The IOC did better (this time)
|The Russian flag won't be flying in South Korea this February.|
This afternoon, IOC President Thomas Bach announced that the Russian Olympic Committee would be banned from competing in PyeongChang, South Korea when the XXIII Winter Olympic Games get underway in February. The Russians have been under intense scrutiny following widespread doping allegations throughout the organization surrounding the 2014 Games the country hosted in Sochi. Some athletes will still be allowed to participate, provided they can pass a rigorous and thorough examination.
The "Olympic Athletes from Russia" who are admitted will compete under the Olympic flag will certainly draw plenty of attention, but it'll be the athletes missing from the games who will be the primary talking points in the lead-up to and throughout the Olympics. Among the highest-profile sports hit by the verdict will be ice hockey.
The NHL announced several months ago that it would not release its players and put a three-week hiatus in the middle of its season, and now the KHL will follow suit, albeit for different reasons entirely. League president Dmitry Chernyshenko stated he would protest any decision barring Russian athletes by withholding his players from the tournament, further sapping the talent pool that will be available for multiple national team rosters.
The investigation was sparked over two years ago, when the World Anti-Doping Agency unearthed a major corruption scam run by the Russian sporting federations. Leading up to the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janiero, WADA strongly recommended sweeping bans for all Russian athletes, but the IOC eventually elected to leave the decision up to each federation as to whether or not they should partake. After all was said and done, 271 athletes wound up representing Russia in Brazil.
Doping and the use of performance-enhancing drugs is nothing new to the Olympics, especially when the Russians are involved. In August, 2016, the New York Times got hold of several documents from Dr. Sergei Portugalov to the Soviet Union's track and field team, pleading with them to inject their athletes with anabolic steroids in addition to the oral tablets they had already been taking. The instructions were written in 1983, before the USSR boycotted the United States-hosted Olympics in Los Angeles.
The Russians have been at this game so long, they managed to find loopholes and strategies to circumvent the system completely, and in simply astonishing ways. They've had decades to come up with creative ways to make the system irrelevant, but the more they've been able to do so, the worse off they are as the truth is revealed.
Two weeks ago, two prominent Russian athletes – bobsledder Alexander Zubkov and speedskater Olga Fatkulina – were among several dozen who had their medals stripped, further diminishing the national medal count that wound up leading the 2014 Games. Both also received lifetime bans from future Olympics. It was an exceptionally heavy blow to Zubkov, who retired from competition and is now the head of the Russian Bobsleigh Federation.
The IOC's dropping of the metaphorical hammer is rightly deserved for a country that prides itself on athletic prowess but finds it through unethical means. However, it should have come sooner and swifter, and perhaps even harder. WADA had been investigating incidents dating all the way past the 2012 London Olympics and spanning several other international sporting events and tournaments as well. Their findings named over 1,000 Russian athletes who had been known to dope, but the IOC shifted responsibility for the Rio decision to other parties, tainting yet another Olympic Games.
It's no secret that coaches, administrators, athletes, and officials all want to make sure their affiliated parties have the best competitive advantages in the Olympics. Many countries have touted their fair share of disgraces athletes in nearly every sport imaginable. Marion Jones, Ben Johnson, Jiang Yuyan, Yang Yilin, He Kexin, and many, many more have all been stripped of medals and faced punishments for their various forms of cheating. But the scale to which Russia does it and has done it is astronomically higher than any other nation on earth. That's what makes this judgment so overdue.