Remember 1980? Possibility of Russian ban brings back memories of boycott
Everybody loses in systematic doping scandals
People that lie and cheat should face consequences. In life, in business and in sport. When I hear the words "doping" and "Russia" in the same sentence, my gut reaction is anger.
When Vitaly Stepanov and his wife Yuliya initially shed light on the systematic nature of the Russian state doping scandal, WADA-ordered independent reports condemned the Russian sport system — specifically its track and field program. The reports resulted in the Russian track program's suspension from international competition. Recently adding fuel to the Russian doping fire are the claims by former lab director Grigory Rodchenko. He described Russia's sabotaged anti-doping process throughout the Sochi 2014 Olympics.
A follow-up IAAF independent task force report is looking into the progress Russia has made in anti-doping in light of the recent revelations. Some predict the outcome of the findings (expected to be released to the public June 17) could be an Olympic ban.
Like many observers, every time I read a new headline or tweet mentioning both doping and Russia, I can't help my visceral reaction of disgust followed by a silent plea begging sport authorities to take action. I want them to be punished and I want the punishment to be severe.
Ask me if I think Russia should be banned from Rio 2016 and the first word out of my mouth is a resounding, "Yes." I think 'they' should be banned, punished and removed from sport to uphold the ideals of fair play and sportsmanship that so many athletes religiously cherish. 'They,' the cheaters. You know, 'they,' the Russians.
But does 'they' mean all of the Russian athletes? Does it even matter if there are innocent Russian athletes being painted with the same brush as their dirty counterparts?
My quick judgment always gives into my rational assessment of the no-win situation Russian athletes and WADA (and the IAAF) have found themselves in. The truth is — not every athlete in Russia is a drug cheat. There are athletes that have unfairly been painted with a 'they' brush. A brush that could steal their dream of achieving excellence on the biggest stage.
Yet, a Russian ban from the Olympics may be the only recourse the IAAF has. They need to take a strong stance against state-sponsored cheating. The world is watching and the reputation of Olympic sport is in jeopardy.
That strong stance will be at the expense of some clean, honest athletes. It will rob them of the Olympic opportunity they've worked their lives for.
There aren't many athletes that can emphasize with the system ripping away an individual's Olympic opportunity for sins of their country. The closest example to this might be the athletes whose countries boycotted the 1980 Moscow Olympics and the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.
Dan Thompson lost out on his Olympic dream when Canada boycotted the 1980 Games in protest of the Russian invasion of Afghanistan. As an elite Canadian swimmer, he'd trained his whole life only to be told he wouldn't be going to the Olympics. Not because he wasn't good enough. He'd just reached his athletic peak at the wrong time in history.
"I was a victim of the ill-conceived 1980 Olympic boycott," said Thompson. "I remain convinced the Olympic Games is one of the world's greatest peace movements. The Games should not be used to demonstrate a political point of view, especially if that point is made by limiting athlete participation."
"However," Thompson added, "illegal doping can't be tolerated — especially when it is proven to be state or sport sponsored. But if a participant is proven clean going into the Games, they should be allowed to compete."
It's a lose-lose situation. Can testing reliably filter out the clean athletes from within a corrupt system or should WADA make a bold move and punish broadly, banning the collective at the expense of a few?
The system is supposed to protect clean athletes, but if Russia was banned from Rio 2016, the anti-doping authorities would clearly be failing those clean competitors.
But cheating can't be tolerated. Without strict consequences, other countries may turn to the shady tactics Russia employed knowing the upside has outweighed the punishment.
Guilt by association isn't acceptable under the rule of law. Should we be so willing to accept it in sport?