It has become obvious that Russia’s shameless leaders don’t care what the world thinks of their systematic cheating in sports. Just another anti-Russian slander, declared Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov when confronted with the latest evidence, this time of an attempted cover-up of past cheating.
But doesn’t anybody in Russia’s hierarchy care that they have condemned a generation of Russian athletes, who should be gathering laurels as among the world’s best, to a purgatory of suspicion and alienation in the sports world?
How can Mr. Lavrov — to use him as the face of a complicit cabal in the Kremlin and in the Russian sports bureaucracy — stand there and claim, again and again, that Russia is always the victim of foreign machinations in sports and “pretty much everything in every sphere of international life” when the young athletes of his country are being so grievously betrayed by the pervasive, elaborate and pathetically inept cheating of their own leadership?
The latest findings are especially egregious as they deal with what was in effect a second chance for Russia. Following revelations about Russia’s incredible state-sponsored scheme at the 2014 Winter Olympics to swap tainted urine samples for clean ones through a hole in the lab wall, one of the conditions for Russia to return to the world sporting fold was for it to provide unaltered data from its Moscow antidoping lab. That deal was sharply criticized at the time as giving Russia a pass, but the World Anti-Doping Agency insisted that it was the only way to acquire the data.
The data was delivered in January. Amazingly, it had also been doctored, as a committee led by Jonathan Taylor, a British lawyer, found. Worse, the Russians had slipped in concocted evidence designed to incriminate Grigory Rodchenkov, the former director of Russia’s antidoping lab who blew the whistle about its corrupt practices after he fled to the United States.
The committee’s report has been forwarded to the World Anti-Doping Agency’s board, which meets in Paris on Dec. 9, along with recommendations for what would be in effect a four-year ban on Russia’s participation in global sporting events. Russians with clean records could still compete at the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, but again without their national flag or anthem, as they did at the Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
These are stern measures, and the least the antidoping agency should do. As of last year, the agency has the power to enforce its rulings on major international sports federations; until last year, individual federations were allowed to take their own measures, and many let Russia get away with barely a slap on the wrist. The International Olympic Committee, which has also been accused in the past of not dealing sternly enough with Russia, issued a statement on Tuesday saying it would support “the toughest sanctions against all those responsible for this manipulation.”
Some athletes and sporting organizations outside Russia will wonder why Russian athletes are still being allowed to participate at all, given their government’s determination to continue flagrant cheating. The Olympic committee president, Thomas Bach, has opposed a blanket ban on the grounds that individual athletes who are clean should not be made to bear the blame for their leadership’s corruption.
That may be fair. But only if the antidoping agency and the Olympic committee make it absolutely clear that they are prepared to deal sternly and effectively with the Russian officials who have perpetrated this fraud and occupy the very pinnacle of the Kremlin. A bill making its way through the United States Congress, the Rodchenkov Anti-Doping Act, proposes fines of up to $1 million and prison sentences of up to 10 years for those involved in doping schemes.
The antidoping agency doesn’t like the bill, fearing that it would give the United States too much extraterritorial power, and has been lobbying against it. The best argument would be to demonstrate that the agency itself can do its job.
Today’s editorial is from the New York Times. The views expressed are not necessarily those of this newspaper.