By Jasmine Dhillon – Thompson Rivers University JD Student
An unprecedented sanction in Olympic movement has befallen. The International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) voted 22-1 in favour of suspending the Russian Athletics Federation for alleged ‘state-sponsored doping’. The 323-page WADA Independent Commission report outlined several accusations, which include the Russian doping lab destroying more than 1400 blood and urine samples, and taking money to cover up positive tests.
According to Travis Tygart, CEO of US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), it’s the greatest investigation in the history of the World Anti-Doping Agency, which formed in 1999. He stated to BBC Sport, “are we going to end up regulating ourselves to be a toothless bureaucracy or are we going to roll up our sleeves and get into the field of play and win this fight for clean athletes? The eyes of the clean athletes are watching.”
Tygart’s concern is for the athletes who may not get the chance they deserve to compete in the 2016 Olympic Games in Brazil. “All my victories are honest, ‘clean’ and deserved,” says Yelena Isinbayeva, the world-record holder in the women’s pole vault and a two-time Olympic champion. “I have always followed and am following all the anti-doping rules precisely. To ban innocent and not connected to that doping scandal athletes from competing in international events and Olympic Games in Rio is not fair.” Athletes like Yelena and dedicated fans across the nation are hopeful that the situation will be resolved in time to see Russia compete in Rio.
But why has the world focused its eyes on Russia alone? Several other countries were found to be ‘non-compliant’ of the WADA code and are also currently suspended from international competition. Argentina, Ukraine and Bolivia were all found to be using non-accredited laboratories and Andorra and Israel lacked having correct rules in place.
Perhaps it’s because Russia is and has always been a major player in sport. Or maybe, to paraphrase Russian President Vladimir Putin, it’s America’s attempt to subdue Russia. The main reason however is due to a German documentary titled “Top-secret Doping: How Russia makes its Winners” that was made public last year. It laid out the institutionalized nature of doping in the country compelling WADA to investigate.
Russia’s Olympic committee pledged to collaborate with IOC, WADA and other national Olympic committees in the drive to “eradicate doping.” Russia’s Sports Minister, Vitaly Mutko said Russian athletics will cooperate in “any way” to prove it’s clean. He is determined to comply with the IAAF rules and states, “we are ready to rebuild our whole anti-doping system.” IOC President Thomas Bach said Russia’s track and field athletes would be eligible for the Olympics only if the country falls into line with all global anti-doping rules and the reforms are verifiable. “The goal has to be Russia being compliant again with all the international anti-doping regulations. That is the important thing, so that we have an even playing field for all the athletes.” Although the IAAF and IOC have cracked down on Russia specifically, who is to say athletes from other countries aren’t doping? The hopes for an even playing field may remain uneven and ironically enough pose a disadvantage to Russian athletes.
If the suspension is not lifted in time for Brazil, there is still hope for clean athletes to participate under the Olympic flag as opposed to the Russian flag. This was an option provided to Indian athletes in last year’s Winter Olympics after their national Olympic committee was suspended for government interference.
Sadly, Bach quashes this hope by stating, “This is mere speculation. I cannot see this situation at the moment.” Even then, would an athlete really want to participate alone? Is the same sensation to win without your country’s flag wrapped warmly around your shoulders? The Olympic Games are unlike any other sporting event. It’s a patriotic phenomenon. In a quest to win an Olympic medal, to fulfill the hopes and dreams of a nation, athletes are put under tremendous pressure to perform, which often leads to succumbing to the use of performing enhancing drugs. In a regime such as Russia, I can only imagine the potential consequences of failing to meet these aspirations.