Russia unveiled its uniforms for the upcoming Winter Olympics in South Korea last week, a gesture of “What, me worry?” confidence ahead of Tuesday’s momentous decision by the International Olympic Committee on whether to ban the nation from competition in Pyeongchang because of state-orchestrated doping. Well, the verdict’s in. Russia can start looking for the nearest Goodwill bin.
The IOC has banned Russia from the Games. Russian athletes deemed untainted by doping will be allowed to compete, but only under a neutral flag, not a Russian one. They won’t wear their spiffy new uniforms, instead relegated to outfits branded with the acronym “OAR,” Olympic Athlete from Russia. If they win a medal, they’ll hear the Olympic anthem, not Russia’s. Russia’s medal count at Pyeongchang can already be put into the record books: zero.
It’s a punishment unprecedented in the history of the Olympics, and one that IOC officials said fits the unprecedented scale of Russia’s cheating. It’s also the right move. The ruling strives to preserve the integrity of the Olympic movement, an ideal that for years has been battered by bribery scandals, runaway commercialization, and, of course, doping. Many times we’ve called upon the IOC to get tough with Russia, and this ruling has the right amount of hurt to it.
The impetus for the IOC’s ruling Tuesday was the avalanche of evidence that Russian athletes benefited from a state-engineered doping program at the Winter Games that Russia hosted in Sochi in 2014. The cheating methodology had a whiff of le Carre. Russian athletes were given steroids stirred into either Chivas or vermouth. Russian intelligence agents helped swap out tainted urine samples with clean urine samples obtained from the athletes months earlier. The urine sample exchanges were done at night at an Olympic testing laboratory, through a small cutout in the wall.
Russia at first denied everything, then tried to blame it all on Grigory Rodchenkov, the Russian anti-doping director who carried out the doping program at the behest of his bosses. Before the Summer Games in Rio, he blew the whistle on what happened and fled for the U.S. Since then, investigators have confirmed the allegations. A handwritten journal kept by Rodchenkov provided even more proof, the New York Times reported, and showed that the man behind the scheme was Russia’s sports minister at the time, Vitaly Mutko.
The IOC had banned Mutko from the Games in Rio, and has since called the diary “significant evidence.” Part of the IOC’s ruling bans Mutko from the Olympics for life. How did the Kremlin handle Mutko after Rio? It made him deputy prime minister.
The IOC’s decision Tuesday represents the most forceful message yet that it won’t tolerate Russia’s reliance on cheating to win. The Olympics’ governing body could have taken one step further and banned all athletes with a Russian address, but leaving room for Russians who don’t cheat is fair and appropriate. Excising Russia’s national identity from the upcoming Olympics has sizable heft as a message to Moscow.
FROM AN EDITORIAL IN THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE