rowingvoice

The independent voice of rowing in Britain

Russia’s Rio situation in FISA – part 2: annihilation

Posted by rowingvoice on July 26, 2016

Tuesday 26th July 2016, 7pm, and the bomb landed.  FISA’s second stage announcement exploded the Russian Olympic team and left it in smithereens, with only six rowers and a maximum of one crew at the Games.

We’d call it decimation, if it weren’t for the fact that the Roman’s practice was to execute only one in 10 men, not 22 out of 28.

Once again FISA’s determined thoroughness left us reading their announcement long after working hours, when most IF blazerati would have left for home hours before.  This time, though, there was to be no small-scale chipping away at the Russian entry as had happened on Monday night.  In one fell swoop 17 rowers and both coxes were removed from the Olympic entry list, on the grounds that, although they (to quote FISA directly) “are not at all considered to have participated in doping” they “do not meet the conditions established by the IOC in their decision of 24 July 2016 for participation in the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.”

What this means is that, despite a total of 547 negative tests conducted on Russian Olympic-crew rowers since 2011, not enough of them were done by independent non-Russian testers at the right intervals to be sufficiently certain the athletes are clean.  It is probable, given FISA’s mention again of the discredited Moscow Laboratory, that too many of the most important tests, particularly out-of-competition ones which catch EPO use, were analysed there.   The list of removals was also supervised by an independent arbiter from CAS to ensure no unconscious FISA bias.  The news was greeted with delight by rowers on social media, hailing FISA as an example to the IOC and other sports.

The entire women’s team is considered compromised.  Only six Russian ‘FISA-cleared’ rowers were left after the vicious cull, having presumably been tested enough by non-Russian bodies to satisfy FISA and the IOC.  Aleksandr Chaukin is the lone lightweight left from the Russian LM4-, so unless he’s going to join an openweight crew, he won’t be off to Rio.  Georgy Efremenko was by July 2016 in the men’s four, and four others — Artem Kosov, Nikita Morgachev, Vladislav Ryabcev and Anton Zarutskiy in the men’s eight after 2015-16 reshuffles.  One can guess that these men, probably cursing their luck at being picked randomly by WADA or by doping testers at previous world cups and champs, are now cheering that they have enough negatives on their non-RUSADA record to be considered clean.  But the only crew such a Russian squad could possibly form from their entered events would be an M4-.

So, with immediate effect and clearly not worrying about a CAS appeal which is likely to come, FISA had removed the RUS W8+, M8+, LM4- and LW2x from the Rio entries and offered places in the M8+ and LW2x to Italy, W8+ to delighted Australia, and LM4- to Greece.  All these crews competed at the Lucerne final qualification regatta (either as FOQR crews or European Continental FOQR crews) and were the next in line after crews already going under tripartite or standard decisions.  There must surely be some scurrying around to get lightweights down to size and shells of the right type on the Lagoa:  as commentator Martin Cross tweeted on Tuesday afternoon before FISA’s bombshell, the Russians race Filippis so the Italians might well just borrow their boats (New Zealand’s mens quad has already been seen out in Rio in the shell of the Russian crew they replaced in June, apparently).

The remaining question is about the Russian M4-.  With only five openweight oarsmen available, it’s Russia’s only current option and FISA have not yet heard from them whether they wish to race it.  The replacement rules might also intervene, since only Efremenko was entered in the crew and technically no more than 50% can change for non-medical reasons after the Olympic entry deadline of 18th July, although FISA might choose to waive that problem.  To save you looking it up, the next crew in line from Lucerne would be New Zealand.

Or RUS could choose to withdraw entirely, but at the very last minute before the regatta starts (or by not turning up) therefore robbing NZL of the chance to compete.

I was in touch with Russia’s head coach Mike Spracklen by email just after FISA’s announcement, though I am now fairly certain he had not at that stage heard the very latest news of his squad’s demolition.  He was already both shocked and sad, though he believes his rowers to be clean.  “My goal was not only to raise the standard of Russian rowing but to show the athletes and the coaches that with good training they could be successful without use of drugs,” he said.  “We are still pondering, wondering what the IOC will hit us with next.”  I wonder if tonight’s decision will be too much for his optimism.

Update – after another email conversation with Mike Spracklen on Wednesday 27th July morning, I can confirm that when he gave the quote above, he had not heard about FISA’s second decision.  He further said to me, “Life here has been hectic, fraught with uncertainty.  Communication here in the Russian team is almost non-existent which may be because I do not speak the language, but also because we do not have qualified management.  I understand [FISA’s] motives but it is hard on the innocent athletes who worked hard and were not using drugs.”  Spracklen is known to have the services of an interpreter through whom he speaks to the Russian athletes, other coaches, management, medics and support staff. 

 

Rachel Quarrell.

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