RIO DE JANEIRO — Peppering his language with battlefield terms such as “nuclear option” and “collateral damage,” International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach on Tuesday essentially placed the blame for the Russian doping scandal on the World Anti-Doping Agency.
Bach, presiding over the first day of the three-day IOC general assembly, reiterated his belief that WADA acted too late in investigating Russia’s state-sponsored doping program, creating an atmosphere of chaos that threatens to overshadow the Rio de Janeiro Games, which begin Friday. With the fates of many Russian athletes still up in the air and other anti-doping agencies and athletes’ advocacy groups calling for a total ban, Bach again rejected such extreme measures, which he said would unfairly punish clean athletes.
“Leaving aside that such a comparison is completely out of any proportion when it comes to the rules of sport, let us just for a moment consider the consequences of a ‘nuclear option,’ ” Bach said. “The result is death and devastation . . . The cynical ‘collateral damage’ approach is not what the Olympic movement stands for. Natural justice does not allow us to deprive a human being of the right to prove their innocence.”
Responding to the widespread criticism of the IOC as being “soft” on the Russians, Bach called “not acceptable” the “insinuation by some proponents of this ‘nuclear option’ that anyone who does not share their opinion is not fighting against doping.”
The WADA investigative report, released last month, found evidence of a widespread and state-run doping program that included athletes in more than two dozen sports. Rather than ban Russia’s entire Olympic delegation, as many critics demanded, the IOC has left the decisions about Russian participation up to individual international sports federations. Russia has criticized the movement to ban its athletes as being politically motivated.
On Tuesday, Bach sought to shift blame for the Russian doping scandal back to WADA, saying, “It is not the IOC that is responsible for the accreditation and supervision of anti-doping laboratories.” He further called for an informal vote of IOC members to back the executive board’s handling of the Russian scandal. In a show of hands, only one of the 85 members — Great Britain’s Adam Pengilly, a former Olympic skeleton racer — voted against Bach’s stance.
Gerardo Werthein, an IOC member from Argentina, also criticized WADA, according to media reports, saying WADA’s “failure to investigate serious and credible allegations more swiftly has left the sports movement . . . in a very difficult position, facing incredibly difficult decisions in an impossible time frame. At times WADA has seemed to be more interested in publicity and self-promotion rather than doing its job as a regulator.”
“It is not the reputation of the IOC that needs to be restored,” said IOC member Alex Gilady of Israel, according to media reports, “but the reputation of WADA.”
WADA has defended the timing of its investigative report, saying it acted as quickly as possible when presented with evidence.
WADA President Craig Reedie said in a statement Monday, “While it is destabilizing in the lead-up to the Games, it is obvious, given the seriousness of the revelations . . . that they had to be published and acted upon without delay.”
Addressing the meeting Tuesday, Reedie, an IOC vice president, struck a conciliatory tone, saying, “I would like to think part of the system is broken, and we should start to identify those parts that need full attention.”