Russian Paralympic Ban Shows How Little IOC Care

The Rio Olympics has transfixed the world with its showcase of top athletes competing for the ultimate prize of a gold medal. But many forget that it’s already a disaster for the IOC (International Olympic Committee) because there are Russian athletes competing in Rio. After WADA’s (World Anti-Doping Agency) investigation revealed that Russia had set up state-sponsored doping, there were calls for the entire Russian team to be banned from the Olympics. When the IOC decided not to ban them in their entirety, many people, commentators and Olympians alike, pointed out that the IOC was shying away from the decisions that it needed to make as the governing body of a world-renowned sporting event.

But there’s a further twist. On the 7th of August, the entire Russian team was banned from the Paralympics. This decision shows a lot about the IOC’s real ideals and its true nature. The IOC and IPC (International Paralympic Committee) are two organisations that are fundamentally connected. On the 14th June the IPC and IOC signed a Memorandum of Understanding to further entwine the two organisations. IOC President Thomas Bach stated, “The IOC and IPC share the same goal of making the world a better place through sport”. IPC President Sir Philip Craven added that the Memorandum would help to “further strengthen and support the Paralympic Movement”. Neither organisation can claim that they are completely separate from the other.

The decision to ban the entire Russian Olympic team from the 2016 Rio Paralympics is the right decision. The fact that a less wealthy and less publicised event, the Paralympics, has done what the Olympics didn’t do is extremely embarrassing for the IOC. Unlike the IOC, the IPC has put Olympic ideals before money.

However, although radical, the decision will not set a precedent for change. To some extent both the IPC and IOC must have made the decision together as the members of both are so interwoven. The decision to ban all Russians from the Paralympics strongly suggests that in the view of the IOC the Paralympics doesn’t matter. The only full-blown sanctions of Russian athletes are in the less prominent Paralympics. The decision appears to be a cop-out devised so that the IOC can claim to be taking a stance against doping.

Banning the Russian team is going directly against the IOC’s vow to increase the prominence of the Paralympic brand. It seems to me that they are taking advantage of the Paralympics, suggesting just how little they care about the movement. The first Paralympic Games took place in Rome, 1960, and since then the brand has grown to be recognised in many countries. By agreeing in 2001 that each host city must hold the Paralympics as well as the Olympics, the Paralympic brand was being brought further into the public eye. Lord Coe of the 2012 London Olympics organising committee said in 2010 that he wanted “to enshrine from the very outset that the two Games are an integrated whole”, allegedly reflecting the IOC’s current opinion. Yet even though approximately a month ago the IOC and the IPC signed the Memorandum of Understanding, the IOC has already shunned its partners with the joint decision to ban all Russian athletes from the Paralympics.

A governing body must be fair. It must know when to be lenient or merciful, and yet most importantly it must be consistent. The inconsistency in decisions between the Olympics and the Paralympics is worrying. Some people might wonder if the IOC only supports the Paralympics to promote a liberal image and in turn attempt to draw more sponsorship deals into the Olympic brand. In banning the whole Russian team from the Paralympics, when they haven’t done so in the Olympics, it might seem that the IOC has told the world that it’s not ready to shrug off dated opinions regarding disability, or reject corruption in sport.

The differing decisions of the IOC and IPC show the confusion at the heart of the Olympic movement. The IOC is both disregarding the future of that movement as well as the need to make the Paralympics further recognised by the global public. Organisers need to understand that if no kind of change occurs the public will become increasingly disinterested in both the Olympics and the Paralympics. Of course, the people that suffer will be the athletes, especially those who have never doped in their lives, and the Paralympic brand, which will remain under-funded and culturally sidelined.

Chris Matthews

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