The International Paralympic Committee (IPC) has indicated that if the Russian Paralympic Committee (RPC) does not meet its obligations in full by early September then there is a strong chance it will not be allowed to enter its athletes into the PyeongChang 2018 Paralympic Winter Games.
The comments come after the IPC Governing Board unanimously decided last Thursday (18 May) not to lift the RPC’s suspension following an update from the IPC Taskforce, which was appointed to monitor the fulfilment of the reinstatement criteria.
Speaking at a press conference in London, Great Britain, on Monday (22 May), Sir Philip Craven, the IPC President, highlighted the steady progress the RPC has made in meeting its reinstatement criteria following its suspension on 7 August 2016.
“Overall the IPC Governing Board – a group of 15 people including six Paralympians – is generally pleased and encouraged by the co-operation and steps forward the RPC is making in various areas toward its reinstatement,” said Sir Philip.
“Working alongside the IPC Taskforce and in alignment with the agreed roadmap they have produced, the RPC is doing a good job and there are certainly some promising signs.
“Last week’s update from the WADA Foundation Board about RUSADA potentially resuming testing as early as June is cause for optimism, and it is imperative that Para athletes are amongst those who are tested.
“Although we are pleased with the progress to date, a number of key criteria still need to be met. At the moment there are a lot of good plans with timelines on paper, but we now need to see plans in action and delivering concrete results.”
Sir Philip explained what the RPC’s ongoing suspension means regarding participation in the upcoming Paralympic Games.
“With 291 days to go until the PyeongChang 2018 Paralympic Winter Games, there is not a moment to waste. The IPC Taskforce will next update the IPC Governing Board in September and if the obligations have not been fully met by then, it will be very difficult for the RPC to have its suspension lifted in time to enter its athletes into the Paralympic Winter Games,” he said.
According to the IPC Governing Board and the IPC Taskforce, the acknowledgement of Professor McLaren’s findings remains a key criterion for the RPC’s reinstatement.
Sir Philip said: “The IPC suspended the RPC last August due to Professor McLaren’s findings, findings that shocked the Paralympic Movement and findings that highlighted that the RPC was unable to fulfil its IPC membership obligations and particularly its obligation to comply with the IPC Anti-Doping Code and the World Anti-Doping Code.
“The principles that drove our decision last August have not changed. The IPC’s duty as the Paralympic Movement’s global governing body is to ensure fair competition so that athletes can have confidence that they are competing on a level playing field. This is vital to the integrity and credibility of Paralympic sport.
“Therefore meeting the reinstatement criteria is not just a simple tick box exercise for the RPC. As we have stressed all along, we must also witness cultural change in regard to anti-doping activities in Russia and, decisively, the RPC and Russian authorities must establish new processes in order to right the wrongs revealed by Professor McLaren’s investigations. They must put measures in place to ensure that we never see such a deplorable abuse of sport and athletes again.
“Ultimately Russia has to restore confidence in the wider sporting world. The RPC and Russian authorities need to build trust in their actions and prove to us all that from now on sport really is about morals over medals and not the other way round.”
Sir Philip also highlighted that the IPC and IPC Taskforce will do all it can to ensure the RPC has its suspension lifted as soon as the reinstatement criteria is met in full.
“As IPC President I want to get this situation resolved as quickly as possible. Russia is a great sporting nation and the Paralympic Movement would like to see Russia back competing as soon as it can prove it has met the reinstatement criteria in full.
“So committed are the IPC to this situation, that our mind set currently is on doing all we can to have the Russian Paralympic Committee at PyeongChang 2018.”
During Monday’s press conference, Andy Parkinson, the Independent Chair of the IPC’s Taskforce, provided a detailed update on the RPC’s progress to-date.
“The RPC has approached their work with significant enthusiasm, commitment and a real appetite to comply with what has been asked of them by the Taskforce,” said Parkinson.
“Since the last progress report was published in February, the RPC has worked with the Taskforce to develop a detailed roadmap for reinstatement, started improvements to its overall governance and independence, made efforts to work closely with RUSADA on future education programmes, and adopted a practical and realistic approach to its domestic and international testing pools.
“The Taskforce would like to place on record our gratitude for the hard work carried out by the RPC to date.”
In addition to highlighting the RPC’s positive progress, Parkinson also highlighted areas of significant concern for the IPC Taskforce.
“A central requirement of the reinstatement criteria is the provision of an official response specifically and adequately addressing the findings made by Professor McLaren,” he said.
“The evidence is quite clear: the problems identified were far beyond individual athlete violations and a doping system that was not strong enough to catch those athletes. Instead, the system itself and the institutions that support this system were operating with the objective of circumventing the very rules the system was responsible to uphold.
“Unless and until these problems are fully addressed, the Taskforce is of the view that there can be no meaningful change in culture, and it would be almost impossible for Russian Para athletes to return to IPC-sanctioned competitions without jeopardising the integrity of those competitions.
“The issue of access to Para athletes in closed cities has been a problem for many years and still remains unresolved. The Taskforce welcomes the news from the WADA Foundation Board meeting last week that this may change in the near future.
“Finally, the issue of the reinstatement by WADA of RUSADA remains a key criterion for the RPC’s reinstatement. Again, the Taskforce welcomes the news from the WADA Foundation Board meeting last week and the encouraging progress being made with respect to RUSADA’s operational capacity. Without a fully functioning RUSADA, testing in the Russian Federation remains severely limited and the Taskforce looks forward to seeing evidence of reform to RUSADA.”
Chelsey Gotell, Chairperson of the IPC Athletes’ Council, said: “The IPC Athletes’ Council supports the decision made by the IPC Governing Board to maintain the RPC’s membership suspension.
“The Paralympic Games is the pinnacle of any Para athlete’s sporting career. With PyeongChang 2018 fast approaching, we strongly encourage the RPC to work diligently to ensure the reinstatement criteria are met as soon as possible.
“When competing at a Paralympic Games, you want to compete on a level playing field against the best athletes in the world, and therefore the IPC Athletes’ Council sincerely hopes that the RPC can meet the reinstatement criteria in time to enter its athletes into PyeongChang 2018.”
The IPC suspended the RPC on 7 August due to its inability to fulfil its IPC membership responsibilities and obligations, in particular its obligation to comply with the IPC Anti-Doping Code and the World Anti-Doping Code (to which it is also a signatory).
This followed the publication of the McLaren report on 18 July and further evidence provided by McLaren to the IPC.
The Court of Arbitration for Sport on 23 August 2016 dismissed an appeal by the RPC against its suspension by the IPC, and the RPC’s further appeal to the Swiss Federal Tribunal was dismissed in April 2017.
On 8 December, the IPC announced the members of the IPC Taskforce who will assist the IPC Governing Board in determining whether the RPC has met the reinstatement criteria and underlying verification criteria, as published on 21 November 2016.