According to the McLaren report, the baffling details of Russia’s ‘state-run’ doping program – said to have taken place between 2011 and 2015 – identified a sporting conspiracy involving over 1000 Russian athletes competing in summer, winter and Paralympic Games who:
‘… can be identified as being involved in or benefiting from manipulations to conceal positive doping tests’.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has been adamant in wishing to send a clear message that cheats will not be permitted at the Olympic Games, hence the subsequent ban of the Russian team from the 2018 Winter Olympics, opening this Friday in Pyeongchang. Of course, ‘ban’ in this instance specifically means the absence of a Russian flag, hymn or any reference to a ‘Russian Team’ being made during the Games. And so, the 169 permitted Slavic entities will now have to compete under the diminutive title of: OAR (Olympic Athlete from Russia).
The stripping of a name, to denote shame, does not of course strip Russian athletes of their country, and, may not be enough to break their cool when it comes to competing. Drugs or no drugs, but it takes more than a booster cocktail to win a medal – though I’m sure the IOC would beg to differ. Still, the fact stands, Russia as a team does not exist at these Olympics.
There’s no delicate way of putting this. Russia, a major competitor, which between 1896 and 2016 has consistently been in the top three in terms of overall Olympic medal rankings, has now been named and shamed for its impudence. But what does that achieve? Arguably very little, judging by President Vladimir Putin’s response. With his usual nonchalance in the face of fire, he stated: ‘There were instances of doping use, true [but] … There are many such examples around the world, but no one is making a big show of it’.
True. Drug use in sports is not an exclusively Russian phenomenon. Just think back to Britain’s Dwain Chambers, Canada’s Ben Johnson or America’s Lance Armstrong. All talented, driven, and ‘cheats’. In Russia’s case, the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver where it ranked 11th, is said to have triggered the mass cheating. Incidentally, Canada, the host country, came 1st; much like Russia did during the 2014 Sochi Olympics.
But the issue here, alas, is not doping but power politics. If the allegations of a state-sponsored doping conspiracy are true, then we have fresh evidence of an ongoing Cold War mentality. If the allegations are false, then Russia has reasonable evidence for thinking that it has enemies. The latter argument seems to be the one undertaken by Russia. President Putin called whistleblower, Grigory Rodchenkov a ‘jerk’ who should be locked up; while Prime Minister, Dmitry Medvedev responded to the IOC’s latest decision not to invite the 28 cleared Russian athletes to the Olympics as ‘shameful’ and politically induced.
The truth is likely somewhere in the middle. The 151-page McLaren report is certainly thorough in its evidence – especially the remarkable urine and DNA test results; see page 100, section iv. But, if justice was the principle concern in this matter, then arguably the IOC would not have been so opposed to the Court of Arbitration for Sports (CAS) verdict which stated:
‘In 28 cases, the evidence collected was found to be insufficient to establish that an anti-doping rule violation (ADRV) was committed by the athletes concerned. With respect to these 28 athletes, the appeals are upheld, the sanctions annulled and their individual results achieved in Sochi 2014 are reinstated’.
Instead, the IOC is considering appealing to the Swiss Federal Tribunal, following ‘disappointment’ at the CAS panel. While President of the IOC, Thomas Bach, has openly declared that it is a ‘privilege’ to be invited to the Olympics, and one that does not automatically become available because a sanction has been lifted.
Meanwhile, speaking to the German news network ARD, Grigory Rodchenkov said:
‘… Russia – is a country, where for a long time now shame and morality have been absent.’
Fine words indeed, if only they didn’t come from a whistleblower formerly credited with concocting and supplying Russian athletes with the miracle ‘duchess’ cocktail, known for its brief detection window.
Regardless of the truth, this latest scandal only confirms that sports, and especially the Olympics, has always predominantly been used as an arena for power plays and political posturing; the opportunity for a country or organization to show off its might. Russia, having always been a keen and formidable competitor, by forfeiting the right to walk under its national flag, has let the IOC win the power battle – though possibly not the war.