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.