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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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?