It’s here, it’s back; the Olympic Games are upon us! It’s scarcely believable that it’s already been four years since London 2012, the memories are that strong. A lot has happened in that period of time however. For example, Britain is no longer part of the EU, Joe Root has established himself as arguably the best batsman in the world and I can now grow a beard. We should be incredibly excited at the prospect of another gluttonous fortnight for Team GB, but unfortunately there has only been one focus in the build up to Rio 2016 and a negative one at that.
We shouldn’t be surprised at the recent findings that Russia has adopted a state-sponsored doping system. Accusations of such practices hark back to the Cold War, when the USSR was looking to establish itself as the greatest superpower of them all and decided that sport was one of the ways in which it could do this. The difference this time, though, is that they have been caught out. Not by the IOC, not the IAAF (the body that run athletics), not by any anti-doping agencies. Russia was found out by a German broadcaster and some of its own who had the courage to speak up. Not that we’re reminded of this by the authorities.
Thomas Bach, president of the IOC, recently claimed that the whole doping scandal hadn’t damaged the reputation of the institution. Personally, I have absolutely no idea how he can say that. The way this whole scandal has been dealt with is an absolute joke. Firstly, how could the Russians get away with this completely undetected for so long? Surely this country should have been one of those under the greatest amount of scrutiny, given its history of doping? It’s not like this is a small scale finding; the government is funding athletes across a wide range sports to be injected with drugs. How that can go unnoticed is baffling.
The most farcical element, however, has to be the furore surrounding which athletes should and shouldn’t be allowed to take part at Rio. One minute all Russian track and field athletes are banned, the next it is being stated that some may be allowed to compete if they can prove they are clean and then all of a sudden they are back to all being excluded again. The IOC doesn’t know what to do; they are making it up as they go along. It’s not as if they haven’t had time to prepare for this. Admittedly, the McLaren Report (which officially outlined just how great the scale of the doping is) was only released a few weeks ago but everyone knew what it was going to say and the IOC should have planned exactly what it was going to do.
Furthermore, I am not in favour of the blanket ban that has been imposed on Russia’s track and field athletes. There are undoubtedly individuals in there who are completely clean and have done everything they can in order to represent their nation on the greatest stage, yet they are paying for the madness of their team-mates. I really liked the suggestion that if any Russians were found to be completely clean then they could compete under a neutral flag – at least they would get the chance to do what they had earned the right to do. This idea quickly disappeared without a trace though.
Another thing I do not understand is why the IOC has announced that any Russians who have served doping bans before, regardless of their sport, are not allowed to compete yet those from other nations can. Having spent the last couple of days trawling through various websites, I am led to believe that there are at least 111 athletes from 61 countries in 15 different events who will be competing at Rio having previously been banned having breached anti-doping violations. Some of these were bans were due to missed drugs tests, whilst others later had it proven that they had not intended to cheat, but the vast majority knew exactly what they were doing. Yet they get a second chance to compete?
These aren’t just small-time athletes with little chance of obtaining medals either. Sprinters Justin Gatlin, Yohann Blake and Shelley-Ann Fraser-Pryce, as well as cyclist Gregory Bauge, are just a handful of competitors with previous convictions that have a strong chance of winning their respective events. Why has this rule not been implemented with them? They are just as guilty, if not more in some cases, as any Russians yet they haven’t been stopped for taking part. I’m not saying they should be, but if a rule applies to one then it should apply to all. Take Lizzie Armitstead. Having missed three drugs tests in a 12 month period, the rules state she should receive a two-year suspension, yet it looks as though she is free to cycle for the foreseeable future. Don’t get me wrong, I think Armitstead is arguably the greatest female road cyclist in the world and I genuinely believe she hasn’t doped, but rules are rules. There needs to be some consistency.
Such is the way with modern sport, it is highly likely that some athletes will be caught doping at Rio 2016. It sounds pessimistic, but it’s true. I just hope that this doesn’t detract from what promises to be a great spectacle. Stories like this have surfaced before and there will be many more in the future. The fact that we all still care about the Games proves that this doping scandal will soon be forgotten. The only things we will remember are the positive memories of outstanding sporting achievement.