No doubt, the International Olympic Committee’s decision Tuesday to toss Russia from the 2018 Pyeongchang Games was the correct call. The Russian Olympic Committee, also fined $15 million, was guilty of wholesale drug cheating in Sochi, and might have succeeded to this day if not for a pair of homegrown whistle-blowers. The IOC showed, finally, that it has some teeth in this eternal battle with drug cheats.
The Schmid report “confirmed the systemic manipulation of the anti-doping rules and system in Russia, through the Disappearing Positive Methodology and during the Olympic Winter Games Sochi 2014, as well as the various levels of administrative, legal and contractual responsibility, resulting from the failure to respect the respective obligations of the various entities involved.”
But before you celebrate the righteous consequences imposed by the IOC, consider the ramifications. This fracas is far from over, and will carry on past any legal appeals. The Russians may boycott future Olympics, including the Los Angeles Games in 2024, which will cost networks and organizers plenty of money. A deeper wedge may be driven between Vladimir Putin and the West.
And then there is the more immediate, distressing thought: Will we all be cheated of watching athletes like Evgenia Medvedeva at the Pyeongchang Games?
A short briefing on Medvedeva: At age 18, she is already the most accomplished woman’s figure skater in the world, and maybe in history. During the 2016-17 season, while winning her second world championship, she set the world record in total points eight times with brilliant triple-triple combinations. She is undefeated again this season, despite a small fracture in her right foot that has forced her to drop out of the Grand Prix finals. She is aiming for a full recovery by Pyeongchang. She is graceful, athletic, a show-stopper. While she leaps, she raises her arm like a ballet dancer, as Brian Boitano once did.
Medvedeva has never failed a drug test. Figure skaters have their own problems – pressures about weight control often lead to eating disorders and unhealthy diets – but they are not steroid users. They are not speed skaters or Nordic skiers. Now, though, we must wonder whether Medvedeva will be in South Korea. In order to do so, her federation must prove she has “undergone all the pre-Games targeted tests” and “any other testing requirements specified” by the Pre-Games Testing Task Force.
More importantly, the Russian federation would have to eat humble pie, drop or lose the appeal, and agree to have its athletes participate as “an Olympic athlete from Russia” (OAR), under the Olympic flag, not the Russian flag.
Will the Russians allow Medvedeva, or any of their other amazing women’s figure skaters, to do this? Will there be a Russian hockey team?
The Russians have brought all these difficulties on themselves, of course. They are about to host a World Cup next summer that will cost them $11 billion, but their deputy prime minister, Vitaly Mutko, supervised the Sochi Games and is personally barred from the Olympics. That suspension will hang over the World Cup this summer, in the worst way. Mutko cannot be greeted warmly by FIFA, which has its own problems.
On it goes, and there is really no happy ending. This is not a zero-sum game, where Russia loses and everybody else wins. This was the right thing to do by the IOC, yes. That doesn’t mean the world gets to feel better about itself, or its Olympic medalists. It means that cheaters get caught sometimes, and that non-cheaters sometimes pay the same price.
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