A couple of days back, the alleged mastermind behind Russia’s state-sponsored doping program repeated the message his administration has been hawking for a couple of decades.
“I’m pleased to go to any court, to any disciplinary committee, to anybody and I’ll be delighted to discuss how there’s never been and will not be any state programs related to doping in this country,” Vitaly Mutko, Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister, told The New York Times. “We don’t need that.”
After interminably delaying its response, the International Olympic Committee decided on Tuesday what everybody already knew — that Mr. Mutko is lying.
The consequent punishment is an unprecedented exercise in benign Stalinism. Russia will be airbrushed in the film at the Winter Olympics in South Korea.
The Russian Olympic Committee is prohibited from Pyeongchang; no Russian officials may attend; no Russian uniforms could be displayed and no Russian anthem is going to be heard.
There is, of course, a catch. Russian athletes can still compete as neutrals should they’ve been vetted as adequately clean. Those competitors will be recorded as an “Olympic Athlete of Russia.”
Additionally, the sanctions could nevertheless be contested at the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
With just nine weeks before the opening ceremonies in South Korea, it is not clear what that process looks like. Theoretically, regardless of the ban, Russians may still stand on podiums.
The Western response to the decision was favorable, but not triumphal.
Canadian Olympic Committee president Tricia Smith: “… [a] positive change for ethical and clean sport …”
Canadian law professor Richard McLaren, author of the essential study on the issue: “I congratulate the IOC for its conclusion …”
U.S. Olympic Committee: “… a strong and principled decision …”
Everyone took pains to not cheer Russia’s collapse because what comes next will examine the value of the Olympic movement. Can Russia take its rebuke in stride, or does it turn this lengthy skirmish to a full-on war?
With that in mind, IOC president Thomas Bach was advocating all to move past this.
It was time to “draw a line under this damaging episode,” Mr. Bach said. He brushed aside the suggestion that Russia should openly admit its guilt.
After the term “boycott” has been increased, Mr. Bach’s hangdog countenance slackened more.
“Primarily, an Olympic boycott hasn’t achieved anything,” Mr. Bach said. “Second, I don’t see any reason there for a boycott from the Russian athletes, since we allow the Russian athletes to engage.”
Therefore, in essence, this ban isn’t actually a ban. It is more of a timeout. The plutocrats who rule Russia stand at the corner, their athletes compete in make-believe uniforms and everybody rejoins the course.
It had been clear from the beginning that the IOC didn’t want it to get even that far. It commissioned report after report into different Russian doping schemes, hoping things would get better or, at least, murkier.
Mr. McLaren said as much a year ago: “I think, probably, lots of individuals wish [his probe and a previous one] had never occurred.”
But the degree of Russian corruption discovered continued to generate the IOC and its doping regime appear ridiculous.
This is a punishment for this crime, instead of the lesser sin of cheating, which is something athletes from pretty much every nation on Earth have been caught doing.
The second, more fraught, step is Russia’s reaction.
When the subject of a ban was first broached before Rio 2016, Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke darkly of a “schism” in the Olympic movement. The inference was clear — kick us out today and we may never return.
At that stage, the IOC still had carrots to disperse. Russia was allowed to compete in Brazil, albeit with various face-saving restrictions. That didn’t make anybody happy.
But having now wielded the stick that the West urged it to swing a couple of decades back, there is no option left which might control Mr. Putin’s behaviour.
Since it wouldn’t be in his character to be seen crawling for crumbs, boycotting Pyeongchang would seem an obvious next move.
Russia’s lack will go some way to undermining the whole operation.
The Winter Olympics is currently a market concern — just 80-odd countries take part (compared with more than 200 in a Summer Games), just a third of these win medals and just a couple of northern European and North American nations dominate.
Russia took almost a fifth of those medals in Sochi. Without its involvement, a boutique event becomes a distinctive house party for the developed world. It is the wealthiest people on Earth high-fiving themselves for a fortnight while everybody else presses up against the window.
Without down-at-the-heels Russia, this whole thing starts to look like the dirtiest word you can throw at anything nowadays: privileged.
This is the Gordian knot that the IOC has tied around itself — be viewed to placate a cheater and a bully; or invite him to run amok and crush your residence.
On Tuesday, it chose the second alternative.
Now we will see whether the Olympic ideals of non-politicization and international amity that the IOC is talking up prove more resilient than the thought of Olympic fair play.
Courtesy: The Globe And Mail