Why Russia should be banned from the 2018 Winter Olympics
An open letter to IOC president Thomas Bach
Editor's note: The International Olympic Committee is set to rule Tuesday on whether to ban Russia from February's Winter Games. Here, former Canadian Olympian Deidra Dionne, a bronze medallist in aerials in 2002, presents an open letter to IOC president Thomas Bach in which she argues Russia must receive the strongest possible punishment for its doping violations.
Dear Mr. Bach,
You probably don't remember, but I wrote an open letter to you a few years back, voicing my concern about the Olympic movement. Here I am again, trying to persuade you to listen.
Last week, Dick Pound — my fellow Canadian and a man I deeply respect for his commitment to clean sport — encouraged athletes to voice their thoughts on whether Russia should be allowed to compete in the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in the wake of the country's doping scandal.
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As a former athlete who competed in two Winter Olympics in the sport of aerials, let me be as blunt as possible: You can't claim to be athlete-centred, as you have, and then not disqualify Russia from the Games in South Korea this February. The hypocrisy would be laughable if the issue wasn't so close to my heart.
It's true that athletes bear tremendous responsibility when it comes to what goes in their bodies. You should know this because, as a former Olympic fencer, you were once one of us. But isn't it time we ask some tough questions about the merits of only punishing individual athletes when an entire system around them is cheating?
If you don't take a stand against the entire Russian system, you'll be setting the wrong kind of global precedent. You'll be solidifying the belief that the only risk in running a dirty system is the potential consequences that will fall on individual athletes. That doesn't sound very athlete-centred to me.
Moreover, I don't understand how disqualifying results four years after the fact — as the IOC has been doing lately with Russian athletes connected to doping at the 2014 Sochi Olympics — acts as a deterrent to future state-sponsored doping. The way I see it, the upside of winning in the moment is far greater than the risk of being disgraced years later, when no one is really paying attention.
I'd like to share the story of my friend Sam Edney. Sam is a luge athlete and a three-time Olympian. In Sochi, Sam and his Canadian teammates — Alex Gough, Tristan Walker and Justin Snith — finished fourth in the team relay behind Germany, Russia and Latvia.
I saw Sam shortly after the event and he was gutted. It's one of my lasting memories of those Games, seeing his pain and thinking about how much goes into that one day of an athlete's life. He left Sochi feeling like he missed his chance, his lifelong dream of standing on the Olympic podium.
Today, Sam is busy preparing for another Games. He told me he can't help but wonder, every time another Russian's Sochi results are disqualified, whether one of his opponents had an unfair advantage. He thinks of the ways his life, and those of his teammates, would be different had they reached the podium in 2014. Increased funding, speaking opportunities, sponsorships and grants are just some of the perks that flow to those who come home with an Olympic medal around their neck.
That idea of a missed opportunity is something Christine Girard told me is the most difficult part of not being awarded an Olympic medal when she should have. Christine is a Canadian weightlifter who finished fourth in 2008 and third in 2012, only to have both finishes upgraded years later — to a bronze and a gold, respectively — after her opponents were caught doping.
Christine told me that everyone asks her about being robbed of the chance to receive a gold medal at the 2012 Olympics. But she says the tougher pill for her to swallow is missing out on standing on the podium at the 2008 Games because of all the additional support she would have received as an Olympic medallist.
I'm sharing these stories with you because I love Olympic sport and I want you to uphold its values. To me, that means standing up to the Russian sport system and holding it accountable for its actions — just like athletes are.
I've been retired for quite some time and have never been personally affected by an opponent's doping, but I'm writing you because I want today's athletes to be able to focus on being the best they can be — not standing on a soapbox demanding fairness and accountability. That's your job.
Please stand up and take a stance. We're counting on you.