The Chicago Tribune (TNS)
The International Olympic Committee has banned Russia from the Winter Games. Russian athletes deemed untainted by doping will be allowed to compete, but only under a neutral flag, not a Russian one. They won’t wear their spiffy new uniforms, instead relegated to outfits branded with the acronym “OAR,” Olympic Athlete from Russia. If they win a medal, they’ll hear the Olympic anthem, not Russia’s. Russia’s medal count at Pyeongchang can already be put into the record books: zero.
It’s a punishment unprecedented in the history of the Olympics, and one that IOC officials said fits the unprecedented scale of Russia’s cheating. It’s also the right move. The ruling strives to preserve the integrity of the Olympic movement, an ideal that for years has been battered by bribery scandals, runaway commercialization, and of course, doping. Many times we’ve called upon the IOC to get tough with Russia, and this ruling has the right amount of hurt to it.
The impetus for the IOC’s ruling was the avalanche of evidence that Russian athletes benefited from a state-engineered doping program at the Winter Games that Russia hosted in Sochi in 2014. Russian athletes were given steroids stirred into either Chivas or vermouth. Russian intelligence agents helped swap out tainted urine samples with clean urine samples obtained from the athletes months earlier. The urine sample exchanges were done at night at an Olympic testing laboratory, through a small cut-out in the wall.
The ruling gave the IOC a chance at redemption after its handling of the doping allegations against Russia ahead of the Rio Games. Even then, the evidence was rock-solid, but the committee, led by President Thomas Bach, left it up to the individual sports federations to decide whether to let Russian athletes compete in their events. Many athletes were forced to stay home, but others indeed did compete. Critics saw it as a cop-out — and it was.
The IOC’s decision represents the most forceful message yet that it won’t tolerate Russia’s reliance on cheating to win. The Olympics’ governing body could have taken one step further and banned all athletes with a Russian address, but leaving room for Russians who don’t cheat is fair and appropriate. Excising Russia’s national identity from the upcoming Olympics has sizable heft as a message to Moscow.
Banning Russia from the Olympics was necessary for the sake of the legions of other athletes who compete with brawn, brains, speed and grit — and without any kind of pharmacological edge. It also draws a line in the sand for any other country that embarks on a state-sponsored scheme to skirt the rules. The spirit of the Olympics is at stake. If the spectacle is to survive, its overseers need to reassure the world that cheating will not be tolerated, period, and that the best place for cheaters at the Olympic Games is on the outside, looking in.