The Canadian who has long been at the centre of sport’s anti-doping movement says Russia’s track and field team can’t get a free pass to Rio.
Dick Pound led the independent commission whose report led to, among other things, the suspension of Russian athletes from international track competition.
The world governing body of track and field, the IAAF, is expected to determine June 17 whether Russia’s runners, throwers and jumpers will be allowed to compete at the Rio Olympics this summer.
“The question is just because (it’s) one of your most important countries and your most important sport, do they get a free pass, a get-out-of-jail free card?” Pound asked from Toronto in a phone interview with The Canadian Press.
“What is the message that we really send if we let them back in without any sanction whatsoever?
“I think the public is increasingly skeptical about the Olympic movement, because unlike professional sports that really don’t care much about doping, the Olympic movement purports too.”
The former president of the World Anti-Doping Agency and an International Olympic Committee member for 38 years, Pound received an honorary degree Thursday from the University of Toronto.
WADA brought the Montreal lawyer back last year to head an independent inquiry investigating allegations of widespread doping among Russian track and field athletes.
He’s pleased WADA and the IAAF moved quickly on the recommendations in his report delivered Nov. 9, 2015—the suspension of Russia’s track and field federation, the director of the Moscow lab fired, and both the lab and Russia’s anti-doping agency declared non-compliant.
The option of allowing Russian athletes to compete in track and field in Rio if they can prove they’re clean is problematic, Pound says.
“There would have to be a pretty high onus of proof to be discharged in order to have that,” he said.
“It’s the kind of thing that’s easy to say and it looks good if you’re in front of television cameras saying ‘individual justice’ blah, blah, blah. Where you’re confronted with evidence of a complete corruption of the system in that particular sport, then what? Is anybody without guilt in those circumstances?
“You don’t want to get back into the Lance Armstrong situation, ‘Well, I never tested positive, therefore I’m clean,’ which, of course, is not the right conclusion at all.”
In his role as an anti-doping watchdog, Pound has called out athletes, heads of international sport federations and governments. He’s received pushback for it.
“The way you find out where the problems are is to draw some fire,” Pound said. “The people who are criticizing anti-doping are identifying themselves as part of the problem.
“This is not going to go away by everybody sitting around in a circle holding hands and going ‘Om, wouldn’t it be nice if everyone played fair?’ You’re in a fight.”
Accusations and allegations of widespread doping in Russia have extended beyond one sport.
A New York Times article last month quoted the Moscow lab director, who explained in great detail how he and others helped the host country beat drug testers at the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.
WADA appointed another Canadian lawyer, Richard McLaren of London, Ont., to lead yet another investigation into the Sochi reports. McLaren was a member of Pound’s panel last year.
Pound helped establish WADA in 1999 and served as its president until 2007. He’s witnessed many a doping crisis in sport, but says this one could be the biggest depending on how it’s handled.
He believes the Olympic brand could be at stake because sports fans want the athletes to compete clean.
“If you were to ask me that about the NHL or Major League Baseball . . . I would say they don’t really care,” Pound said. “These are professional entertainers. If people are suspended for 80 games or whatever, nobody really cares.
“But you watch each time there’s a positive test in the Olympics, that affects people. They kind of hope the Olympics are a microcosm of the world and if the Olympics can work, then maybe the world can work.
“If something goes wrong at the Olympics, there’s inordinate disappointment. If that happens too often, it will turn people off.”