Guest Opinion: Now ban all of Russia’s team
In a mid-May editorial we argued that, because Russia’s international sports program has been so corrupted by doping and other grave cheating, all of that nation’s athletes should be barred from this summer’s Olympics in Brazil. The essence of our case for a blanket ban:
So much is at stake — keeping intact the dreams of athletes who do not cheat, and who sweat blood and tears for their moment in the pool, on the balance beam or on the track; sending a message to the international sports community that giving in to the lure of performance-enhancing drugs will set in motion harsh consequences; and reminding Russia that it won’t achieve the spotlight it so dearly covets through subterfuge.
We weren’t thinking alone — up to a point: A few days ago the International Association of Athletics Federations banned the country’s track and field team from the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, ruling that Russian doping was systematic and operated “from the top down.”
If that decision stands, it’s a good start, but it doesn’t go far enough. Russia should have no athletes in Rio.
Harsh? Yes. Here’s why:
Russia’s reliance on doping is widespread and state-engineered.
The breadth of the cheating was revealed through the eye-opening account of Grigory Rodchenkov, the country’s anti-doping director who, after fleeing to Los Angeles, told the world that he was part of a state-run doping program at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. The perpetrators juiced up Russian athletes with steroids and escaped detection by swapping out athletes’ doping-tainted urine samples with clean samples obtained from the athletes months earlier.
That diabolical plot flowed from an established culture of cheating: Retesting of athletes’ samples showed that 14 Russians who competed in Beijing’s Summer Olympics in 2008, and eight who appeared at the London Olympics in 2012, tested positive for doping, the Russian Olympic Committee has acknowledged.
Russian authorities and individual athletes may challenge the new track-and-field ban in the courts or try to poke holes in the policy. The IAAF already has said Russian competitors who can prove they live outside Russia and have passed rigorous testing for doping can apply to compete for a neutral team. The International Olympic Committee has since muddied the water, leaving the door open for those track athletes to compete under the Russian flag.
That would be a travesty.
Keeping Russia out of this Olympiad sends a message to the country’s Olympic authorities, and to the Kremlin, about the consequences of cheating. But that message isn’t likely to sway Russia’s old guard leadership — most of whom were raised by Soviet society, with a Soviet win-at-any-cost mindset. Rune Andersen, who heads up an IAAF task force looking into Russia, said the country’s sports minister, Vitaly Mutko, privately acknowledged that Russia’s doping culture threads back to the Soviet era.
Perhaps more important, banning the entire Olympic team would be an urgent plea — and an urgent warning — to Russia’s youth. We’re thinking of all the young people with visions of themselves at some future Olympiad, on a balance beam, in a bobsled or holding a javelin.
It’s pretty clear Russia has perpetuated its culture of cheating for decades. Its leaders probably have little incentive to put a stop to that culture. But the country’s next generation of athletes certainly does.