Three members the doping control review board (DCRB) for FINA (the international federation for swimming) quit their posts on Sunday 4 September 2016. The panel members resigned claiming that: (i) the process that was unanimously agreed by the DCRB prior to the Rio Olympics in relation to which Russian swimmers would be allowed to compete was ignored by FINA, and (ii) that subsequent requests made to FINA for information regarding FINA were ignored.
FINA responded saying it was ‘surprised’ at the resignations and sought to disclaim responsibility for the ultimate decision as to which Russian swimmers were able to compete at the Rio Olympics by saying: “FINA would like to clarify that the Olympic Games are an [International Olympic Committee (IOC)] event. For Rio 2016, the decision on the participation of the Russian athletes has been made by the CAS and the IOC. FINA fully respected and implemented their decisions.”.
FINA’s response accords with the process announced by the IOC prior to the Olympics that a review panel, comprised of three members of the IOC Executive Board, would have the ultimate say upon which Russian athletes could compete at the Games. The review panel were required to make their determination upon the basis of:
- the eligibility criteria for Russian athletes approved by the IOC following the publication of Richard McLaren’s independent report;
- the athletes put forward by each of the international federations following their application of the IOC’s eligibility criteria to their respective Russian athletes; and
- the recommendations of an independent arbitrator appointed by the Court of Arbitration for sport who had reviewed the athletes put forward by the international federations, on an individual basis, as against the IOC’s eligibility criteria.
Given the complexity of this process, the number of decision making bodies involved and the fact that the final decisions were to be taken by the IOC review panel within a period of just six days, it is hardly surprising that some confusion has arisen. However, the confusion at FINA only serves as a strong reminder of what went before the sporting success of the Rio Olympics. Amongst the medals and discussions over whether Bolt or Phelps was the greatest ever, it has been all too easy to forget that these Olympics were preceded by weeks of uncertainty, unprecedented decision making and political infighting at the top of Olympic sport, numerous appeals to the Court of Arbitration for Sport and athletes turning upon one another that, together, ultimately served to undermine the credibility of the current anti-doping movement. Indeed and as a result, both the IOC and 17 national anti-doping organisations have now called for an overhaul of the current anti-doping system. It will be interesting to see how this progresses.
By direct contrast to the IOC’s response to Richard McLaren’s report, the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) chose simply to ban all Russian competitors from the Paralympic Games (a decision that was subsequently upheld by the CAS). Though Russia has subsequently appealed to the Swiss Federal Court against its ban, it is undoubtedly true that the IPC’s handling of the issue has provided for much more certainty in the lead up to the Paralympics for all involved. Hopefully that will allow those participating and those watching the Paralympics, starting on 7 September 2016, to focus solely on the athletes’ successes and the celebration of sport.
 Professor Richard McLaren’s report was commissioned by the World Anti-Doping Agency to investigate allegations made about Russian competitors at the Sochi Winter Olympics. The report accused Russia of widespread and state sponsored doping of its athletes at numerous summer and winter Olympic Games. The report is available online.