Ray Collins on some of the unresolved questions over the ongoing doping in sport scandal
It has been three years since Lance Armstrong was stripped of his seven Tour de France titles. What I found most shocking about his cheating was the apparent ease with which it was done. Threats of libel action against the media, large sums of money and vested interests all seemed to play their part in keeping the relevant authorities silent.
With the report published earlier this month by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) concerning Russian athletic doping allegations, these ingredients again appear to be at play in organised sport. The investigation was launched in December 2014 to study the validity of claim made in a German documentary, ‘The secrets of Doping: How Russia makes its winners?’ Without that investigation would the level of corruption found WADA have been uncovered?
The WADA report said "acceptance of cheating at all levels is widespread" in Russia and suggested that neither Russia’s athletics federation (Araf) or its anti-doping agency, or indeed its government, can be considered anti-doping code-compliant. These are grave revelations.
To bring this issue closer to home, before the 2012 Olympics the Russian Ministry of Sport provided WADA with a list of 14 athletes with ‘abnormal profiles’. Six competed in London, two winning medals. The report went on to say: “As a result of this widespread inaction, the Olympic Games in London were, in a sense, sabotaged by the admission of athletes who should have not been competing.”
Last Friday, the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) voted 22-1 in favour of Araf being provisionally suspended from international competition - including the Olympics - for its alleged involvement in widespread doping.
What is perhaps most shocking is that despite the scale of the allegations they have been described as only the ‘tip of the iceberg’. Ed Warner, UK Athletics chairman, in backing Russia’s suspension from competitions echoed WADA that there was more to come suggesting there are "four, five or six nations that athletics really has a problem with".
IAAF president and Conservative Peer, Lord Coe said: “This is a wake-up call for all of us," telling BBC Sport that he is "wholly focused on the changes that need to be made telling BBC Sport that he is "wholly focused on the changes that need to be made.” A wake up call, indeed. Although Coe was only elected IAAF president in August, he was vice-president for eight years and in the light of current events it does make you wonder whether he was asleep on the job.
I don’t suppose either being the first chair of FIFA's ethics committee under Sepp Blatter or his employment by Nike – a company that supplies Russian athletes with their kit – will help people in better understanding the his judgement. Whatever view you take on these matters, no one can doubt Coe’s obvious integrity but his judgement must be beyond doubt as the investigations move forward. The question now is how best he can restore credibility.
Coe will need to ensure that he has a competent team of independent people around him able and willing to tackle cheating and corruption without fear or favour. Failure to act decisively could cause irreparable damage to the reputation of world athletics.
Sadly the implications of the WADA report may not be limited to athletics alone, with Dick Pound, the chair of the review, adding it is "not the only sport with a doping problem." Baseball, and of course cycling, have been beset by doping scandals in recent times, while a corruption crisis still engulfs world football's governing body FIFA.
We now have people at the top of national sports potentially facing criminal proceedings so the government must urge the National Crime Agency to investigate if any crimes have taken place on UK soil. This is not just about preventing doping in sport; it is more than that. These revelations make clear that a culture change is required which is far more difficult to achieve.
Lord Ray Collins of Highbury is a member of Labour’s frontbench team in the House of Lords. He tweets @Lord_Collins
Published 19th November 2015