Today is a historic one for Paralympic sport. Minutes ago, the International Paralympic Committee announced that it had suspended the Russian Paralympic Committee with immediate effect for violations of anti doping regulations.
This decision stands in direct contrast to the International Olympic Committee (IOC). Here, decision making was delegated after the IOC, in my view, effectively ducked the issue and passed the buck to individual bodies. Why could the IOC not take this stance?
The tone of the IPC statement was surprisingly strong, with Sir Philip Craven saying that a “medals over morals mentality” “disgusted” him. The decision was a unanimous one. It was also fair in my view, that extra samples were tested and that dialogue was sought with the Russian Paralympic Committee over several hours of meetings. These steps of ‘due process’ and administrative good practice may also curtail efforts to have the ruling overturned.
No doubt Russia will appeal in due course. Given the strength of the statement issued by the IPC and the extent of the issues uncovered, it will take something very compelling for this ruling to be overturned.
It is no less than a defining moment for Paralympic sport as a whole. A bold, (and some would say controversial) stance driven by an unwavering commitment to clean sport. Whilst personally, I do sympathise for the Russian athletes who did not cheat, this decision safeguards the wider matters pertaining to the integrity of Paralympic sport as a whole. The pressure that the IPC will have been under, whatever the decision taken, should also be remembered. All of this makes the leadership and strength shown commendable.
A message to the rest of the world is also clear. Paralympic sport can stand independently of the Olympics, and functions to its own standards, beliefs and values. The IPC now must continue to take this stance in other areas of the work it presides over, in order to ensure that the integrity and fairness of Paralympic sport runs throughout. There will still be issues for Paralympic sport to address, but the measures taken today shows the capacity exists for them to be successfully negotiated.
Hopefully we can now look forward to a Paralympic Games in which, unlike the Olympics, does not have a shadow lingering over it. When the world watched, the Paralympic movement delivered a verdict that did justice to the athletes who will legitimately be representing their country.