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Russell Life Ban Cut To 3 More Years

Oct 26, 2012  - Craig Lord

The Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport (CCES) has announced that Cecil Russell, a former Canadian swimming coach embroiled in criminal activity for which he was convicted, has had his prior lifetime ban from swimming reduced to serving three more years, starting September 10, 2012. That makes the ban one of 15 plus years since it was imposed in 1997.

Russell could return to swimming in Canada sooner: if he oes not breach any terms in the net 18 months, he will be eligible to be back on deck from March 9, 2014.

A worldwide ban on Russell attending any FINA events remains in place. 

These words penned by senior Olympic writer Randy Starkman, of the Toronto Star, before his untimely death this year, sum up what Russell got up to:

"Cecil Russell has twice been banned from coaching for life for his involvement in illegal steroid and ecstasy rings. At the 1997 murder trial of one of his steroid trafficking associates, Russell admitted helping burn and dispose of the victim’s butchered body in a corn silo beside his Oshawa home. But Russell kept coaching despite the ban, getting his Oakville Dolphins Swim Club suspended and its prime pool time yanked by the township ... It’s a mess the likes of which Canadian swimming has never seen and has vexed officials."

Russell had pressed for what would have meant an immediate end to his ban. The Ethics panel ruled that the ban will remain in place and the former coach will remain under supervision, clearance for him to return to sport dependant on him meeting certain conditions (see link below in body of this article).

The arbitrator in the case, Richard McLaren, gave his reason for denying Russell's wishes as follows: "Following the re-imposition of his ban, he has from time to time, breached the ban as I have already found. I find that such conduct does not justify what would amount to an immediate lifting of the ban. There must be a period of unequivocal compliance with the ban in which it is completely observed before there can be any reduction in the sanction."

He further noted that Russell had taken "considerable liberty with his interpretations of the modified ban".

There was also criticism of Swimming Natation Canada, which, the judge said, "has not pursued [Russell's] conduct [breaches] with any form of action, suggesting instead that it is up to the CCES. The fact remains that SNC is the party who makes a ban operational and applies to FINA, the world governing body, to make a ban effective with all other national members of FINA. SNC said in its original correspondence in 2007 that it would "continue to monitor your personal involvement with swimmers in Canada" so as to ensure compliance with the ban. SNC seems to have failed in this regard. Had it been more vigilant, there might well have been a curtailment os what Russell believed he was entitled to consider as permitted by the modified ban. Furthermore, he might well have complied or been forced to comply with the ban by way of judicial injunction".

In its statement, The Canadian ethics body noted: 

"While the CCES proposed a longer sanction, we respect the experience and careful analysis brought to this matter by Arbitrator McLaren,” said Paul Melia, President and CEO of the CCES. “The decision explores whether or not Mr. Russell complied with his existing ban, but it also cites the current anti-doping rules and how they serve to limit the sanction going forward."

Sources in Canada have long questioned whether Russell, still present on the swim scene in Canada, has complied with his ban.

The rest Ethics body notes in its statement that Russell:

"... was originally sanctioned in 1997 for a doping-related infraction under the 1993 Canadian Policy on Penalties for Doping in Sport and the 1994 Standard Operation Procedures and received a lifetime suspension with the possibility of reinstatement. Two applications for reinstatement under those same rules were ultimately unsuccessful.

Under the current Canadian Anti-Doping Program rules, Mr. Russell was entitled to apply to the Sport Dispute Resolution Centre of Canada for a sanction reduction which he chose to do in April 2012. An independent arbitrator was appointed to consider the matter. Following preliminary rulings and a full hearing in September, Arbitrator McLaren has now released his decision. The reduction from a lifetime sanction to a sanction extending three years from September 10, 2012 has an unusual probationary feature whereby it may be additionally reduced by half, to 18 months, if certain conditions are met by Mr. Russell. 

[A copy of the decision and details of compliance can be read here]

.Of benefit in the ruling, Arbitrator McLaren has made clear the types of acts by Mr. Russell that should be deemed violations, and also those that would be permitted - under the initial 1997 sanction - which still applies in full force for at least the next 18 months. “Since Mr. Russell was first sanctioned in 1997, the enforcement of the ban has fallen to us and Swim Ontario,” said Pierre Lafontaine, CEO of Swimming Natation Canada (SNC). “Today's ruling by Arbitrator McLaren brings added clarity to our continuing efforts to enforce the ban and ensure a positive, value-driven environment for our swimmers.”

The CCES recognizes and applauds the tremendous effort by SNC to enforce this ban over the years. The unfortunate realities of this case underline the challenges inherent in doing so. “In the near future, if “non-association” rule changes being considered for the World Anti-Doping Code are enacted, athletes who choose to associate with a sanctioned coach will be subject to a doping violation,” Mr. Melia noted. “This will greatly assist sport organizations in enforcing these kinds of bans in the future.”

The Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport is an independent, national, not-for profit organization. We recognize that true sport can make a great difference for individuals, communities and our country. We are committed to working collaboratively to activate a values-based and principle-driven sport system; protecting the integrity of sport from the negative forces of doping and other unethical threats; and advocating for sport that is fair, safe and open to everyone.