To say that anything Russia related has been hot button news this year is an understatement. In fact, when I first read the news alert, I thought it was related to the 2016 election. At this point, any positive news coming out of Russia seems… oddly surprising. However, when the news broke that the Russian Federation has been banned from the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, I was not the least bit surprised, and honestly, you shouldn’t be either. Here’s why.
Let’s first look back at the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia. For those of you not familiar with the 2014 host city, Sochi is located on the coast of the Black Sea, calling nations like Georgia, Azerbaijan, Turkey and the Ukraine as it’s neighbors. Sochi has long been known as Russia’s best beach town, a place where the average January and February temperatures are in the 40s. When you look at pictures of Sochi in the summer, it looks like a Mediterranean city. So how did they win the Winter Games? That’s a good question.
Three cities were in involved in the 2007 IOC Voting Process for the 2014 Olympics: Sochi, Pyongchang, and Salzberg, Austria. In the first round of voting, it was Pyongchang who came out ahead of Sochi and Salzberg, taking 36 of the votes to Sochi’s 34 and Salzberg’s 25. With the Austrian city now out of the exhaustive vote, it came down to Sochi and Pyeongchang. The Russian resort town took the Winter Games by 4 votes, in an upset. The Russians also came to the table with more money in their bid budget than any other country, an amount totaling over $27.5 million dollars, $6.5 million more than South Korea.
After the bid was won, the Russian Olympic Committee began planning and construsting the Sochi Olympics, originally budgeting $12 billion dollars for the games. This is back in 2007, right before the Beijing Summer Games, which clocked in at 44.2 billion dollars making it the most expensive Olympic games to date. Russia was not going to let their neighbors to the south take the crown and the Sochi Olympics racked up a $51 billion dollars worth of Olympic spending, the current top spender.
The last Olympic Games held on Russian soil were the 1980 Summer Games held in Moscow. Most of the world remembers those games as the ones their nations boycotted due to the Russian invasion of Afganistan. For the Moscow Games the USSR spent over $1.3 billion dollars, which accounting for inflation would be a total of over $40 billion dollars today, and only saw a profit of around $231 million, losing over $1 billion dollars on those games. As of today, the Sochi Games appear to have paid for themselves, making the Russian Olympic committee a total of $53 million dollars, or a tenth of a percent profit.
After the 2004 Athens Games and the 2008 Beijing Games saw their structures sit in ruin after the closing ceremonies, the Russians planned to turn around and use the facilities in Sochi almost immediately. The Fischt Stadium used for the Opening and Closing Ceremonies, would become the Russian Federation Football headquarters, as well as a site for the 2018 World Cup also awarded to Russia. The rest of the facilities were to be used as tourist destinations, apartments, and other notable vacation landmarks.
It’s important to remember that these Winter Olympic buildings will be tourist attractions in a Summer beach town. Not a huge draw. So what better way to create a tourist attraction than to win more gold medals than anyone ever had before? No, that would be insane. But when your minister of sport is also the minister of tourism, some eyebrows have to be raised. I’m not saying the Russians planned and implemented a wide-spread doping program to all its athletes for tourism reasons. To say that would be equally as insane. What Russia was after was domination on their own soil, and they’d stop at nothing to get it.
After a dismal showing at the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver, the Russians were not going to fall short of their goal of standing atop the medal count. A plan would be put into motion to make the Sochi games much more successful.
What transpired in Sochi during the 2014 Olympics was nothing short of mechanical perfection in the name of disguise. If you haven’t seen the Netflix documentary Icarus, stop what you’re doing and watch it. It goes into great detail about the how, when, what and why of the Russian State Doping Program, but here’s a snippet from the New York Times’ piece that broke the story on the scandal, thanks to Grigory Rodchenkov’s bravery:
Dr. Rodchenkov said that each night, a sports ministry official would send him a list of athletes whose samples needed to be swapped. To match the individual athletes to their anonymous samples — which are coded with a seven-digit number — Dr. Rodchenkov said that athletes snapped pictures of their sample forms, including the code, and texted them to the ministry, offering forbidden insight into whose urine was whose.
After receiving a signal that “the urines were ready,” he changed from his lab coat into a Russian national team sweatshirt and left his fourth-floor office, typically after midnight. He checked that the coast was clear and made his way to Room 124, officially a storage space that he and his team had converted into a shadow laboratory.
There, he said, with the room’s single window blacked out with tape, the switch would be made.
A colleague stationed next door in the sample collection room would retrieve the correct bottles and pass them into the storage room through a circular hole cut through the wall near the floor, Dr. Rodchenkov said. During the day, he said, the hole was concealed by a small imitation-wood cabinet.
The sealed B bottles were handed over to the man Dr. Rodchenkov believed was a Russian intelligence officer, who would take them to an adjacent building. Within hours, Dr. Rodchenkov said, the bottles were returned to the storage room, their caps unlocked.
That man also supplied clean urine, collected from each of the athletes months prior to the Olympics, before they started doping, Dr. Rodchenkov said. It was delivered in soda bottles, baby formula bottles and other miscellaneous containers, he said.
Making sure to keep the overhead light off, Dr. Rodchenkov and a colleague dumped the tainted urine into a nearby toilet, washed out the bottles, dried them with filter paper and filled them with the clean urine.
He would then add table salt or water to balance out any inconsistencies in the recorded specifications of the two samples. Depending on what an athlete had consumed, two urine samples taken at different times could vary.
Typically, the small team worked till dawn, breaking only occasionally for instant coffee and cigarettes.”
30% of the athletes who won medals for Russia were on Rodchenkov’s list of those involved in the Russian State’s doping program. Russia took home 9 gold medals, 2 behind top country Norway’s 11, and 22 medals total. Russia was back in the mix for top dog in the world sports arena. And then on May 12th, 2016, Grigory Rodchenkov and the New York Times go public just weeks before the Summer Game in Rio.
Even closer to the games, The World Anti-Doping Association came out with Part One of the McLaren Report, a report commissioned specifically to look into the doping allegations brought forth by Grigory Rodchenkov and the New York Times. Part One of the McLaren report was released just over a month after the New York Times article ran, and just a month and a half before the Rio games began. The McLaren Report confirmed Rodchenkov’s claims and then some, finding that the Russian Doping Lab, RUSADA, was using a “Disappearing Positive Methodology” which essentially means the Russians were dumping positives tests. What McLaren also uncovered was how far back the doping system went. According to the report, from “at least 2011 to at least 2015”, the RUSADA lab alter the results of over 680 athletes during that time. Why are the dates “at least 2011 to at least 2015”? According to the report, there is no way to tell how far back the doping went due to the lack of records given to him by the Russians.
The 680 athletes mentioned in Part 1 was thought to be only the minimum of athletes, and the second part of the report, published in December of 2016, brought that number to a minimum of 1000 athletes benefited from the RUSADA Doping system.
Part 1 of the McLaren Report was the reason that Russia was suspended from all IAAF (International Association of Athletic Federation) competitions, including the 2016 Summer Games in Rio less than 2 months away. What the IOC (International Olympic Committee) decided to do was allow athletes who felt they were unjustly punished, the right to prove that they were clean. Of the 389 athletes that Russia had attending the Summer Games in 2016, 278 were cleared to participate, some from proof of their innocence and other through an appeal in the court of arbitration.
Most notably was the Yuliya Yefimova, a swimmer who competed in the game. Yefimova is a 5-time World Champion at the breaststroke in varying lengths and was the favorite to win gold in the Women’s 100m Breaststroke. Instead, after being initially banned from the games, Yefimova showed up and took silver, but not without its lumps. Yefimova was booed relentlessly throughout the competition. During her post-medal ceremony interview, Yefimova almost broke down multiple times when talking about how the crowds received her during the games.
It should also be mentioned that Yefimova has tested positive for Performance Enhancing Drugs multiple times in her career.
So just to be clear. All of Russia was suspended. More than two thirds still competed. Russia still took home 56 medals, including 19 gold.
So now we have come to this years banning of the Russian Federation from the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang. Can you see why I’m not surprised by this news? The Russian Federation has a history of doping its athletes and after four years of investigating the IOC has decided to do something about it.
… we think.
The problem with the IOC’s ban is that we’ve been down this road before. Quite literally two years ago. When the IOC allowed 278 Russian Athletes to participate in the games they were setting a precedent for how these events play out. First, you get banned, then you protest, then you get back in, then you participate and then you medal. In the case of Yuliya Yefimova, was justice served? Or did she test positive for DHEA an endogenuous steroid hormone two years prior and tested positive for Meldonium 6 times in a 45-day span? It’s a gray area, I guess.
The Olympics have a long-standing tradition of retroactively stripping athletes of medals due to their failed drug tests. In those circumstances, it’s the athletes that suffer. Ben Johnson was stripped of his 1988 Gold Medal in the Men’s 100m and the Gold medal was given to Carl Lewis. Can you tell me what country he was from? Canada.
Or how come no one looked into how Marion Jones got her drugs for the 2000 Olympics in Sydney? Why has there never been an investigation into just how much the US Track and Field Staff knew about it? Four years later Jones has no medals and the US still puts out a track and field team.
My issue here is with the IOC. In any other governing body of a professional sport, and granted the Olympics are made up of many, but in any other governing body, there’s a distinction made between athlete and the name on their chest. When Starling Marte or Dee Gordon tested positive for PEDs this past baseball season the Pirates and Marlins didn’t get bumped from the league. If there is rampant use in an organization, then sanctions are taken against them. The NCAA will drop the hammer on schools who break rule after rule after rule. What is this Russia Ban? Aside from suspending the Russian Olympic Committee, the IOC also handed down these sanctions:
· The “Olympic Athletes from Russia” will be determined by a panel chaired by Valerie Fourneyron, the chair of the Independent Testing Authority that was recently established. It’s unclear when that panel will issue decisions on who is eligible to compete, but the IOC criteria require that those athletes in consideration must have undergone all pre-Games testing recommended by a taskforce advising anti-doping efforts before Pyeongchang.
· The criteria also include that athletes must not have been disqualified or declared ineligible for a previous anti-doping rule violation, a provision that seems unlikely to withstand appeals to the Court of Arbitration for Sport. The IOC attempted to enforce the same criteria before Rio, but a CAS panel struck it down as inconsistent with a prior ruling.
· Vitaly Mutko, the then Minister of Sport, and Yuri Nagornykh, his deputy, were excluded from the Games for their roles.
· ROC President Alexander Zhukov was suspended as an IOC member.
· The ROC will reimburse the IOC for costs of the investigations and it will contribute $15 million to the establishment of the Independent Testing Authority.
· Additionally, Bach said the IOC would attempt to organize ceremonies in Pyeongchang for the reallocation of medals from Sochi “to try to make up for the moments they have missed from the finish line or on the podium.”
Here’s what is going to happen. The Russian athletes who make it through the review process have a choice. They can either sit out of these Olympics and wait for the 2022 Beijing Games or they can compete as an “OAR” or “Olympic Athlete from Russia.” If it were you, would you compete? I most certainly would. Nothing would stop me from competing against the other top athletes in the world. Absolutely not. So here we are again. What does this ban do? It removes the Russian flag from games. The athletes can stay, but get those colors out of here.
IOC President Thomas Bach said “… I don’t see any reason there for a boycott by the Russian athletes because we allowed the clean Russian athletes there to participate and to show that there are clean athletes in Russia. And in this way, we think that these clean Russian athletes can be more about building a bridge into the future of a cleaner sport than erecting a new wall between Russia and the Olympic movement.”
He even added that in Rio they weren’t able to put forth a full ban due to timing, but here we are with the same result, even after widespread doping has been noted and found and …. I just don’t know anymore you guys.
So what does this ban do?
It does nothing. It hurts everyone without doing much of anything. Will the Russian flag be present at the games? No. Will the Russian athletes? Only time will tell.
What we have at the end of the day is a lack of policing the rules by everyone. There’s more sport that goes into getting around the rules than the actual sports themselves.
The IOC needs to figure out how to deal with doping because it’s a problem that’s not going away anytime soon. They need to be stronger, they need to be firmer, they need to be tougher. I mean, from an organization that bears the motto “Faster, Higher, Stronger”… maybe they’ve known that all along.
It’s time for them to be faster, sit higher and build stronger enforcement of their drug policies. Either that or countries like Russia will never learn.