As It Happens

IOC decision is 'only going to play into Putin's hands,' says Russian sports journalist

A freelance sports reporter from Russia says that while the IOC's decision is historic, don't expect Russia to admit wrongdoing.
A Russian journalist says the IOC decision will play right into Russian President Vladimir Putin's hands. (Alexander Zemlianichenko/Associated Press)

Story transcript

Don't expect Russia to admit wrongdoing after the International Olympic Committee banned the country from competing at the 2018 Winter Olympics, says Russian sports journalist Slava Malamud.

The IOC's Tuesday vote bans Russia from officially competing in South Korea, but does allow for individual Russian athletes to compete as an "Olympic Athlete from Russia" without their national flag or anthem.  Russia could refuse the offer to compete as neutrals and boycott the Games, which are scheduled for Feb. 9-25. 

Russia has repeatedly refused to accept that a state-sponsored doping program existed, instead blaming Grigory Rodchenkov, the former director of Moscow and Sochi testing laboratories, as a rogue employee. It wants the scientist extradited from the United States, where he is a protected witness.

Malamud said that's not only the prominent government and media narrative in his country — but also the popular opinion. 

He spoke to As It Happens guest host Jim Brown about the IOC decision. Here is part of that conversation.

How are people inside Russia reacting tonight?

The reaction boils down to: We have been victimized. It's a political scapegoat. It's a political witch hunt. We are being singled out. It's a scam. The evil West is out to get us.

So that's about 90 per cent of the coverage in Russian media and 90 per cent of the reaction by regular Russians.

Samuel Schmid, Chair of the IOC Disciplinary Commission and Thomas Bach, President of the International Olympic Committee, attend a news conference after a meeting on sanctions for Russian athletes on Tuesday. (Denis Balibouse/Reuters)

The prevailing opinion is that it's a set-up — that Rodchenkov is some kind of a crazy mad scientist out on a vendetta and the west has simply latched onto him to punish Russia.

Or even a more patriotic look is Russia is finally great and strong again and the West wants to keep us down.

Do you think what we saw today from the IOC decision will force that whole culture of sport and doping in Russia to look at itself and to change?

Here's one change that's going to happen: They're going to try to cover their tracks a little bit better.

The little tiny bit of self-reflection that I see in Russian media right now is directed at officials for allowing Grigory Rodchenkov to escape the country. They're basically saying, how come we didn't make this guy disappear? 

In this Tuesday, May 24, 2016, photo an employee of the Russia's national drug-testing laboratory holds a vial in Moscow, Russia. It was at this laboratory and its former site elsewhere in Moscow, that lab director Grigory Rodchenkov conducted pioneering research into steroids, at the same time as he says he was giving Russian athletes a 'cocktail' of banned substances. (Alexander Zemlianichenko/Associated Press)

This makes me madder than anything. Everybody's complicit. The nation's psyche is complicit because it's diseased right now. It's motherland's honour first. Truth and rules and decency and morals never even come close.

And I don't think this type of punishment is going to serve its purpose. It's only going to play into Putin's hands because he's going to be able to spin it in a way that's advantageous to him.

The IOC could have gone further today. The IOC could have put a blanket ban in place and prevented all Russian athletes from competing in South Korea. Should they have done that?

Are the chances good that it would have changed the behaviour? No. It would have played into the sense of victimhood again. But by giving them this out, by giving Putin the ability to claim some kind of political capital, they've basically ensured that Russians are not going to learn a thing from this.

The national drug-testing laboratory in Moscow was the centre of Russia's state-sponsored doping scandal. (Pavel Golovkin/The Associated Press)

There's only so much the IOC can do. It's a sports governing body, for crying out loud. They can't change the national disease that Russia is undergoing right now, this all-encompassing propaganda. 

Russians are going to need to go through maybe a generation or two of self-searching and evolution in order to arrive at the place where the Americans are right now. Americans had doping issues as well. But they didn't look outside. They didn't blame an international conspiracy. They went and they stripped Lance Armstrong of his yellow jerseys and they banned Marion Jones and she went to prison. We're at the point where it's us against the world.

This interview has been edited for lenght and clarity. For more on this story, listen to our full interview with Slava Malamud. 


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