Russia deserves every bit of the fiery condemnation and shame coming its way at the next two Olympic Games.
So, too, the man who let it get this far. And I don’t mean Vladimir Putin.
International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach has enabled Russia and its state-sponsored doping system at every turn, letting Putin and his army of chemists and mouse-hole architects know they had nothing to fear. Bach saw that even the slightest of penalties – and make no mistake, this latest “ban” of Russia is about as strong as a vodka drink that’s three-quarters water – would be toothless, and lifted them the second he could.
Russia has been making a mockery of the very foundation of the Olympics for more than a decade now, and Bach might as well be the lookout at the door of the lab. Rather than standing up for clean athletes, who are begging for penalties that might actually serve as a deterrent to Russia and other bad actors, Bach sold out the Olympic ideals for a $51 billion party in Sochi.
“Russia has claimed victory today and, for them and their ability to corrupt global sport, deceive the world and cheat the global anti-doping system, they are right,” U.S. Anti-Doping Agency CEO Travis Tygart said in a statement dripping with fury and frustration.
The Court of Arbitration for Sport on Thursday upheld Russia’s ban from the Olympics and other major international events as punishment for tampering with drug-testing data. But it cut the punishment in half, to two years.
International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach, center-left, and Russian President Vladimir Putin during the opening ceremony for the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games. (Photo: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports)
Russia won’t be able to have its flag or anthem at the Tokyo or Beijing Games, but don’t expect anyone to notice their absence. Russia’s athletes can still compete together as a “neutral” team, have Russia on their uniforms and wear the colors of the Russian flag.
They won’t have to prove they’re clean, either, with CAS saying only those athletes currently serving a doping suspension will be ineligible for Tokyo or Beijing.
“It is a victory for Russia,” said Mikhail Bukhanov, acting CEO of the Russian anti-doping agency.
Just as Bach wants it.
Bach has defended his light treatment of Russia by saying that every country has drug cheats, and that is true. It’s a frailty of human nature that there will always be people who will try to game the system, prizing the end result above all else. The United States is not faultless, either, and people like Lance Armstrong and Marion Jones should forever be an embarrassment.
But there is a vast difference between individuals who cheat, and the sophisticated doping program that was both imagined and implemented by the Russian state. This was not some rogue operation, either. This was a coordinated effort, sanctioned at the highest levels, to ensure Russia would win the medal count at the Sochi Olympics in 2014.
Even after the Russians were busted and branded with scarlet letters at the Pyeongchang Olympics, they continued to thumb their noses at anti-doping efforts. They blew deadlines to turn over data that would monitor their compliance. When the World Anti-Doping Agency finally did get the data, it found it had been “intentionally altered.”
In other words, they were cheating. Still.
Fair competition and a level playing field are supposed to be sacrosanct in sports, the Olympics in particular. If not, what is the point? As soon as Bach and the IOC learned that Russia was subverting that, they should have taken the strongest stance possible.
It would have sent an unmistakable message to Putin and his henchmen, as well as serving as a warning to other countries with the means and motivation for their own nefarious schemes. It also would have made a strong statement to the many athletes who have resisted the temptation to dope, assuring them that their integrity was worth it.
Instead, Bach has made it clear time and again that he values the IOC’s relationship with Russia more than he does clean competition or the wishes of the athletes.
He waved off WADA’s recommendation that Russia be banned from the Rio de Janeiro Games in 2016. He allowed a team of “Olympic Athletes from Russia” to compete in Pyeongchang even after the IOC’s investigation found “unprecedented systemic manipulation” of anti-doping efforts.
He couldn’t even be bothered to wait until after those Winter Games were over before announcing that Russia’s ban would be lifted. This despite two Russian athletes testing positive while they were in Pyeongchang!
“I don’t think, quite frankly, that these Olympic Winter Games have been tainted by the Russian affair because we had no Russian team here,” Bach said at the time, trying to defend himself. “This was a clear message.”
It sure was.
When athletes are caught doping, there are consequences. When it’s Russia, Bach has made sure there are only concessions.
Follow USA TODAY Sports columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.
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