The IOC’s decision to treat Russia with kid gloves at the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, after a major doping scandal is, to put it mildly, shameful.
Last November’s 323-page World Anti-Doping Agency report discussed in great detail, how this country reportedly engaged in illegal, widespread doping in its amateur athletic program. The allegations included a “deeply rooted culture of cheating” in Russia and “systemic” collusion between its athletes, athletic federation and anti-doping authorities. There was evidence of “interference with doping controls” well into mid-2015. There were revelations of “cover-ups, destruction of samples [and] payment of money to conceal doping tests.”
The WADA report also declared that the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, England, was “sabotaged” by “widespread inaction” against Russian athletes.
Any reasonable individual or group who supports the spirit of athletic competition based on skill and performance, and opposes the use of personal enhancements to gain an unfair advantage, should have been fuming.
The International Association of Athletics Federations certainly was. To its credit, the council voted 22-1 in favour of suspending Russia from amateur sports competition.
According to IAAF President Sebastian Coe, “We discussed and agreed that the whole system has failed the athletes, not just in Russia, but around the world.” He also said that Russia’s behaviour “has been a shameful wake-up call and we are clear that cheating at any level will not be tolerated.”
The International Paralympic Committee (IPC) was equally furious. They started the process of suspension proceedings against Russia in July, and unanimously tossed this country out of the Summer Paralympics on Aug. 7.
What has the IOC done? Not a heck of a lot, I’m afraid.
After hemming and hawing for several months, it decided to clear 270 Russian athletes for Rio. It kept out only 117 athletes, most of them related to the IAAF’s track-and-field ban. And the final decision was made 24 hours before the Olympics began.
Consider this. The IPC could have taken significant heat from various interest groups for throwing out disabled amateur athletes, but they did the right thing and banned Russia. The IOC, which mostly deals with able-bodied athletes, couldn’t even bring themselves to toss out 30 per cent of the Russian team.
Why? It’s doubtful there would have been lost revenue on ticket sales and merchandise at the Rio Olympics. In fact, it probably would have had the opposite effect. Media coverage would have also been positive, because the only group that would have complained about this ban would have been the Russians. As well, the IOC would have looked like a conquering hero, taking the necessary time and care to remove a nation of cheats and preserve the integrity of the Olympics.
Instead, the IOC made a spineless decision that could set a bad precedent.
What happens if a Russian athlete is caught doping in Brazil? Yes, he or she would be thrown out of the Olympics – and, if the athlete won a medal, it would be awarded to someone else. Yet this type of episode wouldn’t even be on the radar if the IOC had booted them out in the first place.
Should the other Russian athletes also be stripped of their medals if a teammate uses illegal performance enhancing drugs? Moreover, how long do you throw this country out of Olympic competition after such an infraction?
Had the IOC followed the IPC’s lead of banning Russia, the need for this country to clean up its act, and its athletes, would have been top of mind. Instead, an unclean Russia is being regularly booed in Rio – and it’s unlikely that most observers will ever truly trust them again.
Michael Taube, a Troy Media syndicated columnist and Washington Times contributor, was a speechwriter for former prime minister Stephen Harper. He holds a master’s degree in comparative politics from the London School of Economics.