At an indoor track meet in Siberia in January, 36 Russian athletes suddenly withdrew, many of them claiming to be sick. Certainly a strange coincidence, but not so strange when you consider who showed up at the meet: a team of anti-doping testers on a surprise visit.
The episode, which Russian sports officials say they are culture of cheating persists in Russian sport. This occurred even after the bombshell revelations in 2016 about a state-orchestrated Russian doping program that juiced Russian performances at the Winter Games in Sochi in 2014 and other previous Olympiads.
Another perplexing data point: the International Olympic Committee’s decision last week to allow 169 athletes from Russia to compete in the upcoming Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea. The Russian team is almost as large as Russia’s 177-athlete contingent at the Vancouver Winter Games in 2010, and only a couple busloads shy of the 232 athletes who competed in Sochi.
Though Russian athletes will compete in South Korea, they will not be allowed to appear in their national uniforms or march in the opening ceremonies under the Russian flag, the IOC decided. On their uniforms will appear the acronym, “OAR,” Olympic Athlete from Russia.” At medal ceremonies for Russians, the Olympic anthem will be played, rather than Russia’s.
When announcing its decision, the IOC assured the world that the Russian athletes cleared to compete would indeed be clean. The IOC says the athletes have undergone rigorous anti-doping testing.
But anti-doping officials from 20 countries have concerns about the vetting of Russian athletes, a process they say has been opaque. According to The New York Times, anti-doping officials say that, given the breadth of Russia’s state-engineered cheating, Russian athletes seeking entrance to Pyeongchang Games should have a minimum of a year of rigorous drug testing outside of Russia.
A brief reminder of the Kremlin’s Olympic deceit: At the Sochi Games, steroids mixed into either Chivas or vermouth, and given to Russian athletes; tainted urine samples swapped out for clean specimens obtained from the athletes months earlier; dead-of-night urine sample exchanges at the Olympic testing laboratory, using a small cut-out in the wall.
Russia has consistently denied any involvement in a state-engineered doping effort. But the IOC concluded otherwise; it imposed a lifetime ban from the Olympics for Vitaly Mutko. He was the man behind the scheme, Russia’s sports minister at the time, and a leading member of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s circle.
The IOC’s battered reputation is on the line. If Russian athletes win medals and are later exposed as cheaters, Pyeongchang will join Sochi in the dustbin of tainted Olympics.
Even if Russians in South Korea turn out to be clean, the IOC still has to decide how to deal with Russia after the Pyeongchang torch gets extinguished. The IOC has been talking about welcoming the Russian Olympic Committee, currently suspended, back into the Olympic community, possibly as soon as the closing ceremonies.
Doing so would be a body blow to the Olympics’ credibility. Russia’s return to the Olympic community should be conditioned on the Kremlin’s outright admission that its government cheated in sport, and did so for years.
In substance abuse recovery programs, acknowledgment is the first step. Russia’s rehabilitation can’t start without it.
— Chicago Tribune