Take a deep breath | A Column by Len Johnson

Take a deep breath. Contain your excitement. It is now only a few more sleeps before the Olympic Games open in Rio de Janeiro on 5 August.

The ‘take a deep breath’ advice is actually a little belated, given the extent of the hyperventilating around these Olympics.

For a start, there has been Russia. And Russia. And Russia.

Plus, of course, the usual Olympic standbys. Will the venues be ready. Will the transport run on time. Will it even run at all. Is every Olympic visitor guaranteed either being a victim of, or witness to, a crime while in Rio, as claimed by one security “expert”.

And did I mention Russia?

Where to start. Well, let’s start with Russia, and the decision by the International Olympic Committee to handball back to its international sports federations the determination of whether Russian athletes should be allowed to compete.

Russia, in case you have just got back from another planet, has been found by the World Anti-Doping Authority (WADA) to have engaged in systemic doping, and covering up thereof, across almost all the Olympic sports.

Forgetting for the moment that Canadian lawyer Richard McLaren’s report was as much akin to a prosecutor’s brief as to a forensic presentation of guilt, there are a number of issues that should be considered before blanket bans apply.

Nonetheless, the IOC was largely hammered from pillar to post for what was seen as a failure of leadership. Helped by strategic leaking, the demand had been created even before the IOC met that Russia should be totally banned from the Rio Games.

It is possible to combine both a distaste for what Russia has been accused of, and in some cases been shown to have done, with an equal distaste for blanket bans. Athletics had applied its own blanket ban, with limited possibility of exemption for individual athletes, after conducting its own internal investigations.

The IAAF had also given Russian athletics a roadmap to progress to the point of being allowed to compete in Rio and set up a process by which to assess the implementation of the changes demanded. Only when Russia was judged to have not made the necessary progress was it suspended from participation.

Still, blanket bans inevitably impact on the innocent as well as the guilty. If you have reservations about blanket bans, you would have even greater reservations about the IOC or sports federations applying them in the time available between the release of the McLaren report and the opening of the Games.

Advocates for the blanket ban make many valid points. Russia’s actions have amounted to a systematic attempt to corrupt anti-doping processes. On the overwhelming balance of probability, it seems such corruption was countenanced, if not instigated, from the very top down. Some sanction was demanded.

That still begs several questions. Systematic doping should not be thought of as only applying in countries with a high degree of central command. What was Balco, if not systematic. Or Lance Armstrong and the whole Tour de France team thing. Just because it is corporations, or teams, rather than countries, does not make it any less systematic.

Some allege that partial bans against Russia, even a Russia which bars any athlete who has had a major doping infraction, will mean that some dopers win medals in Rio. Guess what. Even if no Russian competes in the Games, some dopers will still win medals, even with re-testing of samples up to 10 years later.

Right from the very first revelations, the Russia debate has also prompted talk of boycotts as well as bans. I have previously been critical of UK Athletics chair Ed Warner for blithely accepting a possible boycott by countries supporting Russia as “a price worth paying”.

Others took up the boycott call and, more recently, a former colleague at The Age, Greg Baum, suggested Australia should boycott Rio if Russia was not barred from competing.

The perennial arguments about the Games no longer living up to their ideals or establishing a permanent site – almost invariably, Greece – for the Games have also got a run-around.

Boycotts never work, have never worked. Nor have ad hoc bans against ‘rogue’ nations. It took a long campaign to ban South Africa from the Olympics and, subsequently, world sport. That campaign was successful precisely because when it was eventually applied it enjoyed virtually universal support.

And boycotts damage the Olympic movement, as anyone even vaguely familiar with the impact of successive Olympic boycotts from 1976 (by African nations against New Zealand’s continuing rugby ties with South Africa), 1980 (by the USA and some of its allies in protest against The Soviet Union invasion of Afghanistan) and 1984 (the Soviet retaliation for the 1980 boycott) can attest.

There is another truism which applied in all those cases, and will apply again in Rio from 5 August both in those sports with Russian participation and those, like athletics, without it.

As expressed by Carl Lewis, who made the 1980 US team that did not compete in Moscow, it goes: “When the Games start, nobody talks about who is not there, they talk about who is there.”