Duncan Mackay

Tonight I was lucky enough to be invited to the European première of Race, the new film about Jesse Owens and his quest for greatness at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin.

In front of a packed audience at the Grimaldi Forum, including Prince Albert, the story is one of inspiration about how Owens overcame not only racism at home in the United States but the prejudice he encountered in Germany which had embraced Nazi notions about whites being a master race. His gold medals in the 100 metres, 200m, long jump and 4x100m relay proved how ridiculous that idea was. 

Directed by Stephen Hopkins, Race devotes considerable time to building up the tension as to whether Owens will actually even be allowed to travel to Berlin to compete in the Olympics amid calls for a boycott in America because of the persecution of the Jews by Adolf Hitler. The central character of his mini-drama within the bigger drama is Avery Brundage, the future President of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), who at the time led the American Olympic Committee, who is persuaded by, among others, Joseph Goebbels that the US should take part in Berlin 1936. 

It was a reminder that even 80 years ago politics played an important role in the Olympics, something that another guest of honour at the film, International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) President Sebastian Coe, must have pondered on as he watched the film.

Earlier in the day he had chaired a meeting of the IAAF's ruling Council which had decided not to lift the ban imposed on Russia last November following the publication of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) Independent Commission report which found evidence of state-supported doping. Athletics' governing body claimed Russia has made "considerable progress" but there is "significant work to be done". It still leaves in jeopardy whether they will be cleared in time to compete at this year's Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. 

The new movie Race about the story of Jesse Owens at Berlin 1936 showed that politics and the Olympics have always been linked closely together ©ITG
The new movie Race about the story of Jesse Owens at Berlin 1936 showed that politics and the Olympics have always been linked closely together ©ITG

Talking to Coe afterwards, it was clear that he is determined to keep Russia out of Rio 2016 unless he is satisfied that they are taking proper, meaningful and long-lasting steps to sort out the problem of doping in the country. "My job is to make sure that those athletes who are going to the Olympics are clean and are in systems that are based upon integrity," he told me. 

Russia now have until the next special IAAF Council meeting in May to demonstrate that they have done enough to show they should have their ban lifted. If it were just down to Coe, I would not put a lot of money on them being successful. This is a decision, however, that will probably be influenced by pressure from outside athletics and will not just be about what Coe thinks is best for his sport. 

There is a feeling within the Olympic Movement that current IOC President Thomas Bach wants Russia at Rio 2016 and is working hard behind the scenes to ensure that this happens. Bach has had a close relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin since the day he was chosen to replace Jacques Rogge at the IOC Session in 2013.

Putin was the first world leader to call him after he was elected, reaching him via Sochi 2014 President and chief executive Dmitry Chernyshenko, who memorably rushed through the lobby of the Hilton Hotel in Argentina's capital shouting he had his boss on the mobile phone for Bach and needed to find him.

Putin can claim 51 billion reasons why Bach should help him get this IAAF ban lifted. It was widely reported that it cost Russia $51 billion (£31 billion/€37 billion) to host those Winter Olympics in Sochi, the first major event Bach oversaw and which were widely seen as a success.

The IOC have always disputed this huge figure. They claim that the actual cost of hosting the Olympics was $12 billion (£8 billion/€11 billion) and the remainder was spent on infrastructural projects, including things like roads, railroads and power plants not directly connected with staging the Games. The IOC, though, have never been able to convince the public this was the case and the $51 billion figure has entered in public folklore and is likely to be a millstone around the Olympic Movement's neck for years to come. 

Thomas Bach has enjoyed a close relationship with Vladimir Putin ever since he was elected IOC President ©Getty Images
Thomas Bach has enjoyed a close relationship with Vladimir Putin ever since he was elected IOC President ©Getty Images

It is also now likely to be a powerful bargaining chip for Putin in any negotiations with Bach about Rio 2016. 

Even when most of the world kept Putin at arm's length following Russia's annexation of Crimea while the Winter Paralympics were taking place shortly after the Olympics, Bach continued to embrace him. As German Chancellor Angela Merkel was avoiding contact with Putin, Bach had him as a guest of honour at the IOC's headquarters in Lausanne to thank him for his contribution towards the success of Sochi 2014.

Bach's support of Russia has remained strong ever since. Only last month he appointed Alexander Zhukov, President of the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC), to head the IOC's Coordination Commission that will oversee the preparations for the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing. When I quizzed Bach at the end of the IOC Executive Board in Lausanne earlier this month and asked him whether he believed this was the strong message that needed to be sent out to Russia at this time he was particularly terse as only he can be when he is unhappy with a question.

"Neither the ROC nor President Zhukov is under any kind of suspicion or investigation," he told me. 

That was to ignore the fact that the ROC are the umbrella organisation for sport in Russia and, therefore, have ultimate responsibility for athletics in the country. 

Coe, a close friend of Bach's since they were both athletes, is certain to come under heavy pressure in the next two months to let Russia compete at Rio 2016. Whatever happens, it is unlikely to have the same satisfying and feel-good outcome of Race.