The International Olympic Committee (IOC) affirmed a ban preventing Russian track and field athletes from competing in the upcoming 2016 Rio Olympics and also discussed ways in which this ban may be strengthened and loosened.
Last Friday, the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) announced the ban as the result of the Russian Athletic Federation promoting widespread doping in its athletes. While Russian officials protested the ban and claimed that it was discrimination against the Russian people, the IOC stated that it agreed with the ban in light of Russia’s extensive offensives.
While Russia’s other athletic teams are currently allowed to compete, the World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada) could recommend in a few weeks that Russia be banned entirely. This is especially relevant in light of the discovery that Russian tennis star Maria Sharapova had tested positive for melatonin in March, which resulted in a two-year ban.
Extensive Russian Cheating
A collective ban against Russian athletes is an extreme step, and the Russian people view this development as further anti-Western bias. Even some Western journalists have argued that this collective ban punishes innocent Russian athletes who never took any drugs, and that only Russian athletes who have been proven guilty should be banned.
But evidence shows that doping has become pervasive throughout the entire Russian athletic system, bringing up memories of the worst excesses of how East German Olympiads would abuse steroids. The first news of the Russian doping scandal appeared in November, when an independent report commissioned by Wada confirmed the doping problem.
Given that this spread of doping was encouraged not by some rogue athletes but by the Russian state, ban advocates have argued that Russia itself should face responsibility for what has happened.
A Way Back In
While the IOC and the IAAF have made it clear that the level of doping within the Russian athletic system is unacceptable, Russian track and field athletes may be able to compete under certain circumstances.
NPR noted that according to Rune Andersen, head of an IAAF task force on doping, Russian athletes can compete if they “can clearly and convincingly show that they are not tainted by the Russian system because they have been outside the country or subject to other strong anti-doping systems.”
However, few Russian athletes will meet those criteria, and it is clear that the vast majority of track and field athletes, some of whom may be innocent of doping, may be banned from Rio.
Effects On The Putin Regime
The revelations of the doping scandal are to some degree an embarrassment to the Putin regime. Vladimir Putin has constantly portrayed himself as a macho strongman who will revitalize Russia, and emphasizing Russia’s competitiveness in the Olympics has been a key part of his strategy. In the 2012 Sochi Winter Olympics, Russia finished with the most medals (33) and the most gold medals (13).
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