Russian President Vladimir Putin’s order of a probe into the allegations made by the World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada) is evidence that Moscow has been compelled to recognise the seriousness of the report’s implications for Russia. Submitted on Monday, it alleges that Russian athletes have been part of a systematic, state-sponsored doping programme that led to changes in the results of international competitions, including the London Olympics of 2012. It also recommends that the athletes be suspended from the Rio Olympics, while seeking a lifetime ban on five athletes and coaches. The report is believed to have uncovered a scale of corruption bigger than the ongoing Fifa scandal.
Only the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) can punish athletes and their national governing bodies. But the report’s allegations compromise the IAAF itself. Former IAAF president Lamine Diack is under investigation by French prosecutors for corruption and money laundering, having allegedly helped cover up positive doping tests by Russian athletes. Wada’s allegations range from extortion and the destruction of 1,400-odd samples by a Moscow laboratory to the involvement of the Russian security service, the FSB. Putin’s emphasis on “professional cooperation” with anti-doping bodies and the need to fix responsibility is perhaps meant to signal a course correction from the Russian sports ministry’s antagonistic posture, but Moscow and the IAAF face a challenging task.
At stake is trust in sport and sportspersons. As the disgrace of cyclist Lance Armstrong or the Fifa scandal have shown, doping and corruption scandals hurt clean sportspersons and fans the most. If people are not to lose faith in a human endeavour that’s supposed to bring communities and nations together, the international governance of popular sports needs an overhaul.