Perhaps the most galling aspect of Russian cheating in past Olympics was the Kremlin’s smirky insistence that it had done nothing wrong. Steroid-laced cocktails behind closed doors, doped-up Russian athletes pilfering Olympic glory ... and Potemkin denials at the lectern.
Acknowledgment of guilt was supposed to be a condition for Russia’s reinstatement into the international sports community. Russia’s anti-doping agency, deemed by investigators to be a key cog in the cheating, could not resume operations until Russia came clean about its state-sponsored doping program.
Last week, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) lifted a ban it imposed on the Russian anti-doping agency in November 2015. That clears the way for the agency to test again, for Russian athletes to compete under their own flag and for Russia to begin hosting international sports events. Chemists, on your mark!
The international sports community’s reputation has been battered by years of performance-enhancing-drug scandals. WADA’s decision will only heighten doubt around the world about the fairness and integrity of competitions, and the resolve of sports officials to keep cheating out of sport.
Russia’s reliance on systematic doping to win medals had the oily feel of East Germany’s exploits in the 1970s, when the Soviet satellite’s anything-goes thirst for victory included female swimmers as young as 11 being fed steroids.
Russia’s methodology entailed athletes at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi getting steroids stirred into either Chivas or vermouth. The Russian anti-doping agency carried out the effort, with the help of Russian intelligence agents who swapped out tainted urine samples with clean samples obtained from athletes months earlier. The dead-of-night exchanges were done at an Olympic testing laboratory, through a small cutout in the wall.
The International Olympic Committee left it to individual sports federations to decide whether Russian athletes could compete at the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro. As a result, some athletes went, some had to stay home. Earlier this year at the Winter Games in South Korea, the Russian flag and anthem were banned, but Russian athletes could compete as “Olympic Athletes from Russia” if they were deemed clean.
Until this week, WADA had conditioned Russia’s reinstatement on the government admitting that it oversaw a state-sponsored doping scheme. In the end, WADA settled for Russia’s assurance that it would provide officials access to computer records that show which athletes cheated.
Sports officials hoping for earnest reform feel cheated, not just by Russia but by WADA. The New York Times quoted Travis Tygart, chief executive of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, as calling WADA’s decision “a devastating blow to the world’s clean athletes.”
It’s also a devastating blow to spectators around the world who watch the Olympics because of its core ideal: Faster, Higher, Stronger — achieved not by taking drugs but through years of grit, sweat and sacrifice.
FROM AN EDITORIAL IN THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE