Unprecedented action on doping needed to restore the image of athletics
An anti-doping commission report alleging corruption, cover-ups, extortion, bribery and systematic use of drugs in international-level athletics furthers the impression that all sport is corrupt. It comes as soccer's governing body Fifa is struggling with a graft scandal of its own and in the wake of outrages in cricket, cycling and the Winter Olympics. Athletes who abide by the rules and spectators who invest financially and emotionally deserve answers. Only action on an unprecedented scale can restore the sport's brand and image.
The commission was set up by the independent World Anti-Doping Agency to look into claims that cheating was rampant in Russian athletics. It found wrongdoing at all levels, to the point that laboratory test results had been intentionally destroyed with the help of state security services. The global governing body, the International Association of Athletics Federations, was found to have covered up the abuse, while a lack of action by national anti-doping agencies had, in effect, sabotaged the 2012 London Olympic Games. A global inquiry into suspected corruption and doping in athletics has rightly been launched by the international police agency, Interpol.
The commission has recommended sanctions against Russia's athletes, suggesting that they even be banned from competing in the Olympics in Brazil next year. But the problem does not rest with Russia alone, as the scores of positive drug tests involving sportspeople from a host of rich and poor nations prove. Breaking the rules to enhance performances for the sake of fame and fortune does not end on the track or field, though; former IAAF president Lamine Diack, his legal adviser, and the federation's ex-anti-doping chief have also been accused of concealing a Russian athlete's drug violation.
Diack's successor, Sebastian Coe, called the allegations a "dark day" for athletics. But he was criticised when he took office for responding to doping claims in the media as being "a declaration of war on the sport". Athletics has made great inroads in fighting drugs, but greater effort is obviously needed.
Russia's president Vladimir Putin has promised a full investigation. There has to be transparency and a willingness to allow independent scrutiny. But the IAAF also has a crucial role in funding an anti-doping agency that can fully carry out testing, investigations and management of cases. Athletes, through promoting a drug-free culture, are as instrumental. All have to work together to get back the lost trust.
*Following the publication of this editorial, the International Association of Athletics Federation decided to suspend Russia from track and field competitions.