Ed Warner interview: UK Athletics chairman hits out at scandalously weak and lily-livered IOC over handling of Russia doping scandal

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UK Athletics chief Ed Warner has issued a scathing assessment of the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) failure to impose a blanket ban on Russia competing at this month’s Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

The build up to the Games, which start on Friday, has been overshadowed by the World Anti-Doping Agency-commissioned (Wada) McLaren report, which found evidence of state-sponsored doping within Russia across a range of sports over a four-year period.

IOC bosses declined Wada’s recommendation of a full team ban, instead opting to pass the decision on Russian participation to the individual sports’ governing bodies. A three-person panel has since been convened to make the final call.

“Their actions have been scandalously weak and I’d probably use the phrase lily-livered,” Warner told City A.M. “They have let down the Olympic movement which they are supposed to uphold and ultimately they’ve proven to be far too cosy with the Russian regime. They’ve also been shown to have put too little money into the fight against doping.

“The funding they give to Wada every year is crumbs off their table given the television income they enjoy from broadcasters around the world and they have clearly got their priorities wrong.

“Effectively, the IOC are 50 per cent owners of Wada, providing half of their funding, and they should be ashamed of themselves for not standing behind the recommendations that Wada made.”

Warner’s principal concern, however, is British track and field prospects, disciplines in which there will be no Russian presence in Rio after the International Association of Athletics Federations upheld the suspension it imposed in November amid doping allegations.

The Court of Arbitration for Sport dismissed a Russian appeal last month, which drew a furious response from Moscow. Russian president Vladimir Putin suggested that his nation’s absence would devalue the achievements of medal winners in Rio.

“I don’t agree with that, partly because last year at the World Championships in Beijing, the Russians did very poorly,” added Warner.

“It is no coincidence they did poorly because the doping scandal was beginning to emerge and a lot of Russian stars weren’t there and those that were there were well off their best.

“They were well down the medal table and the problem was beginning to emerge and the consequences were being seen on the podium – Russians were not standing on that podium. I think there is little devaluation in athletics medals.

“It [the Russian doping scandal] casts a very big shadow over the Olympic Games. Thankfully, it is casting a much smaller shadow over athletics.”

Irrespective of the restrictions on Russia, funding body UK Sport have tasked Team GB with making Rio the nation’s most successful overseas Olympic Games with the target set at a cumulative 48 medals.

Between seven and nine of those are expected in athletics – six were snared at London 2012 – a tally which City and financial services veteran Warner believes will be met, although he acknowledges that failure to do so will have ramifications.

“We have a fair and reasonable target,” added Warner. “We may even exceed the target but that will require sporting stars to align across a number of events.

“We’re taking 80 athletes to Rio, which is a big team by historic standards. But it’s not a reflection of us just wanting to cram athletes onto the plane, these are all athletes who’ve got the prospect of doing well.

“When I look at the team, I can see strong prospects for all of the medallists in London, not just the gold medallists, and I can see good prospects in the relay.

“If we hit our target then we’ll have done very well but I will be very surprised if we don’t hit it given the talent in the team.

“If targets are not hit then quite rightly there are repercussions. There will be a very thorough examination as the money which comes from UK Sport is not given out lightly. You want to make sure you come home without there being an inquest.”

London, meanwhile, will be the host city for next summer’s World Championships, which take place between 5 and 13 August, and could feature six-time Olympic gold medallist Usain Bolt’s swansong.

“We’ve been working for years to bring the World Championships here and there have been many false starts,” said Warner.

“Having the ability to engage with the world’s greatest athletes, live in the flesh, in London’s iconic Olympic Stadium will be an amazing adrenaline rush for the public.

“It’s one thing watching the world’s greatest athletes competing on the television but it’s quite another to experience the thrill of walking out at Stratford tube station, heading to the stadium and seeing the likes of Bolt, [Jessica] Ennis-Hill and [Mo] Farah.

“A sport can slip into the shadows. Athletics is the premier Olympic sport and if we keep in the public’s gaze, it will thrive.”

The World’s best athletes are coming back to London. The race is on for tickets to the IAAF World Championships and World ParaAthletics Championships London 2017. Tickets on sale now: tickets.london2017athletics.com