Sports Arbitration Court Considers Banned Russians' Doping Cases
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
A special court of arbitration is considering the fate of 39 Russian athletes. All of them were banned from the Olympics for life for doping. They are now appealing, and some hope to compete at the upcoming Winter Olympics.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
This morning we have the perspective of a man who is sure the athletes are guilty but thinks that their punishment misses the point. Grigory Rodchenkov lead Russia's doping operation. He later fled the country, testified against the athletes and is in the United States Witness Protection Program because of fears for his safety. His lawyer, Jim Walden, says Rodchenkov feels some sympathy for the athletes even though he gave powerful evidence against them.
JIM WALDEN: So Dr. Rodchenkov, in his affidavits, talks in explicit detail about his personal involvement in covering up the doping. He wasn't personally involved in administering the drugs to the athletes, but he was the one that devised the cocktail of drugs that made it very, very difficult to detect them. So he had a front-end role, and then he had a back-end role, meaning that some of the athletes were taking the drugs during the Olympic Games, and other athletes had stopped them relatively recently. So it required them to secretly substitute clean urine, and all of the athletes had provided clean urine in advance to the lab in Sochi where the Games were held.
INSKEEP: Can your client, from your conversations with him, imagine any circumstance in which some of these athletes might deserve to have their bans overturned on appeal? Maybe there was an individual where the doping wasn't so bad, or he didn't dope at all, or didn't quite realize what was going on or has shown great remorse since then. Anything at all?
WALDEN: I think Dr. Rodchenkov's perspective is that many of the athletes were over-punished and the Russian Federation was under-punished, meaning that some of the athletes certainly participated very enthusiastically in the doping program, but there were certainly other athletes that had little choice, as he had little choice, to participate in the system. So whether they should be banned for life, I mean, that is an incredibly harsh punishment. And so on the flip side, the Russian Federation wasn't even fully banned for a single Olympic game. Many of their athletes participated in Rio. Many of their athletes are going to participate in the upcoming Winter Olympics. And the IOC even left itself room to lift the suspension of Russia so that their flag could fly at the Winter Olympic Games in South Korea coming up soon.
INSKEEP: Are you saying that these appeals going on now are not touching the most important issue at all?
WALDEN: The appeals that are going on touch an important issue, but definitely not the most important issue. The most important issue is the weakness of the International Olympic Committee when it comes to large, powerful countries on whom they depend to host games. And you can see the difference between the way that they've treated Kuwait on the one hand and Russia on the other. Kuwait, the infraction that they allegedly committed, was not nearly as serious as Russia's and yet they've been fully banned from the Olympics for the past two and a half years. Russia organizes the most prolific doping conspiracy that the world has ever seen and yet gets to compete at some level in the very next Olympic Games. That sort of unequal justice, the IOC has to do something about it, or else the Olympic ideal is dead.
INSKEEP: Is that different simply because Russia is a bigger and more powerful country?
WALDEN: Certainly the fact that they're big and that they host many games for both the Olympics and international federations plays a role, but it's hard to believe with how brazen they've been that there's not some aspect of corruption going on here, that either someone has been compromised or someone's taking money. And so I think that it is really very important for criminal authorities to look into these international federations more deeply and root out endemic corruption or expose blackmail schemes, or else these sorts of terrible decisions are going to be made again and again and again.
INSKEEP: Lawyer Jim Walden. He is the attorney for Gregory Rodchenkov. Thanks very much.
WALDEN: Thank you very much, Steve. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.