After years of alleged “systemic manipulation of the anti-doping system in Russia”, the International Olympic Committee has banned Russia from the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, and imposed a $15 million fine. The IOC alleges that over the course of several years, there has been state-sponsored doping which amounts to an “unprecedented attack on the integrity of the Olympic games and sport”, warranting them imposing such a strong sanction against Russia, the first of its kind. This ban will not exclude Russian athletes from competing in the games altogether, they may compete under the Olympic flag in a uniform bearing the name Olympic athlete from Russia. Providing they weren’t involved in the doping programme that corrupted the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics.
Safe to say, the Russian response to the ban has been extremely negative, with a general consensus that Russia has been unfairly targeted for political reasons. Vladimir Zhirinovsky, leader of the nationalist LDPR party called the decision “political and sporting racism”, whilst Maria Zakharova, spokeswoman for the Russian foreign ministry grouped the ban alongside the collapse of the Soviet Union as troubles the west has imposed on Russia. Leonid Tyagchev, honorary president of Russia’s Olympic Committee even went as far as to say the whistle-blower who exposed the country’s doping programme should be assassinated.
That said, as of now, there is no planned boycott of the Olympics by the Russians. Konstantin Kosachev, who is the chair of the foreign affairs committee in Russia’s parliament, opined that it was “unfair and wrong to forbid our athletes from taking part in a competition they’ve prepared for their whole lives. Each person should decide for themselves.”
There is a feeling amongst those outside Russia that Russia got off lightly, given that most Russian athletes could compete in the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics despite Richard McLaren’s July 2016 report which provided evidence that Russian government, security services and sporting authorities colluded to hide widespread doping across a clear majority of winter and summer sports.
Whistle-blower Grigory Rodchenkov, who was head of the Moscow anti-doping laboratory between 2005 and 2015, claimed he had helped dozens of Russian athletes in a doping system that ran “like a Swiss watch”, feeding athletes cocktails of banned drugs dissolved in a whiskey or vermouth. Rodchenkov claimed that agents from Russia’s FSB security services helped anti-doping experts to switch clean urine samples for drug-tainted samples to fool testers, having found a way to break into bottles designed to be tamper-proof.
Grigory Rodchenkov, the primary Russian whistle-blower on the Sochi Olympics scandal. (source: Emily Beryl/ New York Times)
The IOC set up the Oswald Commission to examine Russian doping in Sochi and began to ban Russian competitors retrospectively. The commission banned 25 athletes, with a total of 11 medals relinquished from them. This tainted Russia’s performance at its home Winter Olympics, where it topped the medals table with 33 medals, including 13 golds.
Former Russian sports minister Vitaly Mutko was responsible for Russia’s successful world cup bid. (source: independent)
The IOC banned Vitaly Mutko, a deputy prime minister of Russia and former sports minister from any participation in all future Olympic games. But there is a concern for the 2018 football world cup in Russia as he is head of the organising committee for the world cup. Mutko has been forced to defend Russian sport, claiming there is “No proof” of systematic doping in the country, despite several strong pieces of evidence to the contrary. FIFA has insisted the ban does not affect planning for the World Cup. However, this is surely an indictment against the governing body of Football, who must mirror the stance of the IOC against doping in Russian sport. They should not be rewarding them with the privilege of hosting the World Cup.