Mishcon de Reya Sports Lawyer comments on Yuliya Stepanova/IOC ruling on doping ban
Following her ban from the Rio Olympics, doping whistleblower Yuliya Stepanova has spoken out against Olympic bosses, saying that the ban will scare other athletes off from coming forward. Commenting on the impact of Stepanova's ban, Mishcon de Reya Sports Lawyer, Kendrah Potts, who was legal counsel to the commission set up by the UCI to investigate doping in cycling and allegations of mismanagement or corruption by the UCI, said on the Today Programme this morning:
"Stepanova came forward with the information that effectively set into motion this chain of events that led to the WADA commission report and the recent McLaren report that said there was evidence of state sponsored doping in Russia – people are now saying, is it fair that she misses the Rio games? The bigger question is, does this encourage other whistleblowers to come forward? The answer, of course, is no it does not.
"It's interesting to compare the approach the IAAF took to the approach the IOC took . The IAAF changed its rules in June this year, and it has said that where an athlete's national federation was suspended, which Russia is, some athletes could still compete as neutrals if they met certain criteria. One of the criteria, interestingly, was where an individual had made an exceptional contribution to the protection and promotion of clean athletes, which is clearly designed to allow someone like Steponova to compete.
"The IOC looked said Stepanova did not meet the criteria and banned her. They did this because she had previously served a suspension, and under this new rule that they've introduced, a Russian athlete can't compete in Rio if they've previously served a ban - a rule which actually creates its own legal problems.
This issue has already been considered by one of the highest courts in sport. The IOC itself used to have a rule that said, if you have previously served a suspension for a doping violation, you could not compete in the next Olympics. This was challenged because the IOC is a signatory to the WADA code. The code says: these are the sanctions and you cannot go beyond that. By banning an athlete from the next games, you are imposing an additional sanction. So it's interesting the IOC are trying to reintroduce what is effectively the same rule simply for Russian athletes, when it has previously been deemed unenforceable.
"If the case is that the IOC is saying that the situation with Russia is so exceptional that we need a new rule, that's fine but all athletes within that group should be treated the same. Those who have served a sanction which has now ended should not be distinguished.
"It's important to encourage athletes to come forward with information - they can be instrumental in rooting out bigger problems, as has been the case here with athletics. As doping programmes become more sophisticated, they can avoid detection. Simply taking samples isn't enough. There's been a great focus on gathering more intelligence and whistleblowers are a big part of that.
"A question for sport is, how can whistleblowers be encouraged to come forward? Athletes can be educated, but they will only come forward if they trust that the authority that they are providing the information to. In the past, federations have lost the trust of athletes. Cycling had well documented problems with doping – when a federation comes out and calls people who are speaking up 'scumbags', that is not going to help to build the trust and will prevent other athletes from coming forward. Athletics is going through the same thing – allegations of cover ups are not going to encourage people to come forward. These federations have to go through a process, as cycling has done, of rebuilding the athletes' trust."