Friday 22 July 2016

Rio 2016: The Fate of Russia's Athletes

You might have heard that in the news recently, athletes from the Russian Federation have been banned from participating in the 2016 Olympics in Rio De Janiero, a handful of athletes and the Russian National Olympic Committee failed to overturn the ban that prevented track and field athletes from taking part in the Olympics that'll start in the upcoming weeks.

Russia ran a state-sponsored doping programme for athletes looking to participate in sporting events, the Russian athletes who were clear of doping allegations may also still be banned from participating in the games altogether, but a select number of athletes may be able to be Neutral (Independent Olympic Athletes) if they meet the required criteria. Independent Olympic Athletes' isn't something new, since 1992 IOA's have come from East Timor, South Sudan, the Netherlands Antilles, & former Yugoslav states have participated in the games under this banner. Independent Olympic Athletes compete as such for a number of reasons; political or civil unrest, international sanctions, no national Olympic committee (such as South Sudan at the 2012 Games in London), or even if their national Olympic committee has been suspended; which is why some Russian athletes could compete as IOA's in Rio this summer.

Olympiyskiy Stadium in Cheboksary during European Athletics Team Championships 2015. Courtesy of: АлексИзз License: CC BY-SA 4.0

Russian athletes could participate under the Olympic rings, but I'm going to ask the question: "What is doping?"

Doping is the act of using banned performance enhancing drugs or medication when taking part in sports in order to gain a competitive advantage. Athletes who are caught using performance enhancing drugs will be in hot water with the sports association, (the IOC, FIFA, NFL, etc...) and also could be in violation of local laws. However, doping can't be a perfect solution to solving the enigma of apprehending cheats; as there are some everyday products that will falsely trigger a drug test failure, such as: common cold remedies, snack bars with high levels of protein, poppy seeds, ibuprofen, and tonic water; these products have traces of banned substances in sporting associations but if you're caught with these substances in your urine or blood, you will be banned.

Protest banner at 2006 Tour De France. Courtesy of: Wladyslaw License: CC BY-SA 2.5 Changes Made: No

Moving away from doping and back to mother Russia, when the Soviet Union was crumbling apart the athletes participated as the "Commonwealth of Independent States" and not the Olympic flag, as this was somewhat of a successor to the Soviet Union. At the 1980 Olympics in Moscow, there was a boycott lead by the United States and 14 national Olympic committees had athletes take part under the Olympic flag instead of their own. The 1980 boycott had nothing to do with doping, it was regarding the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan back in 1979 which was a time when the Cold War was in full swing and a nuclear war looked like a possibility.

If there may be a boycott at these Rio games, then it'll be the first one for non-political or military reasons.

"no-one cares my career is ruined." - Sergey Shubenkov, Rio 2016: Russia ban is 'the rebirth of the Olympics', BBC

Shubenkov who is the current 110m hurdles champion applied to compete as an Independent athlete in the Rio 2016 Games but shockingly, his request was denied. The clean athletes are punished by the International Olympic Committee by the actions of the athletes who were playing foul. The fate of the Russian athletes now stands in the hands of the IOC itself, the credibility and reputation hangs in the balance for the IOC. Will we see the Russian tricolour at the games? Will there be a handful of athletes under the Olympic rings? Or could there possibly be another boycott led by Russia just like in 1984?

The Olympic Movement Flag. License: Public Domain

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