IOC’s decision on Russia a letdown
The International Olympic Committee has sold its soul. Worse, it’s sold out all those clean athletes who have been begging for someone to have their backs, along with the woman brave enough to reveal Russia’s dirty secrets.
Integrity, decency, fair play — those are no longer the ideals on which the Olympic movement proudly and firmly stands. They’ve become chips to be bargained away in exchange for money, support and power. What’s the disappearance of a few hundred positive tests among friends when compared with $51 billion to further the myth that the Olympics are a celebration of the world at its best?
By refusing to impose a blanket ban on Russia for the Rio Games, despite damning evidence of a widespread doping program traced to the highest reaches of its sports administration, the IOC left no doubt whose side it’s on. And it sure isn’t the athletes. “It speaks to the conflicts of interest that the IOC has and their inability to really stand up and be a leader for athletes and clean sport. To really be on our side,” Lauryn Williams, a gold medallist in the 4x100 meter relay in London and member of the World Anti-Doping Agency’s athletes committee, told USA TODAY Sports.
“This just furthers the point that this is a business. It’s not something really built and set in the best interests of the athletes.”
The Russian doping crisis is the biggest threat to the Olympic movement since the boycotted Summer Games in 1980 and ’84. When people don’t trust what they see, they lose faith and then they lose interest, and that’s the last thing an IOC already struggling to connect with young sports fans can afford.
Yet when strong, decisive leadership was needed most, the IOC lost its backbone. First it spent years ignoring allegations that the Russians were cheating. Then, when it came time to make the tough call on Russia’s participation in Rio, it shirked its duties and told the international sports federations to do it.
Oh, IOC president Thomas Bach talked a good game, blustering about the “highest hurdles”
that Russian athletes will have to clear before they’ll be allowed to compete in Rio.
But years from now, all anyone will remember is that the IOC caved.
This was not an individual athlete or two cheating or even a dirty training group. This was a massive doping program spread across winter and summer federations, with the McLaren report finding that positive tests were made to disappear in 29 different sports.
Bach can claim all he wants is that the Russian Olympic Committee wasn’t actively involved in the scheme, but you’d have to be blind, deaf and dumb to think something this audacious could have been done without the ROC having some inkling it was going on.
If ever there was a time for the IOC to send the message that cheating will not be tolerated, this was it. That there will be harsh penalties if you wilfully and brazenly subvert the system, no matter who you are.
But come Aug. 5, Russian athletes will march in the opening ceremony.
Russian athletes will compete in several sports. Russian athletes will win medals and hear their national anthem played. The Russian flag will fly at the Games.
It will be almost as if this whole mess never happened, which is surely how Russia and Bach want it.
“For a man who said that he wanted to protect the rights of clean athletes and had zero tolerance for doping, this decision today stands as (Bach’s) actual legacy to the Olympic movement in total contrast to his supposed zero tolerance for doping,” said Max Cobb, CEO of USA Biathlon and staunch doping critic.
As disappointing as the IOC’s decision was, its total abandonment of whistle blower Yulia Stepanova was downright chilling.
The middle-distance runner won’t be allowed to compete in Rio because she was previously banned for doping. Never mind that she’s served that ban, or that the Russian doping crisis didn’t come to light without her and her husband, a former employee in Russia’s antidoping agency.
By banning her from Rio, the IOC told anyone else thinking of speaking out about doping not to bother. The IOC doesn’t want to hear it.
“We know this is not the full doping scandal, we know this is not the only country,” Williams said. “There are other people who are trying to get the courage up and, seeing the lack of support, I think it is going to be very discouraging for future whistle blowers.”
The whole thing is discouraging. The IOC had a chance to take a stand, to defend both its principles and the people who abide by them.
Instead, it sold them out, every last one of them.
IOC President Thomas Bach, left, and Russian President Vladimir Putin watch the closing ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.