What does the Russian doping scandal mean for the Paralympics?

On Thursday, The Court of Arbitration for Sport upheld the ban on Russian track and field athletes from competing at the 2016 Olympics in Brazil.

The ban, handed down in 2015 by the International Association of Athletics Federations, followed a World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) investigation into systemic, state-sponsored doping.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) is also considering a blanket ban on all Russian competitors in Rio following a second WADA report.

So what becomes of Russia’s participation in the Paralympic Games in Rio?

A full WADA report published on Monday claimed that Russia’s sports ministry “directed, controlled and oversaw” manipulation of urine samples provided by its athletes from before London 2012, through Sochi 2014 and beyond.

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Responding to the revelations, International Paralympic Committee (IPC) President Sir Philip Craven said the findings marked a dark day for sport.

“We are truly shocked, appalled and deeply saddened at the extent of the state sponsored doping programme implemented in Russia ahead of Sochi 2014,” said Craven.

The WADA report noted 35 ‘disappearing’ positive samples from Russian Paralympians between 2012 and 2015. Russia won three times as many medals as any other country at the Sochi Winter Paralympics.

The IPC’s shock was turned into suspension proceedings Friday afternoon. The Paralympic governing body considered that the National Paralympic Committee of Russia (NPC Russia) appeared unable to, “fulfil its IPC membership responsibilities and obligations.”

The IPC had requested clarification from both WADA and the Russian federation in advance of a Board meeting Friday afternoon to decide if any action needed to be taken. The author of the WADA report, Richard McLaren, provided the names of the para-athletes connected to the 35 suspect samples. In addition, there are new question marks over 19 other samples from the 2014 Sochi Paralympic Winter Games, which the IPC have sent for further analysis.

The long and short of it is, within two weeks, the IPC will announce whether or not NPC Russia will be suspended and thus banned from the Rio Paralympics. The NPC has the right to appeal the decision but at that stage we are days and weeks from the Games opening.

Complicating matters on the para-sport side of things is that the IPC acts as the international federation for four of the 22 summer Paralympic sports. As such, the move to ban Russian athletes was always likely to cover the entire Russian Paralympic committee as opposed to delegation banning responsibilities to individual sporting federations.

On Friday, Sir Philip Craven added to his previous comments

“This decision (to open suspension proceedings) was not taken lightly, but the IPC believes that the current environment in Russian sport – which stems from the highest levels – is such that NPC Russia appears unable to fulfil its IPC membership obligations in full.

“In addition, the IPC is continuing to explore a host of other measures and actions in order to take the strongest possible steps to protect the integrity of Paralympic sport.”

As recently as last month, it was firmly believed, after the IPC consulted with WADA, that there was no evidence that doping extended to the Russian para-athletes. That conclusion now been turned on its head and all indications suggest Russia will not be competing at the summer Paralympics in Rio.

Ironically, in January of this year, Craven was in Moscow to help the Russian NPC celebrate its 20th anniversary. But now the Russian party has a dark  cloud hanging over it.

In other doping news, unfortunately closer to home, it was announced on Wednesday that Canadian athlete Earle Connor has been stripped of all results dating back to May 2012.

Earle Connor wins the men's 100 metres  at the Paralympic Games in Beijing.
Earle Connor wins the men’s 100 metres at the Paralympic Games in Beijing.

Connor, a T42 sprinter, was suspended for four years in April of this year for an anti-doping violation related to the use of 19-norandrosterone. He has since admitted to previously using prohibited substances before and during the London 2012 Games.

The Saskatchewan native won 100m gold at the 2008 Paralympics, in a new record time. In advance of the four-year ban, he had been training to compete in Rio.

 

Photo credit: Canadian Paralympic Committee

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