The International Paralympic Committee (IPC) has banned Russia from participating in the upcoming 2016 Paralympic Games for allegedly violating international doping rules.
During his announcement IPC President, Sir Philip Craven, asserted that Russia has “catastrophically failed its para-athletes,” adding, “Their medals-over-morals mentality disgusts me.”
Russia’s Paralympians finished second on the medal table in London 2012 with 36 golds and 102 medals overall, ahead of ParalympicsGB in third place, with 34 golds and 120 medals overall. The omission of the Russian team will leave a huge gap at the Games and an obvious opportunity for other countries to achieve more podium results.
In a statement released yesterday, The British Paralympic Association responded to the situation saying: “While we have real sympathy for those individual Russian Paralympians not going to Rio who train and compete clean, it is crucial for the integrity of our sport that those involved as well as the public feel confident that all necessary measures are in place to tackle doping and the playing field is level. The British Paralympic Association therefore congratulates the IPC on taking a clear stand based on the evidence provided to the McClaren report and their own subsequent investigation. We believe they have followed a comprehensive and proper process throughout and taken a bold decision on the back of it.
Our main focus remains on our own preparation for the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games and will continue as we have been doing in our work with athletes and staff.”
The banning of Russian athletes is a huge step to take and it has already been made clear by the Russian Sports Minister, Vitaly Mutko that they will be launching a swift appeal at the Court of Arbitration for Sports in Lausanne, Switzerland in hopes of getting a quick reversal before the Games commence on 7 September.
If the decision is upheld, it is likely to overshadow the Paralympics. Although competing nations want to win medals (and against clean athletes) they also want an opportunity to test themselves against the best as they do so. To eject the entire Russian team is clearly to eject innocent and hardworking athletes as well as the guilty.
With some of the best athletes out of the equation there will naturally be a devaluing of Paralympic success but the sanction is necessarily strong and the hope is that such a strong deterrent would mean that a repeat of the alleged doping violations would become even less likely.
Russia’s Olympic team also came to close to being exiled from Rio as well and indeed despite a blanket ban being recommended by The World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada) 271 of its 389 competitors were cleared to take part in the Games.
There is no doubt that sport cannot exist in a miasma of cheating, suspicion and scandal. If the allegations against Russia are proven to be true, the rest of para-sport will need to change. The anti-doping measures taken at para-sports events are not as vigorous as they are elsewhere. This will need to change in order to uphold the reputation of para-sports in the future.
Parasports also have an extra dimension that can complicate the picture in that many of the competitors will be taking medications and undergoing therapies that will now be under greater scrutiny even though individual athletes already carry certificates and accreditations in order to use them. Whether stronger anti-doping enforcement will affect certain athletes because of this remains to be seen.
For the moment, athletes need to be able to win and lose without suspicion. Funding, and livelihoods are at stake as well as the honest opportunity to have real achievements honoured on the greatest stage of all.