Anti-doping rhetoric and hypocrisy ramping up with one-year countdown to Winter Olympics in South Korea

A rogues’ gallery is set to turn up the heat on a number of fronts in the never ending quest to rid the Olympics of performance-enhancing drugs

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 25 February, 2017, 2:32pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 25 February, 2017, 8:09pm

It was an Olympic celebration, of sorts. On the day of the one-year countdown to the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, Austrian police acting on a tip raided the Kazakhstan biathlon team’s hotel before the World Championships in search of performance -enhancing drugs.

Apparently they found a box left at a nearby gas station containing used medical equipment and handwritten notes outlining drug protocol. Police seized additional medical equipment as well as mobile phones while anti-doping authorities took blood and urine samples from the team in what was seen as a reaffirmation by both the International Biathlon Union (IBU) and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to stamp out doping.

Of course, when you want to make a definitive statement on how serious you are about fighting drugs you aim high, like the Kazakhstan biathlon team. At the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, the best result Kazakhstan mustered in any of the biathlon disciplines was in the men’s relay, where they finished 18th out of 19 teams.

If anything, the Kazakhs might be looking to find the source of their supposed drugs because they clearly got ripped off. Despite the police raid, the IBU still allowed the Kazakh team to participate until an investigation was completed and one week later they were cleared of doping when all the samples came back negative. Said the Kazakh Olympic committee about the results, “It was obvious and expected.” Indeed, judging by performance alone the result was expected.

What is also obvious and expected is the upcoming outrage and rhetoric by a number of groups as we prepare for the upcoming trio of Olympic games in Asia over the next five years.

This past week, US lawmakers announced that a house subcommittee will conduct a hearing on February 28 that will focus on ways to fight doping in international sports with the 2018 Winter Olympics on the horizon. “The Olympic Games represent the greatest athletes in the world and we want to preserve the integrity of competition and ensure clean sport,” said Pennsylvania representative Tim Murphy.

Rest assured, Murphy and his cohorts are not calling together top anti-doping and sporting officials to discuss the fallout over the Kazakhstan biathlon team. Their target is the same as it was last year before the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro: Russia. On the heels of a stunning expose detailing institutional doping and cover-ups at the highest levels of Russian government, congressional lawmakers expressed their indignation last year to both IOC president Thomas Bach and the World Anti-Doping Association (Wada).

Of course this is what politicians do, they pick low-lying fruit and one year ago slamming Russia was easy fodder to score pious brownie points. However, the landscape has changed dramatically now, particularly with a pro-Russia White House and an embarrassing hacking attack on Wada.

Computer files revealed that some high-profile athletes from other countries were actually allowed to compete despite the presence of banned drugs in their systems. While many had medical waivers, it nonetheless allowed the Russian to once again sell their international persecution complex domestically.

Since the US contributes US$2 million a year to Wada, they will most definitely have their ear on this. But very little in this escapade will have anything to do with sport and everything to do with political theatre and it would seem that American lawmakers have far more pressing matters on their plate than doping in sports.

There are very few secrets anymore, seemingly making it much more difficult to cheat. Everybody has a camera in their pocket while hackers burrow invasively through reams of supposedly private files that are subsequently served up to the voracious and viral whims of social media. The current generation of Olympic athletes knows more about their fellow competitors and their training system than ever before.

Needless to say it makes for some decidedly uncomfortable situations, like at last year’s Summer Olympics in Rio. The first week of swimming competitions was dominated by public accusations and counter-accusations. Years ago most athletes would bite their tongue despite obvious evidence that their competitors were getting an edge. But no more, with both Australian and American swimmers making their disdain very public about competing against known cheaters from countries like China and Russia.

The spirit of sportsmanship, the initial goal of the original Olympic charter some 120 years ago, is nothing more than antiquated nostalgia. Even at the recent Biathlon World Championships, a French medallist refused to stand on the podium next to the Russian team.

Yes, it is going to take some work, Asia, over the next five years to rise above the hysteria and focus on Olympic performance as opposed to performance enhancement.