This year, the 2018 Winter Olympics are scheduled to take place in Pyeongchang, South Korea. As usual, countries from around the world will compete for gold and glory. Lifetimes of rigorous training build up to this event; imagine how many hours of work are sacrificed by every competitor. Now imagine if all that work and dedication was all for nothing thanks to a truly unjust ruling. This is how many Russian athletes feel today.
On Dec. 5 of last year, the I.O.C. (International Olympic Committee) announced that Russia would be excluded from the upcoming Olympic games due to extensive steroid and performance enhancing drug use backed by the government. As a result, all government officials including Vitaly Mutko, former sports minister of Russia, will be banned along with many athletes caught or suspected of using performance enhancing drugs.
This may seem reasonable. If a competitor breaks the rules, they should be banned. If a government helps competitors break the rules, they should also be banned. The crucial detail people are forgetting that changes everything is that the doping was supported by Russia’s government. Some competitors are likely to have been coerced into cheating by the government in order to win for the country.
When carefully considered, this theory makes sense. The phrase “state-backed” doesn’t just mean that the government wanted athletes to dope, they helped them. During the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, the Russian Sports Ministry recruited a group to hide Russian drug use from the I.O.C. via covering up positive urine samples. They were later caught. If the Russian government would go as far as to make a conspiracy this serious, who’s to say they wouldn’t force athletes to break rules too.
In addition to vague and uncertain circumstances surrounding the scandal’s source, I would also like to question why some Russians are suffering from an incompetent I.O.C. What I mean to argue is that if the I.O.C. had done a better job preventing drug usage and cover-ups, then the problem wouldn’t even exist.
During the changing of urine samples in the 2014 Sochi Winter Games, Russia was able to hide steroid use because the I.O.C. made it possible to. Russia shouldn’t be the only one facing consequences for the doping. If the I.O.C. is ultimately responsible for banning nations from the Olympics, they are also responsible if they allowed tampering with medical tests to take place.
In the aftermath of this government and I.O.C. impropriety, not all is lost for Russian athletes. While many will be banned from the games, certain Russian athletes will be invited to the Winter Olympics under the title of “Olympic athletes from Russia.” As of Jan. 27, 169 out of 389 Russian athletes who applied to participate in the games have been accepted, and on Feb. 1, 28 more athletes were cleared for drug charges but have not received an invitation to the 2018 games. The Russian flag even has a chance to be honored in the closing ceremony of the Olympics provided Russia doesn’t make a fuss about the situation.
Looking towards the future of international sports competition, hopefully nothing so unfair ever befalls another group of athletes such as the Russians, for it’s not known in 100% certainty whether the scandal was a result of personal immorality or government intimidation. The I.O.C. should also face consequences or at least reform to prevent future medical record tampering. Athletes should not be blamed by default. All those are innocent until proven guilty, and someone who was forced to break a rule shouldn’t be considered guilty.
Caden Robertson, Staff Reporter