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.

Latest doping allegations could hurt anti-doping campaign

This is not the first time a sport’s anti-doping movement has come under scrutiny, but with what has come to light in the last year and last week, the World Anti-Doping Agency has some big decisions to make.

Just last week Russia’s former anti-doping director, Grigory Rodchenskov, came forward and admitted that he ran an organized doping program for Russian athletes at the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, by helping switch tainted samples for clean ones.

Now the International Olympic Committee and WADA are partnering to carry out a full-fledged investigation planning to retest Sochi samples stored in Lausanne, Switzerland. It’s unsure how many tainted samples are still intact, though.

Russia’s track and field team is dealing with a suspension from global competition. Track and fields governing body, the International Association of Athletics Federation, banned the country after an investigation detailed state-sponsored doping, corruption and coverups in the program. The federation has yet to make a decision on whether the ban will be lifted prior to the Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro.

If the investigation into the Sochi Olympics turns out to be true, I think the IOC needs to ban Russia as a whole from competing this year. Russian authorities have gone on record saying they support the crackdown but that only specific individuals should see the repercussions. In this case, however, it wasn’t individual athletes choosing to make the wrong decision. It was supported and encouraged, and if it weren’t for members of the state hiding the truth, the athletes would have been caught then not now.

Fast forward to this week and retesting stretching back eight years has caught 31 athletes from 12 different countries and six different sports for doping prior to the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. The IOC has opened disciplinary proceedings for the athletes who were planning to take part in the 2016 Games. And it doesn’t stop there. Retesting of samples for athletes from the 2012 Summer Games in London hoping to compete in Rio will also take place, opening the possibility for more athletes to be banned.

These findings are horrible for the international sports community and for the World Anti-Doping Agency. While the association prides itself on being the “organization for clean sport” and “protecting clean athletes,” without a crackdown after recent findings it may need to find a new slogan.

Athletes competing on the global stage open their bodies to drug testing with hopes of competing on a level playing field. When certain athletes are taking performance enhancing drugs, it’s not a level playing field.

I see where WADA and the IOC are currently standing as a crossroads. The way they choose to handle this situation could go two very different ways. One option is to crack down and crack down hard. Make athletes who cheat realize they are never safe. Make athletes realize that doping isn’t worth it due to the intense repercussions. The other route is going light on Russia and other individuals who have disobeyed the rules. If the organizations fail to crack down this time around, athletes will continue to take the risk and more athletes will start to do so.

The question is will the playing field be balanced by cutting down the number of athletes doping or will it be leveled by more athletes choosing to take performance-enhancing drugs?

Impeachment, Zika and the Olympics

We are 84 days out from the opening ceremony of the 2016 summer Olympics, and until yesterday I had completely forgot. I laughed at myself when I realized I forgot about the world’s largest sporting event, but the thing is there is way too much going on in Rio de Janeiro already.

Rio has been slated to be the 2016 host since 2006. Four years ago, when the summer games were wrapping up in London, I was ready for 2016. Currently sitting less than three months out, part of me wishes the event would get postponed.

This should have been a monumental Olympic Games. It is the first to be hosted by a South American country. Because of this fact it will still be monumental, but for issues that the media has brought to our attention in the past year not concerning the Games, the event will be out-shined and overlooked.

The first thing on the table is the Zika virus. It began to make headlines in the summer 2015 when Brazil became the first country in the America’s to suffer an outbreak. Originally all that was known about the virus was that it was extremely harmful to pregnant women and babies. But now it seems that the virus can spread through sexual relations, and not just pregnant women are at risk. Just earlier this month the United States suffered its first fatality from Zika.

Doctors have warned that the 2016 Olympic Games could spark a “full-blown public health disaster.” Dr. Amir Attaran of the University of Ottawa wrote in the Harvard Public Health Review on May 12 that the games could speed up the spread of the virus and suggested changing the location of the event or even postponing it.

It’s too close to the games for any containment efforts to be successful at this point, but Brazil has failed drastically at trying to contain the virus since the onset.

While health is of growing concern for athletes and spectators, joining Zika at the table is political unrest. After a 20-hour senate session, Brazil’s governing body announced Thursday morning that it reached the decision to impeach President Dilma Rousseff. The vote was 55-22 in favor of impeachment. The trial could last as long as six months, which will suspend Rousseff from her duties during the games.

In office since 2011, Rousseff has helped continue the 13-year reign of “The Workers Party” by continuing to pull millions of people out of poverty. The funny thing is the country is in its deepest recession since the 1930s. With one of the largest economies in the world, Brazil has the ability to hurt world markets.

The country has been sorting through the mess of a potential impeachment for months, and uncontrollable protests have been a regular occurrence. There is no sign that things could change in terms of unrest prior to the opening ceremony.

To top the table off we are adding a $3 billion corruption scandal by state run oil giant, Petrobras. Waters are polluted where events such as sailing and rowing will take place. The state of Rio de Janeiro chopped $550 million from its security budget. The cut of about 20 percent won’t be good if protests become more out of control. And lastly, the state made $500 million cuts to balance the operating budget. How can the country be secure enough to host the Olympics?

On the plus side, if you are interested in going to the 2016 Summer Games, ticket sales are down, so you just might be able to find a great deal.