The Winter Olympics started last week. And aside from the fact that I live in a time zone 17 hours behind where the games are being held, a large part of me just couldn’t care less that the games are taking place.
Maybe it is that the very definition of an Olympic athlete, a title originally intended for the best amateurs, has changed through the years. Maybe it is that I have qualms with the fact that many Winter Olympic sports are judged and thereby stand in question of how a sport should be defined in the first place.
Or maybe it is because there has been such inconsistency in the administration of the Olympics that the games don’t hold as much legitimacy in my eyes as they should — considering they are arguably the most famous international sports competition.
Truth be told, all of the aforementioned reasons contribute to my lack of desire to watch, but something about Russia and doping and a poor response by the International Olympic Committee, or IOC, really puts a bad taste in my mouth.
To turn a long story short, there was a report released in 2016 called the McLaren Report, and it supports the claim that Russia ran a state-sponsored doping program for its athletes before hosting the 2014 Winter Olympics, after a disappointing showing in 2010 in Vancouver.
Many Russian athletes took performance-enhancing drugs, and with the help of officials who took bribes and testing centers in which drug tests were swapped, a significant number got away with doping.
For this year’s rendition of the games, 169 Russian athletes are competing under the label of Olympic Athletes from Russia, or OAR, because Russia as a nation has been suspended for the competition. The IOC kept this loophole open such as to not ruin the Olympic experience for all Russians, as opposed to just those who were actually caught.
Fair enough … until you consider how those athletes may have gotten to the games in the first place.
If many of the Russian athletes were cleared to play because of evidence “insufficient to establish that an antidoping rule violation was committed by the athletes concerned,” according to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, that doesn’t exactly convince me that these athletes did not, at one point, break doping rules. It only suggests that they were clean at the time of testing and thus allowed to participate under the OAR label.
I really feel for any athlete who could have made it, had their place not been taken by a potential cheater.
Let me be clear that by no means am I suggesting that all of the Russian Olympians were involved with doping. But since the evidence has been well-documented from the past, I would struggle to support allowing their participation under the minimal punishment that has been imposed.
But this speaks far more to the ineptitude of the IOC, which sought to look tough with its ruling while actually acting soft behind the scenes. What good does banning a country — but not its athletes — do for defeating a clearly systemic problem of doping (and most notably in Russia)?
Interestingly enough, the International Paralympic Committee — which will host the 2018 Winter Paralympics, also in Pyeongchang — was able to come down tough on Russia’s program with a complete ban. So what was it that prevented the IOC from acting in this same manner?
The move reeks of either laziness or simply a lack of interest to keep the games clean — corrupt, regardless.
The World Anti-Doping Agency was established by the IOC in 1999 with the motto “Play true.” Unfortunately, keeping the Olympics clean in the past two decades just hasn’t seemed to be a top priority. And at this point, the only organization keeping the IOC looking good is FIFA.
But that debate is for another day.