Baden-Baden in 2011 during the event marking the 30th anniversary of the landmark IOC Congress in which he spoke as an athlete ©Getty Images
Thomas Bach, then vice-president of the IOC, speaks in Baden-Baden in 2011 during the event marking the 30th anniversary of the landmark IOC Congress in which he spoke as an athlete ©Getty Images

Bach had particular praise for Coe, who he said had "got to the heart of the matter" by stating: "I believe that by taking part in the Congress, and the tenacity we have shown in the way we approached our tasks, we will clear up once and for all the widespread misconception that athletes are just robots incapable of thinking".

Upon his election as IOC President on September 10, 2013, Bach said he intended to make athletes his "number one priority", adding: "The athletes are the lifeblood of the Games and their interests need to be at the forefront of our work. They deserve our trust, our encouragement and of course our protection.

"In return we can expect their full commitment and enthusiasm, and acceptance of the rules. Their interests need to be more strongly considered, even well before the beginning of the Olympic Games, already during the application procedures. 

"Throughout all of this we need to be asking the question: 'How will this affect the athletes?' No decision should be made without taking its impact on the athletes into consideration."

Asked by a writer for the Olympic Review about his advocacy of a "zero-tolerance policy towards doping, primarily as a means of protecting clean athletes", Bach explained: "It's about fairness and respect. 

"The rules are set out clearly and are in fact being made even tougher. The objective of the fight against doping and every other form of manipulation is to protect those athletes who compete fairly. Athletes have to respect the rules in their own interest and they have to respect their competitors. Respect is more than just tolerance."

Does anyone hear neighing?