The waters around the Russian semi-ban from the 2016 Summer Olympic Games is still murky, but today FINA announced an initial 7 swimmers who would not be allowed to compete at the Olympic Games after the International Olympic Commitee (IOC) handed down their decision on the matter Sunday.
Catch up on the background below:
- FINA Says World Champs Efimova, Morozov Pulled from Olympic Games
- Efimova Won’t be Allowed to Compete in Olympic Games after IOC Ruling
- WADA releases McLaren report
- No wholesale ban of Russia by IOC
The initial conversation within swimming immediately went to the cozy relationship between the Russian Swimming Federation and FINA, the latter of whom was tasked on deciding which Russian athletes have achieved the higher standards of proving clean (because a lack of positive tests is no longer good enough) to compete in Rio. While that relationship is still a concern and a conversation in play as FINA proceeds to decide the fates of the other 29 Russian swimmers entered into this year’s Olympics, there really wasn’t ever much gray area left for swimmers like Efimova, who served a 16-month sanction in 2013. To defy the IOC’s explicit and objective instructions there would expose FINA itself to sanctions, and that’s not a fire they would be wise to play with, and the Russian Olympic Committee made the first move by pulling the previously doped-athletes themselves without FINA or other international sports federations needing to even intervene.
So now the conversation has branched into two separate, but related, conversations: the one of the 29 remaining Russian swimmers with something to prove, and the one about the 7 swimmers objective removed from the Olympics by the Russian Olympic Committee and FINA.
Here’s where the wrinkles and nuance of the Court of Arbitration for Sport will come into play. The CAS is typically the last line of defense in resolving disputes in matters of this kind, and if Russian athletes who have completed their doping suspensions, but are still being barred from the Olympics, wanted to, that is where the appeals would go to.
There are two important precedents in play here:
The CAS Striking Down of the “Osaka Rule”
In this challenge, the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) challenged a new IOC rule that stated any athlete with longer than a 6 month doping sanction would be barred from competing in the next Olympics. The USOC challenged that rule in the case of LaShawn Merritt, a track & field athlete, and the CAS ruled that to hand out an Olympic ban after the completion of the suspension awarded by the relevant doping authority would amount to double jeopardy. While the CAS editorialized that they didn’t necessarily think an Olympic ban was a bad idea, they said that by the rules of the World Anti-Doping Code, which was signed by both the USOC and the IOC (and FINA and the Russian Olympic Commitee, for that matter) doesn’t allow it.
This is likely the logic that Russian athletes would argue in their case to the CAS – that this additional ban for the first 4 athletes named by FINA – Yulia Efimova, Mikhail Dovgalyuk, Natalia Lovtcova, and Anastasia Krapivina – was a double jeopardy. This same argument won’t be available to the other 3 who were banned for being named in the McLaren report – Nikita Lobintsev, Vlad Morozov, and Daria Ustinova.
One would presume that to handle all of the cases in the 2 weeks before the Olympics start, the CAS would have to make some equivalent of a “class action decision” for the Russian athletes who have previously been sanctioned for positive doping tests.
The CAS Denying the Appeal of Russian Track & Field
Here’s the follow-up, however. Two weeks ago, the CAS upheld the ban by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) that governs track, field, and road race events to bar the Russian Federation from the Olympics, unless athletes showed a “higher standard of proof.”
On it’s face, that ruling seems like it would only be relevant to the other branch – the fate of the 29 athletes, still to be decided by FINA, who are not named in the McLaren report and have not tested positive in the past.
But here’s why it’s relevant to the “previous dopers” group as well – the Russian Olympic Committee, by withdrawing those athletes names, have shown that they are not planning on appealing on behalf of their athletes like the USOC did for the Leshawn Merritt before London. This implies (though we have no information of such) that the IOC opting to not wholesale ban Russia from the Olympics was on the understanding that there would be no successful appeals by any previously doped athletes or athletes named in the McLaren report.
Even if that agreement weren’t made behind closed doors, it by default was made anyway, because if the IOC feels that its ruling on previously-suspended Russian athletes will be overturned by the IOC, they have a silver bullet: ban the entire Russian Olympic Committee under the same terms that the CAS already upheld with regard to the IAAF.
This gives the IOC the ultimate ace, if they choose to play it, to enforce their edict from Sunday.
For those who are not as interested in the legal nuance of the matter or are still confused by the winding road above, the ultimate conclusion is that by one road or another, it appears that unless the CAS changes course, or unless someone makes a new argument that hasn’t been heard before, whether or not the 4 Russian swimmers named to their 2016 Olympic Team who have been previously sanctioned for doping will win an appeal comes down to one issue and one issue only: whether or not the IOC is willing to play their trump card on any appeals and ban the entire Russian Olympic Committee. So far, they’ve been hesitant to do so, but when pushed to the edge, we might see a different reaction.