Student writer Chris Lierly covers the developments in the Russian doping scandal and how it fits into world politics.
Back in September, possibly one of the most consequential decisions in world sports history was made. Russia’s Olympic team, after an ongoing saga stretching back to 2015, was reinstated after a vote was held by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). WADA agreed to allow RUSADA, Russia’s own anti-doping agency, to begin testing and monitoring Russian athletes again after a three-year ban. In exchange, the Russians were basically put on probation, but the uncovering of a years’ long plan to help their chances at the Olympics and the aftermath read like a Cold-War spy novel.
Grigory Rodchenkov, whose name will forever be linked to the biggest scandal in sports history, provided much of the evidence that gave the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) the justification to partially ban the Russian team from multiple competitions in the last three years. Rodchenkov headed a drug testing lab for Rusada that has since been labeled “the heart of Russian doping” and was shut down in 2015 by WADA after reports began to leak. Rodchenkov fled to the United States after two of the former heads of RUSADA turned up dead. Once there, with the help of filmmaker Bryan Fogel, Rodchenkov began giving information to the New York Times that would eventually lead to the McLaren Report.
The McLaren Report consisted of 97 pages and accused the Russian government of using RUSADA to run a state-sponsored system of giving their own athletes banned substances and providing WADA with clean samples for testing. The fallout was catastrophic. Russia was banned from the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang and multiple international competitions since. The final version of the report claimed that over 1,000 athletes in total were involved and that Russia used it in 30 different sports.
After all of this, WADA reinstated RUSADA without any guarantees from the Russian Sports Minister that Russia would accept the results of the McLaren Report or provide WADA with oversight authority into RUSADA’s activities.
Rodchenkov issued a dire warning, saying that “WADA must not fall prey to manipulation and false assertions from the ministry, the same arm of the Kremlin that facilitated the doping program and asserted false compliance.” The former scientist fears that allowing Russia to reenter the world sports community can only hurt the integrity of WADA and IAAF.
If Russia complied with every WADA and IAAF request, that would still not be enough reason to accept the Russians back into the world sports community. Russia used a state-sponsored cheating system to rob the world of a fair Olympics, but they’ve also done much worse.
Right after the Sochi Olympics, where Russia won 29 medals, Vladimir Putin ordered the Russian military to invade part of Ukraine. In 2016, Russia embarked on a campaign of disinformation to support right-wing radicals in multiple Western elections. In a more recent case, Russian agents made multiple attacks with nerve gas in the British city of Salisbury. Russia’s leading role in the repeated gassing of Syrian civilians alone should disqualify them from any international competition.
Just like their systemic cheating in multiple Olympics, Russian atrocities on the political stage have been denied by Kremlin officials, including Putin himself. When dealing with watchdog organizations for both genocide and sports cheating, Russia usually just claims that Western countries do the same thing.
This display of cognitive dissonance, which allows Russian leaders to see no fault in their egregious actions, could have given WADA the justification for banning Russia until they are willing to comply to the harshest of terms. WADA cannot hold Russia accountable for crimes committed on the world stage. But with knowledge of them, WADA should have held Russia to an extremely harsh standard in the one area where they have jurisdiction.