TORONTO, Canada, October 26. CECIL Russell, who was banned from the pool deck twice as a result of involvement in criminal activity, got his lifetime ban reduced to 18 years this week by the Sport Dispute Resolution Center of Canada, according to the official ruling issued Wednesday. He could return to the pool deck as early as 2014.
Russell had applied for reinstatement in May to the Canadian Center for Ethics in Sport, essentially trying to get out of a 2007 ban that was put on him two years after his first lifetime ban was removed in 2005. Russell was convicted in 1996 of being involved in a drug smuggling ring in which steroids and other drugs were shipped between Canada and the United States. Under Canadian policy, Russell's conviction and ban were considered anti-doping rule violations.
Russell had that 1996 lifetime ban overturned in 2005 for good behavior, but that was reinstated in 2007, when officials discovered that Russell had lied about having the initial conviction overturned during his first reinstatement hearing. Since then, Russell had been seen on the deck at the Dolphins Swim Club, which had been justified as an unpaid position as a personal trainer. That seemed to be a legal way for Russell to skirt the ban and work with swimmers, including his children Colin and Sinead. Both would go on to become Olympians for Canada. (Sinead is now a freshman at the University of Florida.)
In 2011, Russell was finally removed from his duties at the Dolphins Swim Club, when authorities discovered his “volunteer” coaching duties included actually working with swimmers while they were in the water and coaching numerous athletes at swim meets.
Under an old policy, first issued in 1994, Russell was allowed to periodically apply for reinstatement, which he did twice unsuccessfully. A new rule in 2009 still allowed Russell to apply for reinstatement since his initial ban was in effect prior to Jan. 1, 2009.
In the decision handed down by arbitrator Richard McLaren, he writes that Russell suggested that he serve an additional four to eight years on his ban, then have it summarily removed. In deciding on making it three years, McLaren writes that Russell “has never supplied drugs to an athlete, and any athletes under his tutelage … are drug-free.” He also mentions that Russell has undergone counseling to understand the gravity of his involvement in the drug smuggling ring, activity that also included him burning a body to cover up a crime.
Swimming Canada was named as a respondent in Russell's hearing, held in September, arguing against reinstatement because Russell had previously violated stipulations of the original ban. Swimming Canada, according to McLaren's decision, had provided Russell some leeway during his ban, allowing him to coach Colin and Sinead as long as it was not done in conjunction with any swim teams associated with Swimming Ontario or Swimming Canada. Russell had apparently violated that in numerous ways during his second lifetime ban.
“It is sufficient for me to find that Russell has put a scheme in place to breach the ban, while trying to rationalize his activity and conduct as not precluded by the ban,” McLaren wrote. However, he continued, Swimming Canada did not work to discipline Russell when they became aware of his ban violation in 2009, which McLaren wrote would make Russell believe he was acting within the terms of his second lifetime ban.
McLaren cited Russell's continuing estrangement from his wife and children as sufficient “agony” for Russell to endure, though would not completely lift the ban since Russell had violated its terms for a period of about three years. That is, coincidentally or not, the extra amount of time he has to serve off the pool deck.
The extra three years started on September 10 and will last until Sept. 9, 2015. If Russell “abides by both the absolute letter of the ban and the spirit of what the ban stands for and intends to accomplish” through March 9, 2014, McLaren said the sentence could be suspended at the point.
For their part in allowing Russell to coach on deck, the Dolphin Swim Club was fined $2,500 and served a probation termed that ended Aug. 31, 2012.
Read Richard McLaren's full decision from the Sport Dispute Resolution Center of Canada