OPINION: Russia’s Ban from Pyeongchang

By Chris Kernan-Schmidt, Columnist

Following an investigation into systematic and state-sponsored manipulation of anti-doping laboratories, the Russian Federation was barred from competing in this year’s Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea. Russia was not permitted to send any athletes to the games under its flag and government officials were unable to attend. Athletes from Russia, however, were able to compete in the games under the name Olympic Athletes from Russia (OAR). This strict and unprecedented ban came shortly after a 17-month investigation into Russia’s state-sponsored doping controversy, which reared its head during the 2014 Sochi games.  

So was the ban enough? In my opinion, it is a tough call. I think it is important for Russian athletes who have had an extensive record of doping-free competition to be able to compete, but Russia needs to have more than a one-time ban. According to a recent article by BBC Sport, “Russia will soon be welcomed back into the fold as long as none of its other athletes are found to have broken drug rules.” The International Olympic Committee (IOC) was going to vote to allow Russia to fly its flag at the closing ceremony, but two more doping allegations postponed the vote. Later, the IOC voted unanimously to lift the ban on future competitions, allowing the Russian Federation to compete.  

In my opinion, allowing Russia to re-enter future competitions following an almost two-year investigation into doping allegations is ridiculous. While Russia was unable to compete in this year’s Olympic Games, they have essentially had no severe punishment for their long history of drug use. Before the 2016 Rio Summer Games, the World Anti-Doping Association requested that Russia be banned from that summer’s games following a report that detailed at least 643 cover-ups of samples that tested positive for doping between 2011 and 2015. The IOC declined this recommendation. This is not to mention the years and years of previous doping controversy that plagued Russia and the Soviet Union. More needs to be done.  

Hardworking and legitimate athletes from any country should have the opportunity to compete in the Olympics, but a country with state-sponsored doping activities should not be represented. A country’s allowance to compete in the Olympics is a privilege, not a right. Russia has repeatedly shown that the slap-on-the-wrist punishments that the IOC gives them are not enough to stop their defiance of organizational bylaws. The IOC’s motion to lift Russia’s ban from the Olympics following Pyeongchang sets a precedent for future widespread doping allegations. Essentially, if a country participates in the systematic violation of the Olympic bylaws, do not worry–they will still be able to compete eventually!  

There is not an easy solution to this problem. Yes, as aforementioned, legitimate athletes should have the opportunity to participate and represent their country, but at the same time, there must be stricter punishments. I believe the IOC was justified in their ban of Russia and allowance of clean athletes to compete under the title OAR, but it is a sign of weakness that they are allowing Russia to re-enter competition. The bylaws and regulations are there for a reason. If they are not upheld to the fullest extent, then what motivation is there for countries to follow them?  

I hope that the IOC rescinds their recent decision and takes the time to formulate an appropriate and effective punishment for the Russian Federation and others who have a history of doping controversy.

Graphic by Billy Ferguson