The latest news from the Russian Olympic team is Thursday’s revelation of the name of its flag bearer.
He is Sergei Tetyukhin, a 40-year-old volleyball player appearing in his sixth Olympics, a guy who has contributed to four consecutive medals including a gold in 2012 in London.
With that sort of longevity and those sorts of results, the first impression should be that he is skilled and tough. Maybe not, though.
By carrying the Russian flag in front of his country’s delegation as it marches into Rio de Janeiro’s Maracana Stadium on Friday night, Tetyukhin will ceremonially be the first athlete questioned for steroid use, but he won’t be the last, which is why there shouldn’t even be a Russian flag for him to carry.
Welcome to the fallout from the International Olympic Committee’s decision to wash its hands of the drug-tainted Russian team and refuse to ban the country from Games it will now pollute.
In the wake of revelations of systematic doping throughout the country’s sports culture, the Russian team should not have been allowed anywhere near these Olympics, none of them, not one of the 250 or so athletes who flew to Rio on Thursday in a chartered jet.
Nearly the entire track team has been banned by the sport’s international governing body, but that’s not enough. Various other blatant drug cheats and athletes cited in a World Anti-Doping Agency report have also been banned, but that’s not enough.
The entire Russian team should be absent. The Russian Olympic delegation should be exiled. That Russian flag should be nowhere. It is fair to consider everyone guilty because everyone has been operating under the same system that was exposed this spring by Russian anti-doping official Grigory Rodchenkov in The New York Times and later condemned by the WADA report.
Did you read the stories? Did you chuckle at the audacity of their drug-eluding stunts? Like a bad spy novel, right?
Dozens of Russian athletes at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi were given a cocktail of performance-enhancing drugs mixed with liquor. They then passed the drug tests when officials substituted the dirty urine for clean urine by passing rogue bottles through a hole in a laboratory wall in the dead of night.
The Russians led the medal count that winter, and no Russian athletes were caught, so the plan worked splendidly until Rodchenkov finally sang.
“People are celebrating Olympic champion winners, but we are sitting crazy and replacing their urine,” Rodchenkov told the Los Angeles Times. “Can you imagine how Olympic sport is organized?”
In the wake of that story, WADA conducted its own investigation and discovered a “mind-blowing level of corruption within both Russian sport and government,” according to Travis Tygart, WADA chief executive.
After confirming at least 321 falsified drug reports while dating the cheating scandal back to at least 2011, WADA called for the entire Russian contingent to be bounced from this summer’s Games.
“WADA insists on imposition of the most serious consequences to protect clean athletes from the scourge of doping in sport,” WADA President Craig Reedie said.
As usual, though, the IOC made a soulless and selfish decision, ignoring WADA’s recommendation and instead sided with Vladimir Putin. Instead of an all-encompassing ban, on Sunday the IOC ruled that each individual sport’s federation can make that determination, effectively and shamefully passing the buck to small governing bodies, most of which can’t face the responsibility or ramifications of such action.
Translated, as much as 75 percent of the Russian team will be showing up next week, zero percent of which will have any credibility.
Well, OK, there will be one. Darya Klishina, a Russian long jumper who trains in the United States, has been allowed to compete because she has passed drug tests outside of Russia.
Of course, for her participation as Russia’s only track athlete, Klishina has been called a “traitor” by her country’s media.
In explaining his organization’s spineless stance, Thomas Bach, the disappointing IOC president, said, “Every human being is entitled to individual justice.”
What about justice for the individual human beings who have to compete against the Russians? What about the ones who are doing it right, and losing to someone who is doing it wrong?
In every Olympics, it seems, one or two events are tainted by the idea that one of the medal winners was dirty. This time that shadow will surely appear on many events, every event that includes a medal-winning Russian, the runners-up pointing fingers at the winners, chaos replacing glory, chords of cynicism and mistrust drowning out the medals ceremony, everyone feeling like a loser.
While it might seem unfair to paint the entire Russian team with the same dirty brush, understand the Russian doping scandal isn’t about an individual trainer or isolated sport. It’s about the Kremlin. It’s about orders from the government. It’s about athletes doing the bidding of people who can control their future. To those athletes, perhaps, it’s not cheating, it’s business, it’s survival, and it’s nothing new – witness the East German doping scandal several decades ago.
Beginning with next week’s march by Sergei Tetyukhin, the Russians sadly must be considered guilty until proved innocent. The first test of these Olympics has already been administered by their presence, a test of fairness and integrity, and it has come up dirty.
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