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Bruce Arthur: Tokyo Olympics make clear Russia won in wake of state-sponsored doping scandal — and the IOC let them off the hook

Bruce Arthur: Tokyo Olympics make clear Russia won in wake of state-sponsored doping scandal — and the IOC let them off the hook
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“Of course they won,” she says, to a question about Russia and the International Olympic Committee. “It’s not even a question, in a way.”

Russia is indeed winning, in more ways than one. By Thursday night Russians had won gold in the men’s and women’s team gymnastics events, in the men’s 100-metre backstroke, in two different categories of taekwondo, and one each in shooting and fencing. Seems like a team that’s good in a fight.

“They did win, of course,” says Rob Koehler, a former WADA vice-president and the current director-general of the advocacy group Global Athlete. “They totally won. It’s undermined the whole anti-doping system. It’s undermined the credibility of WADA, and to some degree the IOC, and the Court of Arbitration of Sport. It’s just made a mockery of the entire system.”

“If the anti-doping that happened in Sochi didn’t warrant the highest level of sanctions, we’ll never have any level of sanctions that will deter this type of behaviour,” says Koehler.

Koehler and Scott were two of the few bulwarks truly fighting for clean sport from the inside, and both have landed outside the walls. As did IOC member Adam Pengilly of Britain, who was defenestrated post-haste after a convenient altercation with a security guard in Pyeongchang. Dick Pound, the Canadian IOC member who founded WADA and had his name on the report, has been generally sanguine about Russia since his fiery protest at the 2018 Games.

The details were turned into a complicated, long-form hell of committees and complications by the IOC: just know that after the 2015 bombshells , WADA was exactly compliant enough about Russia’s non-compliance that the CAS could overturn or water down the serious punishments, even when the IOC puffed up and pretended Russia would be suspended. CAS, by the way, is even more controlled than WADA; it’s president is Australian IOC power broker John Coates.

So, a four-year ban turned into a two-year ban turned into wearing a false moustache at these Games, essentially. They’re the Russians. As Alena Tiron, the captain of the Russian women’s rugby team, told the Russian state news agency, “It’s insulting ... but as they say, if the flag is not allowed, we ourselves will be the flag. We know which country we stand for.”

Everybody knows, even without their flag and their anthem, and not just because everyone keeps calling them the Russian Olympic Committee. Track and field’s governing body has kept Russia out; the Paralympics did for a time. But the evasion everywhere else has been constant. In Pyeongchang the Russians wore a slightly different red, but .

The IOC tried to give Russia its flag and colours back for the closing ceremony, but some countries pushed back. The IOC settled for doing it three days later .

It’s been so transparent that it feels silly, but .

“I honestly don’t know where it goes from here,” says Scott, sounding weary. “I think (independent athlete groups) are the only hope left in anti-doping, quite honestly. WADA has proven to be a complete takeover by the IOC, international federations have no interest, let’s be honest. At one point I thought sponsors might be the answer, but they have clearly bought into the dream. And I think this would impair that vision of their investment. So yeah, I think it’s the independent athlete movement.”

It’s not even about the Russian athletes, at the end of the day; they don’t have as much control as it looks, with a country that uses them as pawns. I am reminded of what a Russian-born correspondent told me on the last Saturday night of the Sochi Olympics, over a couple deeply felt beers: I don’t cheer for Russia. I cheer for Russians.

But if this Olympics is remembered for a lot of things, one should be this: The International Olympic Committee moved bureaucratic heaven and brutish earth to make sure that a country that perverted an entire Games and more than that was not truly punished, because that country pays lots of bills. And that’s why you see what you see here.
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