Earlier this week, the “independent” anti-doping commission WADA found that Russia engaged in state-sponsored doping and more importantly, recommended that Russia’s track and field athletes be suspended from Olympic competition in 2016. Apparently, the corruption was “on a whole different scale” that involved extorting athletes and ultimately ended up “significantly changing the actual results and final standings of international athletics competitions.”
The report includes allegations that Russian security services interfered with the Moscow doping lab ahead of the Sochi Winter Olympics as part of a conspiracy that involved all levels of Russian sport. During the Sochi Games, Russia pulled off a stunning turnaround from its performance in Vancouver in 2010, where it won 3 gold medals and 15 overall. In 2014 Russia won 13 gold medals and 33 overall, an unprecedented level of improvement.
As we noted on Monday, “in the event that IAAF were to adopt the commission’s recommendation, Russia could be excluded from major competitions including the Olympics.”
Well, as it turns out, that’s exactly what happened because as WSJ reports, “track and field’s world governing body provisionally suspended Russia’s athletes from international competition indefinitely,” late on Friday evening. Here’s more:
The suspension, which was expected, was approved by a vote of 22 to 1 by the international federation’s ruling council and takes effect immediately. It will prevent Russian track-and-field athletes from participating in all international events, including—as of now—the 2016 Rio Olympics in August.
While condemning the Russians, Sebastian Coe, the newly elected president of the IAAF, said the federation had to work to fix a broken system.
“We discussed and agreed that the whole system has failed the athletes, not just in Russia, but around the world,” Mr. Coe’s statement read. “This has been a shameful wake-up call and we are clear that cheating at any level will not be tolerated.”
The Russians will be able to appeal, possibly in time to win back the “privilege” of competing in beautiful Rio where hopefully, the scent of feces will no longer linger in the air by the time the games roll around (of course giant public works projects don’t look to be in the cards given Brazil’s insistence on running a primary surplus):
However, as often happens in international sports when countries or teams are sanctioned, the International Association of Athletics Federations will set terms for what the Russians must do to have the suspension lifted, perhaps even in time for the Rio Olympics.
The Russian federation can appeal the ban during the next month, with a ruling coming shortly after that. The federation could also take its case to the international Court of Arbitration for Sport.
For their part, the Russians have taken steps to “clean up” the situation, while Putin and several individual athletes claim the ban punishes all of the nation’s participants for the actions of a few bad actors:
Russian officials have urged international authorities not to punish a broad swath of athletes for the sins of a smaller group. President Vladimir Putin called on Russian authorities to hold people personally responsible rather than making innocent athletes pay for the wrongdoing of others.
Russian pole-vaulting champion Yelena Isinbayeva, who has won two Olympic gold medals, called the situation sad in a statement released Friday by the All-Russia Athletics Federation.
“The situation that the Russian team has ended up in is sad. But I urge against painting all athletes with the same brush,” Ms. Isinbayeva said, describing all of her own victories as honest, clean and deserved. “Taking away the right of innocent and uninvolved athletes to participate in international competitions under the auspices of the IAAF and at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro is unjust and unfair.”
Of course this is just another example of the fox guarding the hen house. As WSJ goes on to point out, it was just last week when French authorities unveiled an nvestigation into the IAAF’s recently retired leadership, including its former president for various alleged criminal behavior including accepting bribes to cover up Russian doping results.
And if they were doing that, then who knows what else they were doing which in turn means that yes, this was probably exaclty what the Russians said it was initially, which is politically motivated move that’s inextricably related to a variety of geopolitical issues and you can probably put in the same file as the deliberate suppression of oil prices by the Saudis, economic sanctions, and the anti-trust suit against Gazprom.
That’s not to say there wasn’t doping going on here, but just like all organizational corruption, everyone has something on everyone else and it’s just a matter of politics when someone’s card gets pulled.
In a supremely amusing bit of irony, The Guardian notes that in 1980, the abovementioned Sebastian Coe “a charismatic, supremely talented runner but yet to win a major championship medal, was approached privately by the British government and asked to boycott the Moscow Olympics in protest at the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Coe refused. He went to Russia. He won gold, ignited his own personal legend and has ridden the wave ever since.”
History may not repeat itself, but it does often rhyme.