The International Paralympic Committee (IPC) banned the whole Russian team from competing at the upcoming 2016 Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on Sunday.
Retired Paralympian Kimberley Joines of Rossland, who won bronze in sit-ski at the 2014 Paralympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia and at the 2006 Games in Grand Torrino, Italy, wasn’t as surprised at the allegations as she was by the unprecedented decision.
“I am still a little surprised that they actually went through with it, but rules are rules,” said Joines. “It’s all about fairness, and for sure there was a lot of questions with the other Games.”
Russia’s years of doping deception, including tampering with samples at the 2014 Olympics and Paralympics in Sochi, Russia were outlined last month by World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) investigator and Canadian professor Richard McLaren.
The report says that WADA-accredited labs in Moscow and Sochi were cogs being controlled by the Russian Ministry of Sport and were falsifying positive test results to protect doping Russian athletes. They had active assistance from the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), formerly known as the KGB) and the Centre of Sports Preparation (CSP).
“The facts really do hurt,” IPC President Philip Craven said in a release. “They are an unprecedented attack on every clean athlete who competes in sport. The anti-doping system in Russia is broken, corrupted and entirely compromised.”
At the Sochi Paralympics, the Russians ran away from the field in the medal standings winning 30 gold, 28 silver, and 22 bronze for an 80-medal haul, more than double their 38 medal total at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games. The totals of the Ukraine, which finished in second place with 25 medals, the USA with 18, and Canada’s 16 medals, pale in comparison.
While Joines believes Russia isn’t the only country guilty of systemic cheating, the host county’s 2014 results were truly extraordinary.
“I think it’s the only one that’s been punished for it because it was seemingly so overwhelming,” said Joines. “In my sport, it didn’t effect us terribly, but it’s a lot different in cross-country (skiing) and that sort of thing. That was the winter sport that was really questionable with that team because they won everything.”
In cross-country skiing the Russians captured 32 medals in 21 events, including a medals-sweep in the Men’s Standing 10 km, 15-km sitting, and 1-km Sprint. The host country’s dominance went unquestioned at the time, however, privately athletes and organizers wondered at the historically unrivaled success.
“They still have amazing athletes there regardless of the doping aspect,” said Joines. “From an athlete’s perspective, I feel very bad for athletes who are clean and are also getting punished for what their organization does.”
The Paralympic movement is anticipating further evidence of positive tests being covered up that McLaren did not uncover in his initial 76-day investigation. The IPC said it has evidence of manipulated doping tests relating to 44 athletes, including 27 from samples from competitors in eight sports that are part of the Paralympic program.
From her experience at two Paralympic Games, Joines empathises with the athletes whose Olympic dreams will be the biggest casualties of the IPC announcement, but recognizes the necessity of the historic penalty.
“I think what it actually comes down to with the Russians is that it was bigger than the coaches, which is bigger than the athletes. It was coming from higher forces, which is why they’ve made such a drastic step here.”
The manipulation of athletes by the state is nothing new, but for Joines it usually entails being tested for performance-enhancing drugs at any time during training and off training, and even in her first year of retirement.
“Within Canada, our national testing-body has the same doping policies as the International committee, so we test our athletes between events, during the summer, all the time to make sure that we’re still following international policies when we go into competition. A lot of countries don’t have the same policy so their national testing body won’t necessarily test their athletes between races, between years, and all those things.”
Russia had 267 athlete slots for Rio in 18 sports, which will only now be filled in September if an appeal is successful.
“Tragically, this situation is not about athletes cheating a system, but about a state-run system that is cheating the athletes,” Craven said. “The doping culture that is polluting Russian sport stems from the Russian government and has now been uncovered in not one, but two independent reports commissioned by the World Anti-Doping Agency.”
The Paralympic Games in Rio begin on Sept. 7 following the Olympic Games.