RUSSIA GETS A MESSAGE
Now that Russia’s Olympic team has been banned from participating in the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea, Canadians may be tempted to tune out. After all, these Olympics will lack the powerhouse Russians, who customarily give our athletes among the toughest runs for Olympic glory.
The absence of such vaunted rivals may appear to devalue the worth of these Games. But far from diminishing the Olympics, the unprecedented punishment meted out to Russia this week will enhance and strengthen the world’s most prestigious sporting event.
The slag of corruption and deceit long tainting Olympic gold, silver and bronze has finally been held to a purifying flame.
On Tuesday, the International Olympic Committee barred the Russian Olympic Committee from attending the Winter Games. The Russian flag will not be displayed, nor its anthem played. Individual Russian athletes found to be clean may compete under a neutral flag.
The suspension is a just penalty for a nation that engineered a systemic, state-sponsored and publicly funded doping program for hundreds of its athletes over at least a decade. It’s also an unexpected one; the same Olympic bureaucrats played it safe at the Rio de Janeiro Summer Games by leaving it up to individual sports federations to decide which Russian athletes could compete on a case-by-case basis. It was passing the buck on an Olympic scale.
Making these Games even more special: a ceremony will award medals retroactively to legitimate winners from Sochi after 25 Russians were disqualified.
As a result of the IOC’s new-found spine, sports fans may be treated to the purest and most honest Olympics in decades.
Of course, all sporting events, including these Games, will still be afflicted with incidents of foul play, but Russia had taken cheating to an industrial scale with Kremlin-approved and government-executed doping and coverups.
As Canadians, we felt a collective sense of shame and disgrace when our own sprinter Ben Johnson tumbled from grace when revealed as a cheat.
Fans of U.S. cycling legend Lance Armstrong felt the same way when his doping was discovered. It’s disappointing that a proud and defiant Russia appears to lack that same sense of abashment, with President Vladimir Putin alleging the IOC’s punishment is merely a politically motivated western plot. Canadian athletes can live with sour grapes. They shouldn’t have to live with losing to state-sponsored cheaters.
In PyeongChang, they won’t have to.