Guest Opinion: Russian hacking, payback for Rio?
Russia paid a stiff price for cheating its way to medals in past Olympics. With its state-sponsored doping program exposed, the country endured the humiliation of having more than 100 athletes banned from the Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro. Russia’s medal count at the London Summer Games in 2012 was almost a third larger than it was in Rio. In all likelihood in the Kremlin’s gilded halls, teeth gnashed, fists clenched.
Afterward, Russia’s choice was simple. Reform or revenge. Go straight or get even. Now we know what it chose.
Russian hackers slithered into the World Anti-Doping Agency’s databases and revealed to the world private medical information of four top American Olympians: gold medal-winning gymnast Simone Biles, tennis sister-divas Serena and Venus Williams and basketball star Elena Delle Donne. That information included medication they were taking — medication the hackers contend shows American athletes also took banned substances.
The group that the doping agency blamed for the hacking, Fancy Bear, is believed to be linked to the same Russian intelligence arm that is suspected of stealing emails and documents from Democratic National Committee servers. Predictably, Russian pols have been cawing about double standards. “What is OK for Americans is a no for Russians,” huffed Russian lawmaker Dmitry Svishchev, speaking to a Russian news agency.
Not so fast, Dima. Biles and the other American athletes had applied for permission to take the substances in question for medical reasons, and were granted that permission by sports governing bodies. In the case of Biles, she was taking a drug to treat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Russia’s case was very different. Russian sports officials engineered elaborate doping schemes that had athletes swig steroids mixed into Chivas or vermouth, and ultimately tainted Russian performances in 28 summer and winter Olympic sports over a four-year period.
The International Olympic Committee has said none of the U.S. athletes targeted by Russian hacking committed any violation. WADA officials said something else: Hacking into WADA’s databases certainly doesn’t give the international sports community any confidence that Russia is ready for reform. “These criminal acts are greatly compromising the effort by the global anti-doping community to re-establish trust in Russia,” said WADA’s director general, Olivier Niggli.
Russia’s you-hit-me, I-hit-you-back approach is a Kremlin tendency we’ve seen all too often. It’s Page One in the Russians’ geopolitics playbook. But its not going to get Russian athletes back on the track and in the bobsleds. Here’s what it will take for Russia to begin rebuilding its reputation in international sports: Dump the syringes, trash the pipettes and pour the steroids down the drain.