Russia Banned From Olympics: What Next For The Country’s Athletes?

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.

[Photo By Adam Pretty/Getty Images] [Photo by Adam Pretty/Getty Images]According to the report, officials from the FSB, Russia’s state security agency, would regularly visit the Moscow Anti-Drug Laboratory and pose as staff officials. Samples were regularly destroyed, bribery and extortion were rampant, and athletes were given cocktails of banned drugs mixed in alcohol. The Telegraph reported that out of the 23 athletes accused of doping in the 2012 Olympic Games, eight were Russian. Out of the 31 athletes accused of doping in 2008, 14 were Russian.

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).

[Photo By Hannah Peters/Getty Images] [Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images]However, the revelations of mass state corruption in the Olympics will likely not have much of an effect. The Russian people are ready to view the doping scandal as another Western plot to discredit Russia, even while the Russian Ministry of Sport admitted Tuesday that it would accept additional testing on Russian athletes and support a zero tolerance approach to doping.

[Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images]