Ian O'Riordan: Russia still getting away with murder in the war on drugs

Wada insist nation should be let nowhere near the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang,

The Olympic flag and the Russian national flag fly side by side at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. The IOC has since banned 14 Russian athletes for life for doping offences at the Games. Photograph: Jim Young/Reuters

Not since Keyser Söze broke out of his limp and into a walk has a getaway seemed as skilfully disguised as this.

Dropping six places in the latest Fifa world rankings may be another small price to pay, but there’s no denying the sense Martin O’Neill’s Republic of Ireland team has escaped relatively unscathed by not qualifying for next summer’s World Cup.

Indeed they may well have dodged a bullet – and that’s not just some throwaway cliché.

Next Friday’s group stages draw in the Kremlin may inspire wistful feelings of what-might-have-been as the 32 teams are assigned their various venues and host cities.


Still that 5-1 playoff defeat to Denmark earlier this month has probably done the entire country a favour because, even if it’s not yet apparent, Russia is the last place on earth anyone should want to be next summer.

This is not just about the feared Russian hooligan training camps, or the brutally hot temperatures which come at the height of Russian summer; hardly a week goes by without some fresh report not only questioning Russia’s sporting credibility, but also highlighting its increasingly dubious attitude towards the last remnants of so-called sportsmanship.

Somehow it still appears to some people as a fitting host for the World Cup. (Except maybe Fifa’s ethics committee, still investigating the Russian bid process.)

The latest blatant example of all this surrounds the other major global sporting event of 2018; the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, next February. As far as Russia is concerned it has every right to be there, and is threatening to boycott the Games if they’re not allowed to compete en masse (whatever way that works).

Only last week, however, the World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada) maintained that Russia should not be let anywhere near Pyeongchang.

The Russian Anti-Doping Agency (Rusada), they ruled, was still non-compliant with the Wada code, essentially saying their anti-doping programmes can’t be trusted.

By now that "anti"-doping programme has been widely exposed – and brilliantly captured in that Netflix documentary, Icarus. Not that there was much in Icarus we didn't know already. It's over two years now since Dick Pound, the former head of Wada, told a band of journalists in Geneva that the Russian athletics federation had essentially "sabotaged" the 2012 London Olympics, such was their "widespread inaction" against athletes with suspiciously obvious doping profiles.

“It’s worse than we thought,” said Pound, a man who usually fears for the worst when it comes to doping. He’d chaired the Wada Independent Commission which proved, among other things, “a deeply rooted culture of cheating” in Russian athletics, and, by likely extension, in other sports too.

Serial killing

In fact if Russia sabotaged London 2012, it performed a serial killing act on the last winter Olympics, which they hosted in Sochi 2014.

The gory details of this were presented in last year's McLaren Report, which came in two parts, and not only revealed some of Russia's insidious sample tampering at Sochi, it presented evidence of widespread state-sponsored drug applications, implicating some 1,000 Russian athletes who competed across 30 sports (including football) from 2011 to 2015.

Russia, remember, won a record 33 medals in Sochi, including 13 gold. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has just begun retesting those samples for evidence of tampering and so far banned 14 Russian athletes for life, the latest of which is double bobsleigh champion Alexander Zubkov.

He carried the Russian flag at the Opening Ceremony at Sochi and is now president of the Russian Bobsleigh and Skeleton Federation – and yet, in keeping with Russian sporting spirit, is now appealing that ban.

That's the spirit because not only has Russia refused to accept the McLaren Report, or allow Wada access to data from its Moscow laboratory, it's threatened to shoot the main messenger of it all, Grigory Rodchenkov, who ran that laboratory between 2005 and 2015, and played that accidentally starring role in Icarus.

According to Leonid Tyagachev, head of the Russian Olympic committee from 2001 to 2010, and still its honorary president, “Rodchenkov should be shot for lying, like Stalin would have done”.

Luckily for Rodchenkow he’s now in witness protection in the US, having escaped Russia last year: not as lucky were his two former anti-doping colleagues in Russia, Nikita Kamayev, who died of an apparent heart attack in February last year, and Vyacheslav Sinev, who died of unknown causes in the same month.

Meanwhile president Vladimir Putin has coldly dismissed any possible involvement or knowledge of Russian doping and, without a shred of irony, described the various Wada reports as a conspiracy driven by American interests to undermine the Russian presidential election next March. Putin will of course be the celebratory presence in the Kremlin next Friday, fist-pumping away as usual.

Perhaps ironically track and field remains the only sport to stand up to Russia, along with the International Paralympics Committee. The IAAF are meeting in Monaco this weekend and expected to further extend the ban on Russian athletes from competing until Wada deems Rusada as properly compliant.

Then it’s over to the IOC headquarters in Lausanne on December 5th, when the ultimate decision will be made on whether or not the Russians get to compete in Pyeongchang. Don’t hold your breath: the IOC ignored a similar Wada recommendation last summer and allowed Russia to compete in Rio, who even without their track and field team, went on to win 56 medals, fourth best overall.

There is that counter-argument the Olympics are so politicised right now that no one cares anymore about the sportsmanship part. That Russia can get away with murder on the anti-doping front perhaps says something similar about World Cup.