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Armour: IOC Decision on Russia Shows its Stance on Doping is a Farce

A fan holding the Russian flag at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. Evidence has confirmed a Russian whistle-blower’s claims of government-ordered cheating. Photo: David J. Phillip/Associated Press

Unleash the chemists and stockpile the urine, because the International Olympic Committee really doesn’t give a damn about doping.

That’s the only way to see its decision Sunday to lift the Russian ban as soon as the party winds down at the Pyeongchang Olympics. Oh, the Russian athletes – sorry, the Olympic Athletes from Russia – still couldn’t have their flag at the closing ceremony, a hardship the world probably won’t even notice.

By the end of the week, however, Russia is likely to be back in the IOC’s good graces, and it’ll be as if the doping crisis that undermined the very foundation of the Olympic movement never even happened.

“What we have to do there is to make the net as tight as possible … and to see that the sanctions have a deterrent effect,” IOC President Thomas Bach said Sunday afternoon. “A positive test does not put the whole system of elite sport into question, but shows … the determination of different organizations to fight against doping, regardless of the country or the nationality.”

Whatever helps you sleep at night, Mr. President.

There have been four doping cases at the Pyeongchang Olympics so far, and two were by athletes on the supposedly squeaky clean OAR team. One resulted in Norway getting the bronze in mixed curling during the medals ceremony Saturday night, in what must be a record for medal reallocation. The other was by a bobsledder who earlier this month appeared in a video wearing a sweatshirt with “I don’t do doping” emblazoned on it.

A Russian official tried to distance the team from the violations, blaming them on a “lack of cultural education.” But if those positive tests weren’t a middle finger to the IOC and all the athletes out there who resist the temptation to cheat, I don’t know what is.

There are drug cheats in every country, as Bach pointed out Sunday, and there always will be. It’s a failing of human nature and, as Lance Armstrong, Floyd Landis and Marion Jones showed, the United States is hardly immune.

But there’s a huge difference between a few rogue athletes and a program imagined and implemented by the state.

Russia made a mockery of the Olympics with a sophisticated doping program that ensured it would win the medal count at its Sochi Games in 2014. Tainted samples disappeared through a mouse hole in the official anti-doping laboratory, handed off to state security agents who swapped them out for clean urine collected before the Games.

And the cheating wasn’t limited to Sochi.

Dating back to the 2008 Beijing Games, 39 Russian athletes have tested positive for banned substances, resulting in 32 medals being stripped.

Taking away Russia’s flag and anthem and making its athletes participate under a scarlet OAR was supposed to scare the Russians straight. Or at least shame them effectively enough so that they – and other countries – wouldn’t think of doing it ever again.

But the “punishment” was always a farce, and the quickness with which the IOC is willing to turn the page is proof. Russia is free to continue gaming the system, and the only one to pay the price are clean athletes.

Bach claims that lifting the suspension once all doping tests from the Games are completed is only fair. That it’s the same treatment given to athletes from Germany or Japan or the United States.

But Russia hasn’t earned the right to be treated like everyone else. Not yet, anyway. When two of its athletes test positive at a Games where their every move is being watched, it’s a sign Russia has neither learned its lesson nor cares to.

“They’re clearly still willing to push the limits and break the rules and cheat,” American biathlete Lowell Bailey said after the second Russian tested positive. “That’s not part of the Olympics and that’s not part of international sport. That’s not part of the WADA code which every athlete signs, which every international federation is supposed to abide by, and until that changes, we’re going to be seeing the same thing.

“If we don’t have meaningful deterrence that makes sure that national Olympic committees are dissuaded from cheating, from doping, if we don’t install those deterrents, we’re going to be seeing this in the next Olympics and the next Olympics because there’s just not enough of a reason for Russia to not cheat,” Bailey said. “So they’re going to continue to cheat until something comes down that’s strong enough punishment that’s, like, ‘OK, enough is enough.’”

To emphasize the point, American and Czech biathletes have already said they will boycott next month’s World Cup in Tyumen, Russia. Canadian and Swedish athletes also have expressed their concerns.

The Olympics are supposed to be about the athletes, and they are begging for clean sport. If only the IOC cared half as much.

If only the IOC cared at all.

By Nancy Armour

This article was republished with permission from the original author and 2015 Ronald Reagan Media Award recipient, Nancy Armour, and the original publisher, USA Today. Follow columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.


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