Olympic Integrity Threatened

One week out from the opening ceremony of the 2016 Olympic Games and a shadow of doubt has been cast. On Sunday the International Olympic Committee made the decision to not put a blanket ban on Russia. This decision does not sit well with me. Through this fiasco I believe the IOC has failed both athletes and spectators and I am not alone.

Joseph de Pencier, CEO of iNado, the membership association of National Anti-Doping Organizations, released this statement following the IOC’s decision: “The IOC Executive Committee has failed to confront forcefully the findings of evidence of state-sponsored doping in Russia corrupting the Russian sport system. It has ignored the calls of clean athletes, a multitude of athlete organizations, and of leading National Anti-Doping Organizations, to do the right thing by excluding Russia from the Rio Olympic Games.”

On July 18, the World Anti-Doping Agency released a 97-page report that charged Russia with operating a state-run doping program spanning 30 sports over several years. All the report did was confirm the accusations that have been floating around in the year leading up to Rio de Janeiro.

This is the worst doping scandal in history, and the IOC in a way turned a blind eye. Without a blanket ban I fear that other countries will believe that they can get away with the same thing. There was an opportunity here to send a message that the Olympics will have a zero-tolerance policy, but instead from this day forward the IOC will never be able to completely ban a country for abusing the system or fooling around with performance enhancing drugs.

IOC President Thomas Bach said that he felt comfortable with the decision because it protects and respects the rights of clean athletes. While I know that not all 387 originally listed Russian athletes were a part of the original scandal or had doped in the past, their suffering is what would have set fear into the hearts of all athletes and countries.

If the IOC had enforced a blanket ban on Russia, I would feel bad for the athletes who had stayed clean. In order to get to this point in their career they’ve put in a crazy amount of hard work, dedication and sacrifice, but the fact of the matter is the country that they represent messed up. It failed them.

Without a blanket ban the IOC is leaving it up to the 28 individual federations that govern each sport to make the final decision on who can compete. Of the original 387 listed Russian athletes, 110 have already been banned. The International Association of Athletics Federation, the governing body for track and field, announced back in June that no one from Russia would be allowed to compete in Rio. But other governing bodies like gymnastics prefer to see Russia competing, and gatekeepers like tennis officials have said that all the Russian athletes have cleared their screening policy.

Some federations fear they face immense backlash and potential damage claims if they choose to block athletes from competing. Perhaps it’s this same fear that prompted the IOC from not placing a blanket ban. Russia is a powerhouse and a country the IOC probably wants to keep on its good side. The IOC wouldn’t be the first to bow down to Vladimir Putin.

I can’t say that a blanket ban would get rid of doping within international sport or the Olympics, but it would definitely make a difference. The sanctions placed on Russia probably won’t keep out all doping athletes, and I am sure Russians aren’t the only ones. The issue now is that by allowing Russia to compete, every time Russians make the podium I will wonder if they deserve it and if they are stealing it away from someone who earned it the “right” way.

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When is enough…enough?

When is enough…enough? That is the question I asked myself Thursday morning. On July 21 the latest incident surrounding the 2016 Olympic Summer Game’s took place. 10 Brazilians were arrested for allegedly pledging allegiance to the Islamic State on social media and discussed possible attacks during the Games.

Sadly it comes as no surprise to me that this happened. Why wouldn’t ISIS try to find a way to target the Olympics? The attack would draw maximum media coverage as well as be highly symbolic.

On July 20, the SITE Intelligence group found out that jihadi terrorist groups had begun to use messaging apps to urge followers to attack the Olympics in Rio. Messages were even being distributed in Portuguese in an attempt to radicalize Brazilian citizens. This method has rarely been used in the past but you can count on ISIS to go to whatever lengths necessary.

The arrests were made in 10 different Brazilian states. Justice Minister Alexandre de Moraes said the individuals were “complete amateurs and ill-prepared” but that doesn’t make the situation any better.

Security for the Game’s has already come under extreme scrutiny. On June 3, CNN reported that gun battles are semi-regular occurrences in the host city. In the first four months of 2016 robberies increased by 24-percent and murders increased to 16-percent. Going along with murders, in June body parts washed up onto the beach where the beach volleyball events will be held and in May, Brazilian soccer star Rivaldo told his 400,000 plus Instagram followers not to attend the Olympics following the murder of a 17-year-old girl.

The financial crisis in the country even has police officers at wits end. Brazilian police officers upset with the lack of funding stepped up their public protests on July 6, greeting tourists at the Rio airport with signs that read “Welcome to hell” and “Whoever comes to Rio de Janeiro will not be safe.” But the Olympic committee continues to insist there will be 85,000 police and security deployed during the games. Brazil can’t even protect and control its own population, so why would I trust them to keep the millions of people traveling to the country, both athlete and spectator, safe?

The country has been in a state of political unrest for nearly two years now due to the financial crisis only getting worse. Riots both violent and not have been taking place throughout the country since 2014. Just take a look at what was going on during the 2014 World Cup.

When the Games begin on Aug. 5 the Olympic Committee will do its best to hide the social, political and physical upheaval that is taking place. But for those who have plans or are making plans to attend just know that you are stepping into a state of uncertainty on all fronts. In addition to the potential of violence and insecurity, there are cases for environmental breakdown and global pandemic.

Just two weeks out from the opening ceremonies it’s hard to believe that the Olympic Committee will heed the multiple requests in favor of cancelling/postponing the games. On that note I say keep the savings in the bank and plan for Tokyo 2020, Rio really isn’t worth the risks.

For a complete breakdown of everything that has gone wrong in the build up to the 2016 Summer Olympic Game’s read Christian D’Andrea’s article on SB Nation at http://www.sbnation.com/2016/7/15/12122676/olympic-games-2016-rio-zika-security-budget-brazil?yptr=yahoo.

Now is not the time to ‘stick to sports’

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Opening comments by Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, Dwayne Wade, and Lebron James. Photo credit: Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Last night was the ESPY Awards, and it solidified itself as my favorite awards show by not doing what some say it should have done — “stick to sports.” I used to use sports as my shield from the events that were going on around me. It’s easy to forget the troubles in the world when baseball’s All-Star week is happening.

It took me moving around the United States and traveling the world in the last two years for me to finally open my eyes. Today sports are no longer a wall keeping me in, and I’m learning just how valuable of a platform they can be. Part of my desire to become a journalist is the ability to enlighten and educate, but also the reach that one can have with readers and viewers. The reach as a journalist though doesn’t compare to the reach of lets say Carmelo Anthony.

Anthony, LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Paul took the stage Wednesday night to open the ESPYs with a very important message.

“The racial profiling has to stop,” Wade said. “The shoot-to-kill mentality has to stop. Not seeing the value of black and brown bodies has to stop. But also the retaliation has to stop. The endless gun violence in places like Chicago, Dallas, not to mention in Orlando, it has to stop.”

Based off Twitter, not everyone was happy with the basketball stars’ opening statements. Some even went as far as saying they lost respect for the athletes, and to that I say shame on you. Athletes rarely take stands on issues because by doing so they are putting their brands on the line. For them speaking out can be a calculated decision.

Following the shootings last week, Anthony knew he had to say something, but he carefully thought out what that was going to be. When he approached his friends about making a statement at the awards. it took him days to figure out what exactly he wanted or rather needed to say.

The NBA stars aren’t the first to speak out about recent events. On Saturday, members of the Minnesota Lynx WNBA team wore T-shirts in solidarity of all recent events, and they too received an extreme backlash.

Unfortunately these players can no longer afford to be silent. It’s not a political statement for these athletes; as people of color they are affected regardless of the fact that they are professional athletes.

“There’s NO more sitting back and being afraid of tackling and addressing political issues anymore. Those days are long gone,” Anthony wrote in an Instagram post under the iconic photo from the 1967 Muhammad Ali Summit.

I have always felt that athletes have the responsibility to stand up and use their reach. Some of my favorite athletes are the ones that do so despite the repercussions. In an op-ed for The Guardian, Anthony calls for his fellow athletes to use their platform and their influence. While you may not agree with what they stand for today, don’t persecute them; one day you might want them to stand with you on something else.

The opener by the NBA ensemble wasn’t the only issue to be tackled Wednesday night. Breanna Stewart, the winner of the Best Female Athlete Award, as well as Abby Wambach, Icon Award winner, spoke out about gender equality.

And there wasn’t a dry eye in the crowd after 15-year-old Zaevion Dobson was honored with the Arthur Ashe Courage Award posthumously. His mother, Zenobia Dobson, called for the country “to take a stand to consider the effects of gun violence on the families throughout America.” Dobson was the first of two minors from his family to be killed due to gun violence within the last year.

Play like a girl

Earlier this month I learned that 70-percent of kids are quitting sports by age 13. It’s a startling statistic but what I learned earlier this week is even more alarming. Of that original 70 percent, 47 percent are girls.

According to the Women’s Sports Foundation, by age 14, girls are dropping out of sports at twice the rate of boys. And according to a survey sponsored by Always, by age 17, more than half of the girls, 51 percent, will have quit sports. More than 1,000 girls ages of 16 to 24 participated.

In last week’s column, I delved into the idea that sports just aren’t “fun anymore.” But with girls there seems to be a different driving factor. According to the Always survey, seven out of 10 girls quit sports during puberty because they felt like they didn’t belong. Another 67 percent said they felt society doesn’t encourage girls to play sports.

Not sure if you’ve heard of the #LikeAGirl campaign by Always, but it is these numbers that led to its creation. In the last year, Always has published multiple videos with the hope of inspiring girls to stay in the game. That is definitely something I can rally around.

No one can deny the benefits of sports in the lives of youth. The health benefits are just the beginning. Sports have the ability to teach us skills that can be used throughout the rest of our lives. With girls participating in sports at a lower rate than boys, they are missing out.

Confidence is the No. 1 thing that comes to mind when I think of what sports can offer all kids, but especially girls who deal with dramatic drops in confidence levels around puberty. Confidence is vital as we grow up, leave home and enter the workforce. Confidence is what we need in order to know our worth. One fact that has come about in trying to understand the gender pay gap is that women oftentimes underestimate their self worth. We are willing to work for less and we ask for less than men wanting the same position with the same skill set.

Learning to compete is another skill that sports teach. Oftentimes, girls are pushed away from competitive atmospheres because they aren’t deemed “ladylike.” Without a positive competitive atmosphere, girls inadvertently learn to feel guilty when their success outshines someone else’s. Once again this doesn’t help in the professional world where women continue to be outnumbered by men. Men are taught that competition is good and take fun in competing with friends on a day-to-day basis. From a young age, males turn everything and anything into a competition, girls are taught the opposite. This puts women at a disadvantage when trying to compete for senior roles.

According to a global study by Ernst & Young and espnW, 61 percent of female executives said sports contributed to their career and success. To add to that, 94 percent of women in the C-suite played sports, 52 percent at the university level.

Sports can also teach girls about teamwork and how to overcome adversity. And yet, girls feel that these skills aren’t meant for them. In a different national Always-sponsored survey, of 1,800 people, 89 percent of girls ages 16-24 feel there is pressure to conform to the way a girl is supposed to feel and act.

Its 2016, it’s been 44 years since Title IX was passed. Girls today have more opportunities than girls of the 1960s and yet the social and cultural stigmas from then have persisted.

The only way things are going to change is by changing how we as a society view gender roles. We need to believe and act upon the idea that girls and boys have the same capabilities and we need to prepare both for success in the same way.

For access to the surveys mentioned in this column visit, https://www.womenssportsfoundation.org/home/support-us/do-you-know-the-factors-influencing-girls-participation-in-sports and http://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20160628005793/en.

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I was a part of the Michigan State Women’s Rowing team my freshman year of college.