Russia has been cheating at international sporting events since the 1960s and it appears that finally, the world is taking a stand.
The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) has handed down its most severe punishment to date: a 4-year ban on international competition for Russia. Individual athletes can still compete, as long as they haven’t been found to have violated the rules, but the Russian flag, anthem, and team names cannot be used.
The Russians had been caught tampering with data and they weren’t even very good at it.
WADA’s executive committee voted in Lausanne, Switzerland, on Monday and concluded that officials in a Moscow anti-doping laboratory had tampered with data.
The tampering — before and while the data was being forensically copied by WADA — included planting fake evidence and deleting files linked to positive doping tests that could have helped identify drug cheats. System messages were also fabricated in an effort to hamper the work of WADA investigators.
The Russians have been on the cutting edge of cheating methods for 50 years, spending tens of millions of dollars to try and beat drug and other tests.
Russia, which has tried to showcase itself as a global sports power, has been embroiled in doping scandals, notably since a 2015 report commissioned by WADA found evidence of mass doping in Russian athletics.
Its doping woes have grown since, with many of its athletes banned from the past two Olympics and the country stripped of its flag altogether at last year’s Winter Games as punishment for state-sponsored doping cover-ups at the 2014 Sochi Games.
Monday’s sanctions had been recommended by WADA’s compliance review committee in response to the doctored laboratory data provided by Moscow earlier this year.
The Russians won’t be able to compete as a nation for a while. One of the stipulations for them to be reinstated is to supply undoctored lab results to WADA. Putin is not likely to accept that forced admission of guilt.
While the penalty is the most severe yet, there are many who think the problem in sports with doping and drug use is so bad that WADA should have really thrown the book at Russia and its athletes.
Since that didn’t happen, WADA was left with no choice. Its reaction wasn’t sufficient though. Just as in recent years, some Russian athletes will be allowed to compete at the Olympics — provided they can prove they were not involved in the state-doping program and they don’t fail any future doping tests. That’s good for those individuals, as they can’t be held accountable for the ongoing wrongs of their functionaries.
However, past experience has shown that while the athletes may have competed in neutral uniforms under a neutral flag, the fans in the stands still regularly and defiantly celebrated victories by singing their national anthem. Sure, the abbreviation “RUS” wasn’t on the medal table, but everybody still knew what was meant. And of course, Russian political leaders still knew how to use their athletes’ sporting successes to their own advantage.
The arms race in sports between cheaters and testers continues, with the cheaters currently having the upper hand. It’s faintly ridiculous. Why not just allow everyone to cheat? That puts everyone once again on equal competitive footing and fans wouldn’t have to constantly guess which athlete had an advantage?
I’m half-kidding, of course. What really needs to be done is for WADA to get serious about policing sports. Banning athletes who compete from cheating countries should be next, along with upping the ban to 10 years and no hosting of any international competitions.
These aren’t “amateur athletes” in any sense of the word. They make fabulous livings and compete in sports that generate billions of dollars in revenue. As long as the rewards far outweigh the risks, nations will continue to cheat and the competitions will continue to be suspect.