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'Banned' team Russia in spotlight as Olympics officially begin

A deeper dive into the day's most notable stories with The National newsletter's Jonathon Gatehouse.

Newsletter: A deeper dive into the day's most notable stories

Members of the Olympic Athletes from Russia group enter the stadium under a Olympic flag during the opening ceremony of the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Games on Friday. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Welcome to The National Today newsletter, which takes a closer look at what's happening around some of the day's most notable stories. Sign up here and it will be delivered directly to your inbox Monday to Friday.


  • "Banned" team Russia still in spotlight at Olympic opening ceremony
  • As Cape Town's water supply approaches "Day Zero," South Africa's government has begun the process of declaring the ongoing drought a national disaster
  • Popcorn is latest Canada Food Inspection Agency recall involving bugs

Neither out of sight, nor mind

Team Russia might be officially "banned" from the Pyeongchang Olympics, but thus far they're doing a remarkable job of dominating the proceedings.

The 169 rebranded "Olympic Athletes from Russia," along with their coaches and support staff, were the 13th team to march into the frigid Opening Ceremony this morning, behind a five-ringed flag, receiving polite applause from the heavily muffled crowd.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, centre, in Moscow on Jan. 31 with Russian athletes who are taking part in the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympic Games in South Korea. (Grigory Dukor/Associated Press)
The jeans, grey jackets and white scarves weren't their traditional, crazy-quilt red, white and blue, look. But everyone in the stadium, and viewers all over the world, certainly knew who it was.

Thomas Bach, president of the IOC, even made a barely veiled reference to the presence of the bêtes noire of the Olympic family.

"You can only really enjoy your Olympic performance if you respect the rules and stay clean," he said. "Only then will your life-long memories be the memories of a true and worthy Olympian."

International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach delivers an address during the Opening Ceremony of the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympic Games on Friday. (Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)
Like students being dressed down at a school assembly, the athletes didn't quite seem to know how to react.

Earlier in the day, the Court of Arbitration for Sport had rejected the last-minute appeals of 45 Russians who had been prevented from competing in South Korea, despite having their lifetime doping bans overturned last week.

Following two days of hearings at a luxury mountain hotel, the CAS arbitrators ruled that IOC's decision to keep the Russians — including Alexander Legkov, winner of cross-country gold in Sochi, and Alexander Tretiakov, who topped the podium in skeleton —  away from the Games was simply an "eligibility" matter, rather than a question of discrimination or fairness.

On Friday ahead of the official Olympic opening, the Court of Arbitration for Sport rejected the last-minute appeal of 45 Russian athletes who had been banned from competing in South Korea. (Pawel Kopczynski/Reuters)
Almost-Team Russia seems resigned to taking home fewer medals.

"That's it. The story is over," said Konstantin Vybornov, the delegation spokesman.  

But the focus on Russia's state-sponsored cheating scheme in Sochi, London, and perhaps beyond, will not fade away.

This Sunday evening, CBS's 60 Minutes is scheduled to air the first interview with Grigory Rodchenkov since the doping whistleblower entered the U.S. witness protection program.

A 2007 photo of Grigory Rodchenkov, former director of Russia's antidoping laboratory, who is now in witness protection in the U.S. (EPA/Reuters)
In a short promo clip, released last night, a heavily disguised Rodchenkov says he still fears for his safety.  

"There is information that my life is in jeopardy," he says. "[The] Kremlin wants me to stop talking."

The real bombshell for the IOC and World Anti-Doping Agency, however, is Rodchenkov's claim that the cheating continues.

Asked how many countries still have programs to build better athletes through chemistry, the doping expert says, "20-plus, for sure."

Praying for rain in Cape Town

South Africa's water crisis is worsening.

This week, the government began the process of declaring the ongoing drought a "national disaster." It's a move that would permit Nomvula Mokonyane, the minister of water and sanitation, to implement some sweeping water-use restrictions across much of the country.

People queue to collect water from a spring in the Newlands suburb of Cape Town on Jan. 25. (Mike Hutchings/Reuters)
As of Wednesday, national dam levels stood at at 59.6 per cent. In the hardest-hit Western Cape region, reservoirs are only 23.7 per cent full.

Some small progress has been made in Cape Town, where city officials this week moved back Day Zero — the projected date when they will have to close off all the taps and set up water collection points — from April 11 to May 12.

More and more of the city's 4 million residents seem to be buying into rationing that restricts each person to 50 litres per day — the equivalent of a six-minute, low-flow shower. And area farmers have severely cut back on their crop irrigation.

But thousands continue to line up daily to supplement their quota with fresh spring water. Private security guards have been hired to keep order after a recent fist-fight.

A police officer stands stands guard at a source of natural spring water in Cape Town on Feb. 1. There has been growing tension at the spring since South Africa's drought-hit city introduced water restrictions in an attempt to avoid what it calls 'Day Zero,' a day in May when it might have to turn off most taps. (Bram Janssen/Associated Press)
The main cause of the crisis has been three straight years of scant precipitation, even during the usually soaking May-September rainy season.

Cape Town's dams were at capacity just four years ago, and an extended drought was considered to be almost a statistical impossibility, rated a 0.1 per cent chance.

Now the Theewaterskloof reservoir — the source of half the city's water — is only 12. 5 per cent full. Water experts are warning that what's left will soon be undrinkable.

Pools of muddy water are seen at Theewaterskloof dam near Cape Town on Jan. 20. The dam, which supplies most of Cape Town's potable water, is dangerously low. (Mike Hutchings/Reuters)
The lack of rain is not the only problem, however.

South Africa's water system is still mostly private — a legacy of Apartheid rules favouring white farmers — with only 323 of the country's 5,125 dams under the control of the national water ministry. And officials at all levels have been reluctant to invest in such infrastructure, or restrict water usage for economy-driving businesses like the Cape's wineries.

In fact, Jacob Zuma's government only started drafting a national water plan in late December.

Hundreds of people took part in a protest Jan. 28 in Cape Town against the way the city council has dealt with issues around water shortages. (Rodger Bosch/AFP/Getty Images)
Three desalination plants are now under construction near Cape Town, which will provide 16 million more litres of water per day by May. But the city is currently using almost 550 million litres daily, even with the severe restrictions.

Meanwhile the city continues to grow, having added close to 1.2 million people over the past 15 years.

The solution to the drought — at least in the short term — will therefore have to come from the skies.

Something the government acknowledged this week, calling for divine intervention.

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Value added ...

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency issued a Canada-wide recall for microwave popcorn this week, because it contains a little something extra — insect parts.

The 1 kilogram boxes of Great Value popping corn, sold at WalMart stores coast-to-coast, are the second brand of movie snacks to be recalled due to bugs in a little over a month. In late December, Selection, another discount popcorn sold at Metro stores, was also found to have what is politely termed as "extraneous material."

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has recalled 1 kilogram boxes of Great Value microwave popcorn across Canada due to contamination with insect parts. No related illnesses have been reported, it said.
The federal government's Healthy Canadians website lists a total of 3,251 food recalls, dating back to a May 2006 advisory urging Canadians to "limit their consumption of Lobster Tomalley" because "paralytic shellfish poison" is sometimes present in crustacean guts.

A helpful breakdown of the recalls by reasons illustrates the wide variety of problems that can necessitate a federal warning, and cause grocers to pull products from their shelves.

Many are caused by the undisclosed presence of potential allergens like shellfish (43 recalls), eggs (256), or milk (603).

Others surround "something's rotten" issues like spoilage (98), listeria (260), and e.coli 157 bacteria (177).

But extraneous material remains the second largest category, having caused 315 recalls.

Insects or insect infestations are the primary reason for CFIA food recalls in recent years, in a wide range of foods from dates to tea to pilaf. (Shutterstock / frank60)
Insects, or insect infestations — in every imaginable type of food from dates to tea to pilaf — are the primary culprits.

But pieces of plastic and bits of metal run a close second and third, respectively.

Recalls due to rubber, glass and bone fragments are also disturbingly common.

Stones and pieces of wood occasionally crop up.

There has been one recall, of chicken nuggets, due to a chopped up pen.

And sugar remains the only product known to have been contaminated with "bird fragments" over the past seven years.

Great Value popcorn, on the other hand, seems to have persistent quality control difficulties. The same brand was subject to recall for the same issue — insects — in December 2015.

Quote of the moment

"We respect the stand of Canada. So from here on now I am directing the armed forces of the Philippines — since most of the guns, bullets and whatever, weapons of war … invariably could be used against the rebels and the terrorists — do not buy any more from Canada. Or from the United States, because there are always conditions attached."

- Rodrigo Duterte, president of the Philippines, reacting today to news that Ottawa will re-examine a $233 million deal to sell his government 16 Quebec-made Bell helicopters.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte addresses the troops during the 82nd anniversary celebration of the Armed Forces of the Philippines in Manila on Wednesday. (The Associated Press)

What The National is reading

  • Canadian economy lost 88,000 jobs in January (CBC)
  • Mike Pence skips out on dinner with North Koreans (BBC)
  • 'There is no training for this,' say owners of home tied to Bruce McArthur (CBC)
  • Top Oxfam staffers paid Haiti quake survivors for sex (The Times)
  • #MeToo movement lawmaker investigated for sexual misconduct (Politico)
  • Emotional support hamster flushed down toilet after airline says it can't fly (Guardian)
  • Manufacturer recalls 70,000 karaoke microphones over explosion concerns (CTV)

This weekend in history

Feb. 10, 2006: Freestyle moguls skier Jennifer Heil on the eve of Olympic gold

As an 18-year-old in Salt Lake City, Jenn Heil missed the Olympic podium by a heartbreaking 1/100th of a point. Four years later, she gave Canada its first gold of the Turin Winter Games. Here she talks with Peter Mansbridge about the long years of physical and psychological training that built to that moment.

Jennifer Heil, freestyle moguls skier

Digital Archives

15 years agoVideo
The day before her Olympic gold medal run at Turin in 2006, Jennifer Heil talks about her intensive preparations. World Cup race excerpt: International Ski Federation 5:44

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About the Author

Jonathon Gatehouse

CBC Investigative Journalist

Jonathon Gatehouse has covered news and politics at home and abroad, reporting from dozens of countries. He has also written extensively about sports, covering seven Olympic Games and authoring a best-selling book on the business of pro-hockey. He works for the national investigative unit in Toronto.