The Olympic Games while being the biggest global sporting event has always been intricately intertwined with politics. In the biggest move ever against doping in sports, the Lausanne, Switzerland-based Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) has banned the Russian Olympic Committee and 68 Russian track and field athletes who filed an appeal to participate in the Rio Olympics starting August 5. It began to unravel in May, when Grigory Rodchenkov, director of Russia’s anti-doping lab during the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics—who had since moved to the US – turned whistle-blower and provided details on the state-sponsored doping to the New York Times. His claims have since been validated by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). Rodchenkov admitted drug-spiked urine samples were replaced with clean urine in Sochi after breaking into the supposedly tamper-proof Berlinger bottles late at night. Russia finished on top at Sochi with a tally of 33 medals against the sixth rank with 15 medals at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics.
The drug menace in sports is not new. At the 1988 Seoul Olympics, Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson was stripped of his 100m sprint gold after testing positive. Professional cyclist Lance Armstrong was stripped of his seven Tour de France titles and an Olympic bronze for using performance enhancing drugs. Russian tennis star Maria Sharapova is already out of the Rio Olympics since she tested for meldonium—a drug designed to treat ischemia, a condition where there is reduction in blood supply to body tissue—during the Australian Open.
The irony is that ban has happened on Russia, as part of the erstwhile USSR has been a leading sporting nation and has till now won the most Olympic medals after the US. Now, the question is how many of those Russian gold medals were due to performance enhancing drugs over the years? What about the big winners from other countries? That’s something that we can never find out, but the move to bar Russia is a step in the right direction. Is there a political reason? Russia’s two-time Olympic pole-vault champion Yelena Isinbayeva found the ruling “a blatant political order.” However, as the price for using performance enhancing drugs rises, one can hope athletes will fall in line. For now, it remains to be seen whether the entire Russian Olympic contingent team will be banned.