Time is running out for a very tough decision by the International Olympic Committee. Should it ban the entire current Russian Summer Olympics team for the clear evidence of cheating by the Russian government and Russian athletes in the 2014 Winter Olympics at Sochi? Or should it let the Russians compete under close scrutiny for illegal performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs)?
The tough but correct call is to ban Russia. Individual Russian athletes should be allowed to compete if they can show they have not participated in the official Russian scheme to cheat the World Anti-Doping Agency. But they should compete as individuals, not as bearers of the Russian flag.
The Russian government continues to claim, in the words of President Vladimir Putin, that the case against it is “politics.” Mr. Putin has “temporarily” suspended officials implicated in the scheme.
But typical of his combative approach to all issues, Mr. Putin has also sought to discredit the evidence that has persuaded the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), the main international body of track and field sports, to ban participation by Russian athletes in all international events, including the Summer Olympics. Track and field events make up only part of the Summer Games, and other Russian athletes will be eligible to participate unless the IOC says no.
The IAAF decision was upheld Thursday by the Court of Arbitration for Sport, based in Switzerland, the top international tribunal for sport disputes. Russia says it will appeal to Switzerland’s highest court and bring legal action against the investigators of the scandal.
Yet there is incontrovertible evidence that the Russian government carried out a successful scheme during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi to pump its athletes full of steroids while evading detection. Urine samples were collected before the athletes were drugged, then substituted for the post-race urine samples now required of all Olympic athletes, using a technique devised by Russian sports officials and its government intelligence service.
The earliest case of Olympics cheating on record occurred in Greece in 388 B.C. when a boxer was caught bribing an opponent to fake being knocked out. Much more recent scandals of PED use have come in Major League Baseball and the NFL. And American cyclist Lance Armstrong was disgraced by the exposure of his cheating through doping.
But clear evidence of systematic cheating by a government has never before been laid out in so convincing a manner.
It violated the Olympic spirit of fair play. And it demands that the IOC bar Russia from the Rio Games.