"For Russian Para athletes, albeit as neutrals, this decision gives them an opportunity to fulfil their Paralympic dream. I am sure they would prefer to compete under their country’s flag like any other Para athlete, but Russia’s unwillingness to take responsibility for the biggest doping scandal ever to take place in sport should not be rewarded, nor celebrated."
Good morning everyone,
As a three-time Paralympian I took immense pride in representing my country on the international stage. Competing at the Paralympic Games was the pinnacle of my swimming career and to stand top of the podium and hear my country’s anthem is something I, together with my family and friends, will cherish and saviour for the rest of my life.
Since the IPC suspended the Russian Paralympic Committee in August 2016, I have regularly heard both sides of the argument for and against Russia’s participation in IPC sanctioned competitions in my position as Chair of the IPC Athletes’ Council.
Seventeen months ago, Russian Para athletes who had trained for years to compete at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games could not participate on the biggest stage of all as a result of the RPC’s suspension. It was a decision that was hard to take for all Russian Para athletes and my fellow Athletes’ Council member Mikhail Terentiev has shared with us many of the views from athletes in his home country.
Ultimately, however, the IPC’s decision of August 2016 was the correct one; it was necessary and proportionate to the situation it faced at the time, and was a decision that was supported by the majority of athletes around the world.
The reason why it was supported by so many is that as an athlete, when you line up on that start line, you want to do so confident that everyone is competing on a level playing field.
The McLaren Report, published 54 days before the Rio 2016 Opening Ceremony, revealed the anti-doping system in Russia to be completely broken and that both summer and winter athletes had benefited from practices that have absolutely no place in sport. Had Russians taken part in Rio 2016 or subsequent IPC sanctioned competitions, there would have been no trust, no certainty as to whether they were clean or not, and no confidence that there was a level playing field for all competing Para athletes.
I think all Para athletes within the Paralympic Movement will always feel an element of sympathy for the Russian Para athletes that could not compete at Rio 2016. They knowingly or unknowingly were part of a complex and highly calculated system that was designed to cheat their opponents. And that is why the sympathy is mixed with anger and regret. Anger that Para athletes have missed out on international medals, including Paralympic medals at Sochi 2014, and regret that Para athletes have been denied the opportunity to stand atop of the podium to sing their national anthem and prevented from reaping the benefits of winning a gold medal.
The IPC Governing Board’s decision to allow Russian Para athletes who meet strict conditions to compete as neutrals at the PyeongChang 2018 Paralympic Winter Games was not taken lightly, but it was a decision that was taken with interests of all Para athletes at its heart.
As a member of the IPC Athletes’ Council and the athlete representative to the IPC Governing Board, the athlete viewpoint is always front of mind. A core view shared by each of our Council’s members is that it is vital that the international governing body thinks about all athletes and does its upmost to protect clean sport. I think this latest decision ensures this.
For Russian Para athletes, albeit as neutrals, this decision gives them an opportunity to fulfil their Paralympic dream. I am sure they would prefer to compete under their country’s flag like any other Para athlete, but Russia’s unwillingness to take responsibility for the biggest doping scandal ever to take place in sport should not be rewarded, nor celebrated.
For Para athletes of the other competing countries, they can compete in the confidence that their rivals are now regularly tested by RUSADA and others, under the supervision of WADA and the IPC. To compete in PyeongChang, Russian Para athletes will also have to meet strict conditions.
A level playing field is all any athlete wants and I truly believe we will have this in PyeongChang when the Paralympic Winter Games open on 9 March.