The International Olympic Committee has a tendency to make up rules that suit its purposes.
To wit: the attempt to impose a 2012 Olympic Games ban on any athlete who received a two-year doping suspension, even if that suspension expired before the Olympics. The Court of Arbitration for Sport wisely decided that Olympic ban was illegal under the rules in force when the IOC began its moral grandstanding.
But the IOC is heading down the same path, although with more circumspection, in discussions about taking away Lance Armstrong’s medal from the 2000 Olympics, a move that would defy its eight-year statute of limitations to initiate such actions in doping cases.
That the IOC seems determined to find a way to strip Armstrong’s time trial medal prompted Bill Mallon, one of the world’s leading Olympic historians, to ask in an email why the Olympic officials can’t do it for the medals won by doped East German athletes.
It’s a good question.
There actually is more documented evidence of East German doping than there is of Armstrong’s. The Stasi (East German secret police) files opened after the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall gave names, dates, and dosages, implicating many East German Olympic medalists from 1972 through 1988.
Yet in 1998 the IOC peremptorily dismissed an appeal from the U.S. and British Olympic committees, who asked that the medals be withdrawn from doped East German swimmers and redistributed to those finishing behind them.
I had a problem with giving the medals to others because there was no way to be sure those athletes had not doped. But taking away the medals from athletes later known to have doped seemed a reasonable idea.
The IOC’s rationale for not doing so was it had no legal basis for either withdrawing or redistributing the medals.
It also has no apparent legal basis to remove Armstrong’s.
Last week, the IOC executive board put off taking any action until the International Cycling Union (UCI) decided whether it would follow the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency’s decision to wipe out all Armstrong’s results dating to Aug. 1, 1998.
UCI did that Monday. Now Armstrong has 21 days to appeal, but it seems unlikely he will.
The IOC undoubtedly figures it can rely on the precedent of the UCI and World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) having signed off on USADA’s decision about the results.
Yet WADA also has a statute of limitations. Article 17 of the World Anti-Doping Code reads:
No action may be commenced against an Athlete or other Person for an anti-doping rule violation contained in the Code unless such action is commenced within eight (8) years from the date the violation is asserted to have occurred.
WADA was able to get around that because USADA demonstrated legal grounds to avoid the limitation: Armstrong’s fraudulent behavior prevented evidence of his doping from being discovered earlier.
It is not clear whether such reasoning, supported by precedents in the United States, applies universally – or, of more relevance, whether it applies in Switzerland, where the IOC is headquartered.
If it does, why would that not apply to the East Germans? There was no greater sporting fraud, in terms of breadth, efficacy and cover-up, than the state-run doping system of the former German Democratic Republic.
IOC vice-president Thomas Bach, a German lawyer, responded to that question in an email by saying he had forwarded it to the IOC Juridical Commission.
The IOC contended in 1998 that it did not want to rewrite history. Yet it did just that last week by taking medals from four 2004 OIympic medalists after their samples were retested with more sophisticated methods, beating the statute of limitations because the cases against them began within eight years.
It is not certain that those 2004 medals will be reattributed to the athletes who were next in the results. After all, not every sample was retested.
But if the IOC removes a medal from Armstrong 12 years later, it needs a good explanation for why it can’t take similar action against the East Germans.
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