World 20km individual champion Lowell Bailey was doubtful yesterday of fair and clean biathlon events at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, hammering slow and inadequate responses to the Russian doping scandal.
The 36-year-old American called upon the International Olympic Committee, World Anti-Doping Agency and International Biathlon Union for tougher punishments in the wake of systemic doping at Sochi 2014.
“It’s clear to me our sport is not completely clean and that doesn’t live up to the Olympic ideal,” Bailey said.
“We all – the IOC, WADA, IBU – need to work harder to make sure the athletes have the fundamental right to compete on a level playing field.”
Russia has been banned from the Pyeongchang Games, although some Russians will compete as “Olympic Athletes from Russia” under a neutral flag. But asked if the biathlon events will be clean and fair at Pyeongchang, Bailey was uncertain.
“It’s my hope that’s the case,” he said. “We have maybe the best chance of it being a clean field we’ve ever had.”
He said IOC efforts to ban cheats had “robust criteria” and added: “It’s my hope that’s enough to create clean sport.”
Bailey said the probe into Russia’s doping schemes at Sochi should have been expedited and included Moscow lab data still unseen.
“The IOC was right to take away Russian participation,” Bailey said. “There have been some startling transgressions from Russia. It’s clear the Sochi Games were compromised by their actions.”
But the current system of safeguarding fair play is inadequate, Bailey said.
“It did fail clean athletes. It did not protect fair play and we’re at a critical moment right now,” he said.
“It’s up to the IOC, WADA and the [sport governing bodies] to take a stance. Are you coming down on the side of clean sport and fair play, or be on the side of ‘it’s unclear’? It’s not unclear.”
Bailey also dismissed any idea of anti-Russian politics in the situation.
“It’s not revisiting the Cold War,” he said. “Unfortunately the political rhetoric is this is a clash between the West and Russia. It’s not. It’s about clean sports. We all have to abide by the WADA code.”
‘You feel violated’
Bailey, who backs life bans for doping, noted the World Cup events will still have Pyeongchang-banned biathletes, and the IBU World Cup final remains scheduled to be held in Russia.
“We’ll be in a country responsible for the worst doping scandal in the history of our sport and our federation thinks that’s fine,” Bailey said.
“They need to take stronger actions, the first being we can’t have a World Cup final in Russia this year. It sends the wrong message. This is the first step they have to do to earn back the respect of athletes.”
Bailey said athletes are unhappy at sharing World Cup podiums with Olympic-banned rivals, and spoke of his own feelings at finishing behind athletes later proven cheats.
“You feel violated. I don’t think there’s any other way to feel about it,” he said. “I don’t think you ever really get over it. It just sort of taints the way you look back at that competition.
“When you are retroactively awarded a higher place, no matter what they do, if they award you a medal, if it’s four years or four days later, you’ve lost that moment.”
Recalling a World Cup third that was later upgraded to second, Bailey said: “I was retro-awarded the higher spot. But a letter in the mail doesn’t make up for a moment lost. He served his two years and was welcomed back. The Russians don’t seem to have a problem with that.”
Bailey was also annoyed at the delays in dealing with the scandal. Two days before the opening ceremony, 47 Russians barred from the Games still have appeals pending before the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
“The timing of all this is ridiculous. It should have been done in a much more expedited way,” he said. “If you look at the evidence out there, there’s enough proof to make judgements at that point.”