Guest Editorial: Olympic doping appears common

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
May 19
Stock image

When it comes to ensuring the integrity of the Rio Olympics, the International Olympic Committee isn’t playing around.

Thomas Bach, the OIC’s president, said he would enforce the organization’s zero-tolerance policy, even if reports of state-sponsored doping by the Russians are borne out.

They’re not the only country in danger of being banned from Brazil.

Olympians from 12 countries are suspected of having cheated at the 2008 Beijing Games. After retroactively testing 454 urine samples from those games, 31 athletes in six sports have tested positive for banned substances, endangering their respective federations’ chances of participating in the Rio Games three months from now.

The Russian federation in particular has been under scrutiny since last year when the World Anti-Doping Agency uncovered evidence of systemic cheating. According to that agency, the Russians erected an elaborate state-sponsored effort to elude detection. In response to that level of cheating, Russia’s entire track and field team has been banned from international competition.

Earlier this month, the former head of the Russian Anti-Doping Agency claimed that Russian urine samples taken during the 2014 Winter Games, hosted by Russia in Sochi, were switched with samples that tested negative. Russia denies the charge. The Russians were the top medal winners of the Sochi games that year with 33 medals, including 13 gold. If the charges are substantiated, the Russians will have earned all the condemnation and ridicule that comes their way. It is no secret that Russian President Vladimir Putin would like to see the old boundaries of the Soviet Union restored along with all of its former Cold War influence. That is unlikely to happen, but his ambitions for reclaiming a bit of the Old Order may have trickled down. The various Russian sports federations are believed to be engaging in conduct unseen since the notorious days of the East German Olympic team. It represents the shameful embrace of a discredited and self-defeating national strategy that none of its competitors will ever respect.

On June 17, the International Association of Athletics Federation will decide if Russia’s entire slate of Olympic athletes will be banned from the Rio Games. For its part, the Russians admit that there have been individual irregularities but deny that there is anything like a state-sponsored effort to cheat, as has been alleged by the World Anti-Doping Agency and other watchdog groups. Still, the OIC is determined to have clean games going forward even if entire federations — not just individual athletes — are banned from Rio.

Bach, the IOC president, is correct to hold Russia and the entire world to the same standard.

The Rio Games will not be diminished in the slightest if the Russians or any other high-powered and traditionally well-performing federation is missing from Rio. After all, cheaters are not competing on the same level as athletes who don’t cheat. They might as well sit it out until they can compete drug-free, or convene their own games in which every participant is a known cheater. That way even crooked players can have a level playing field.