A missed opportunity to show a united front against drug cheats
The decision to allow some Russian athletes to compete at the Rio Olympic Games appears to be a political compromise for fear of angering Putin
When athletes assemble for the opening ceremony of the Rio Olympic Games next week, a competitor from the host nation will take the Olympic oath on behalf of them all, promising to abide by the rules and to “commit to sport without doping or drugs for the honour of our teams”. By then, the tone will already have been set for the XXXI Olympiad by the reception given to a much diminished Russian team when its athletes march into the stadium. Officials fear cheering will be drowned out by boos, for many are adamant that Russia should not be there.
The World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada) recommended last week that Russia be barred after confirmation of allegations by a former director of the country’s anti-doping laboratory of rampant state-sanctioned doping at the 2012 Summer Games and the 2014 Winter Games. The Court of Arbitration for Sport had already upheld a ban on Russian track and field athletes competing at Rio because of drug cheating. Contrary to expectations that the entire Russian delegation would be excluded after Wada’s decision, the International Olympic Committee’s executive board left it to individual sporting federations to say who could still compete.
Wada’s disappointment that the IOC did not endorse a “strong and harmonised” approach is understandable, given that a state-run doping programme gravely undermines the principles of clean sport. The chairman of the IOC’s legal affairs commission, Australian John Coates, said clean athletes needed to be protected. “We do not want to penalise them with a collective ban ,” he said.
Many will see that as a craven each-way bet prompted by fear of angering Russian President Vladimir Putin. Others will see it as only fair to drug-clean athletes who have prepared for these Games for years. Either way, a chance has been missed to send the strongest message of zero tolerance of an evil that demeans the Olympics. Cynics may say big sport is political and that the art of politics is compromise. Hopefully, Russia’s diminishment will serve the spirit of the Olympic ideal.