Big shock? World points finger at Russia but doping knows no borders
The United States and China are among the major Olympic countries that have come under suspicion for operating systematic drugs programmes in the past
Apparently, it was a bombshell. Russian athletes could well be banned from Rio after the release this week of the McLaren report on doping that stated unequivocally the Russian ministry of sport “directed, controlled and oversaw” the tampering and swapping of hundreds of positive doping samples before, during and after the 2012 summer games in London and leading squarely into their own winter Olympics in Sochi two years later.
There is absolutely zero ambiguity in the thorough and exhaustive report, which basically implicates everyone from the janitors in the testing labs to the minister of sport, who answers directly to his boss, President Vladimir Putin. Almost immediately the World Anti-Doping Association (Wada) called for the ban of all Russian athletes for the upcoming Rio games, whereupon the Court of Arbitration for Sport upheld an earlier ban on 68 Russian track and field athletes involved in a massive doping and state sponsored cover up.
What an absolute and unmitigated mess this entire affair has become for the Olympic movement, and it’s not like the preparations for the Rio games were going smoothly anyway. For some, however, this is actually a beautiful mess and a necessary step in reforming these so-called outlaw states. Others, like IOC President Thomas Bach, called it a “shocking and unprecedented attack on the integrity of sport and on the Olympic Games”.
Like any good politician, Bach has mastered the art of speaking but saying nothing. It’s his job to safeguard what little integrity the Olympic movement has left so he can protect the corporate windfall the games reap in TV and sponsorship packages. He has to say he is shocked and that this is an unprecedented attack on the games, when nothing could be farther from the truth. Recent history has shown us that duplicity knows no borders. The meteoric rise of China’s female swimmers in the early 90’s also turned out to be largely owing to a systematic doping protocol. The United States Olympic Committee (USOC) also chose to ignore scores of positive drug tests among its athletes for years while sending them off into international competition and alternately condemning all the other drug cheating countries.
No less than Olympic hero Carl Lewis tested positive three times for a banned substance before the 1988 Seoul summer Games and was sent a letter from the USOC telling him he would not be allowed to participate. Lewis appealed and said the use was “inadvertent” and was subsequently allowed to compete in a race he came second in behind Canada’s Ben Johnson. However, when Johnson tested positive for a banned substance – apparently his use was not inadvertent – Lewis received the gold.
Do you remember the hue and cry to ban China and the US when all these systemic offences came to light? By far the most lucrative deal the IOC has signed is with American network NBC, which recently agreed to pay US$7.75 billion for the exclusive rights to six upcoming Olympic Games from 2022 to 2032. Even in this day and age of ridiculous money in sport, US$7 billion plus is still a huge number. It buys you an inordinate amount of influence and you can rest assured that NBC’s lawyers have contingency plans to hold back payments if something goes awry, like the banning of the entire US team because of systemic doping offences.
None of the recent doping cover ups absolve what Russia did and Putin has pledged to get to the bottom of this, naturally. In 2000, he also told his Olympians on their way to the Sydney Games: “Victories in sport do more to cement the nation than 100 political slogans.” After a horrid showing at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games, his country was in desperate need of cement. According to the McLaren report, Putin’s handpicked deputy sports minister got busy ensuring his country’s athletes would have the best pharmaceutical advantages and a system to cover it. Of course, Putin claims to be shocked at this revelation as well. However, if you wish to believe that this was all the work of some rogue minister then you have been asleep for this entire century.
Nothing changes for Putin. He gets to blame a western conspiracy for all this knowing full well that his country will soon be hosting the 2018 World Cup regardless. For a proud nation that was basically humiliated by losing the Cold War some 25 year ago, you do what you have to in order to return to global relevance. For the legion of pious poseurs, whose “clean” athletes were denied glory because of those “dirty commies”, they have a vengeful glee. Still, the world spins on regardless, same as it ever was. So with no further ado, let the Games begin.