Opinion Column

Russian ban a step IOC had to take

By Josh Aldrich, Camrose Canadian

This is the type of international fiasco that is hard not to cheer for. 

 

On Tuesday the International Olympic Committee voted to ban Russia from competing at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. The ban is due to Russia’s systemic manipulation of the anti-doping system as well as the anti-doping laboratory at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic Games. 

They are going to allow clean Russian athletes to compete under a neutral name and Olympic logo, but it is the strongest message the IOC has ever sent when it comes to doping. 

For the country — which continues to deny the existence of a state-sponsored doping program despite evidence to the contrary — this is as big a blow as it gets. The ruling builds on the ban of their track and field program from the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janero. 

Russia is rivalled by only the U.S. when it comes to bravado and unmitigated patriotism. They build their country’s image up by purporting themselves to be the best at everything. President Vladimir Putin is known for his own athletic exploits and shirtless photo ops while doing manly things. In this case, the emperor really does not have any clothes. 

Putin himself has previously said it would be humiliating for Russia to compete without national symbols. 

Russia, this is your humbling. 

A response will be discussed in the coming weeks regarding what Russian athletes and sporting bodies will do, including the potential for a boycott, though initially there does not seem to be much appetite for this. Former NHLer Ilya Kovalchuk told the Associated Press that “refusing means giving in.” 

Athletes who are 100 per cent clean are not being punished by the IOC and a boycott would effectively mean their own country is punishing them. Though at this point a clean Russian athlete is like a baseball player from the late 1990s and early 2000s where everyone is under suspicion of juicing. 

As of Monday, there have been 25 Russian athletes disqualified from the 2014 Sochi Olympics and banned for life, leading to the stripping of 11 medals. That’s just one Olympic Game. 

This ban also comes after a failed bid by Russia to host the 2028 Summer Games, which went to Los Angeles. They are fully invested in the Olympic movement 

It is a positive development for the IOC to take such a hard stand against one of their biggest partners, but it will be interesting to gauge the push back. 

The Olympics have a long, complicated history with drugs, as do most sports. There has been long debate about what constitutes a performance enhancing drug, where even many over the counter medications can result in a failed test. 

At the heart of the issue is the desire to see everyone put on the same footing. Realistically this will never be a goal that can be met as countries prioritize athletic development differently than their neighbours. There is also the ideal that the athletes are setting examples for the kids watching at home and that taking steroids are bad. 

I want to believe all of that, I really do. 

The cynical side of me, however, knows this is all about the Benjamins. With billions of dollars at stake in host city infrastructure, advertising and sponsorship deals set to line the bank account of the IOC, they have no choice but to take a hardline. McDonalds and Coca-cola do not want to have an attachment with an organization that openly turns a blind eye to drugs. It is a poison pill that no company wants to swallow, and I can’t blame them. 

The IOC, with their own dark history of scandals and issues of greed, corruption and unrealistic expectations of host cities, did the only sensible thing they could do. 

In the end, it does not really matter why the ruling happened, a message was sent that this kind of doping will not be permitted and a bar has been set on the level of penalty. 

This is one Olympic victory that we can all celebrate. 

jaldrich@postmedia.com



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