As many athletes continue to prepare for the upcoming Paralympic Games taking place exactly one month from Sunday in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, those sporting the white, blue and red flag of Russia will not. On Sunday, Aug. 7, the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) announced its decision to suspend the Russian Paralympic Committee from competition in Rio and upcoming IPC competitions.
A press conference was held Sunday morning in Rio to announce the IPC Governing Board’s unanimous ultimatum that the Russian Paralympic Committee had failed its duties as an active member to the IPC in light of recent investigations. Namely, the Russian Paralympic Committee was found at fault in their inability to comply with sanctions set forth by the IPC Anti-Doping Code and the World Anti-Doping Code. Prior to any decision from the IPC Governing Board, the Russian Paralympic Committee was permitted to provide a written and verbal claim during the conference.
The repercussions of the decision for the Russian Paralympic Committee include the suspension of its IPC membership rights and privileges. This means Russia is not allowed to vote at IPC member meetings nor enter athletes in IPC-sanctioned events, which includes the 2016 Summer Paralympics and IPC competitions (involving summer and winter sports) beyond that.
Much of the decision, according to IPC President Sir Philip Craven, was based on the findings of the McLaren report. Within the report, “35 disappearing positive samples from Paralympic sport in 2012 to 2015,” were included in the report’s findings.
“Since the publication of the McLaren Report on 18 July our priority has been to establish the full facts in respect of Para sport,” Craven stated in the press release.
“In particular, we have taken the necessary time to ask further questions of Professor McLaren and his investigation team, to await the results of samples undergoing further forensic examination and to invite the Russian Paralympic Committee to present its case to the IPC and enter into dialogue with the IPC Governing Board. With the full facts to hand, we were deeply saddened to find that the State-sponsored doping programme that exists within Russian sport regrettably extends to Russian Para sport as well.”
As head of the IPC, Craven maintains it is his and the governing body’s responsibility to ensure equity between all competitors. The motion to suspend Russia, he indicates, represents an attempt to create fair competition among all para-athletes.
“Tragically this situation is not about athletes cheating a system, but about a State-run system that is cheating the athletes,” Craven said. “Our decision is driven by the need to hold our members accountable for their obligations. On the basis of the evidence we have, in the current environment our member the Russian Paralympic Committee cannot comply with the IPC’s Anti-Doping Code and the World Anti-Doping Code. Those obligations are crucial to the IPC’s guarantee of fair competition for all.”
“Tragically this situation is not about athletes cheating a system, but about a State-run system that is cheating the athletes.“– IPC President Sir Philip Craven on the decision to suspend Russia from the Rio Paralympics
Also on Sunday, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) announced its support of the decision.
“WADA supports the decision taken by the IPC, which we believe is in the interest of clean athletes and the clean sport movement,” a WADA statement noted. “The IPC’s decision follows the WADA Executive Committee’s 18 July recommendation to the IPC that they consider declining entries of athletes by the Russian Paralympic Committee for Rio 2016 as a result of the McLaren Report.”
Robin McKeever, head coach of the Canadian Para Nordic Ski Team, pointed that beyond the summer games in Rio, the decision will also impact the upcoming winter ski season.
“It’s a very sad day for IPC sports and in the end, the athletes pay the heaviest price overall in sport,” McKeever wrote in an email to FasterSkier. “From what I read the entire RUS IPC is banned from competition so that includes winter sports for the upcoming season. Whether or not that changes in the coming days or weeks time will tell. This obviously will have a huge effect on the size of the IPC Nordic World Cup field for this winter…True Sport must prevail and the line between what’s fair or unfair has to be drawn. I only hope we can all play on an equal playing field and move forward from this point.”
In a phone interview before the IPC decision on Russia, McKeever emphasized that the Russian doping scandal is rooted in far more than just the athletes themselves.
“The opportunities that the paralympics provide for some countries athletes are astronomical,” McKeever said last month. “Russian athletes winning a gold medal at the paralympics is 145,000 euros for athlete, guide — if there’s a guide involved — and the coach. All paid out by the state. So this is a huge, huge organization from the political side all the way down. There’s one Russian who won six medals in Sochi and that’s the difference between living life in a wheelchair — pretty much fighting day to day to have a meal — versus living life as a rock star.”
With the present decision instated, the IPC is currently working to redistribute the 267 slots that had been given to Russian athletes for Rio 2016. No action will be taken, however, until the 21-day time period that the Russian Paralympic Committee has to appeal the decision is complete. The Rio Paralympics start in 31 days on Sept. 7.
— Alex Kochon contributed reporting