Paula Radcliffe: Doping scandal 'will taint everything we see' at Rio 2016

    Story highlights

    • Paula Radcliffe criticizes IOC on Russia
    • Dick Pound loses trust in show on offer
    • Expert warns sponsors could walk away
    • IAAF insists no fan drop-off despite scandal

    (CNN)More than half the planet tuned in to watch the last Olympics in London in 2012, with as many as 3.6 billion people apparently turning on their TV sets.

    Fast forward to Rio 2016 and as the Russian doping scandal continues to drag on, how much will the Games' global audience be able to trust what it sees unfolding in the quest to be faster, higher and stronger?
    Four-time Olympian Paula Radcliffe has been an outspoken advocate for clean sport and believes Sunday's decision by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) not to impose a blanket ban on Russia in Rio de Janeiro could have a devastating effect on the audience's level of trust.
    Radcliffe poses for photos after competing in the 2015 London Marathon.
    "For the sceptics it will taint absolutely everything we see," she told CNN in a telephone interview from Font Romeu in the south of France, where she is working with British track and field athletes preparing for Rio. "It risks being like the Tour de France," she added, referring to cycling's historical problems with doping.
    "I feared athletics was going the same way as cycling; the people that know the sport won't think that but the general public is in danger of thinking like that. Can we believe anything we're seeing?"
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    The IOC did not immediately respond to CNN's request for comment over Radcliffe's comments.
    The IOC announcement means Russian athletes will be accepted by the Olympic organization to compete in Rio if they can meet strict anti-doping criteria, have no doping history and are given the green light by their own sports governing body.
    On a conference call with reporters Sunday, IOC president Thomas Bach said the IOC's decision had been difficult and that he was aware it would not please everybody. "This is about doing justice to clean athletes all over the world. In this way we protect these clean athletes," said Bach.
    At the time of the IOC ruling, the British newspaper The Daily Mail's back page decried: "The day they destroyed the Olympics."
    And Radcliffe said: "I hope that response is excessive, I really do. It was a day that the IOC showed itself as a brand rather than an ideal.
    "It does a disservice to all the clean athletes hoping to have their day at the Olympics. It's harsh on them.
    "The IOC had a chance to do the opposite, to revolutionize and take the Games back to where it was at the inception of [founder of the modern Games] Pierre de Coubertin, and take a huge step for cleaning up the sport.
    "The message it would have sent by making a stance against Russia would have been to other countries that if you do the same we'll do the same to you."

    Missed opportunity

    World Anti-Doping Agency founding president Dick Pound called on the athletics governing body the IAAF to ban Russian track and field athletes with immediate effect following the publication of his WADA independent commission report in November.
    The IAAF did just that with the exception of one Russian track and field athlete, Darya Klishina, who trains in the United States outside the Russian system. She will be permitted to compete in Brazil under the Russian flag.
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    But on the eve of Sunday's decision by the IOC's executive board, ex-IOC vice-president Pound had also implored his former colleagues to widen the ban to Russia's entire Olympic contingent.
    "I think the IOC had an opportunity to strengthen their position but they didn't take it," he told CNN in the wake of that decision and warned the effect could be damaging.
    As for whether he and the wider public could believe in what they are seeing over the two-and-a-half weeks of the Olympics, Pound, who acted as the former sprinter Ben Johnson's lawyer when he failed a drugs test at the 1988 Olympics, quipped: "I gave up on doing that a long time ago!"
    Pound, who from 1978 was responsible for negotiating television and sponsorship deals for the IOC, added: "Financially, something like this doesn't have a big impact even if they'd banned Russia and had to give back the Russian broadcasters their money.
    "If you'd asked me a few years ago when I was running the marketing if it would have had an impact with sponsors I'd have said 'no' but then it was interesting to see the stance taken by a number of Olympic sponsors like Coca-Cola and Visa with regards to FIFA in respect of its conduct.
    "My view would have been they would have been very happy to have been behind this kind of position in banning Russia."

    'Indecisive and woolly'

    Of 10 Olympic sponsors contacted by CNN to ask if they feared the wider public might lose trust in what it will see unfold in Rio, six responded.
    Omega said it "won't be commenting on the recent ruling; Omega serves as the official timekeeper for the Games and will continue to be at the service of all athletes attending" while GE said it "supports the IOC in the fight against doping, and we are fully committed to the spirit and intent of the Olympic Games".
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    Visa, Samsung, Toyota and McDonald's replied to the request to say they had declined to comment further.
    Simon Chadwick, professor of Sports Enterprise at the UK's Salford University, said the Olympic brand and those connected with it would inevitably be affected by the scandal.
    "The Olympic brand has been affected in several ways," he said. "The brand is tarnished by what we might call competition corruption with regard to drug taking. That undermines the Olympic brand. Plus there's the fact this is all happening in the Olympic year so the proximity to it has a greater impact and instead of being decisive, the IOC has appeared indecisive and woolly.
    "When consumers are doubting a brand and there's a breakdown in trust it affects their perception. If affects cognition and that's an issue for the Olympics and corporate partners in how that influences their behavior.
    "If they don't trust brands, it could be they lose interest. For the Olympics, that could be tuning out."
    Chadwick said he did not expect Olympic partners to pull out ahead of Rio but said he was interested in seeing whether contracts will be renewed or not ahead of the Winter Olympics in 2018 and the next summer Games two years later. He also questioned whether TV viewing figures might also be affected.
    'Not a lot of star power'
    The expectation among broadcasters is that the Russian ruling and scandal will not impact its viewership, which was 219.4 million during London 2012.
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    Four years ago over 219 million people tuned in the US, so what is NBC expecting for Rio in the light of the Russian doping scandal?
    "There's not a lot of star power there, at least star power familiar to US audiences so I don't anticipate it having a large impact on our audiences," NBC Sports Group chairman Mark Lazarus said in a statement:
    "We will of course mention the ban during the Games and, if there was an athlete that would have been competitive for a medal, we will mention that that athlete was not allowed to compete."
    The sport to date most affected by allegations of doping in Russia -- athletics -- is yet to see any dip in terms of numbers at its Diamond League events.
    At its most recent event, the Anniversary Games in London where no Russians competed as they weren't eligible to do so under its IAAF global ban, attendances were good with over 80,000 people attending over the two-days of competition at the former Olympic Stadium in the British capital.
    For the IAAF, there has been no drop-off despite the extent of the scandal in which it found itself.
    A spokesman for the organization said: "We've not seen the impact you might think in terms of attendances. Really there's not been a great deal of difference.
    "If we'd experienced anything it wouldn't have trickled down, it would have had an impact straight away but at our events across the world that's not been the case."