Lily King wagged her finger at Russian swimmer Yulia Efimova during the 2016 Rio Games. A games that surrounded Russia in controversy over systemic state-sponsored doping allegations. The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) called for an international ban on Russia’s track and field team, and the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) suspended the team from Rio. WADA later called for the entire Russian team to be banned from Rio, but the ban was not enforced, and Russia was allowed to compete, save for the banned track and field athletes.
On December 5, 2017, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) handed down the unprecedented decision to ban Russia from the 2018 Pyeongyang Games. No government officials allowed to attend, no Russian flag, no Russian anthem. Russian athletes could compete, provided they received a special dispensation, but they would have to do so as neutral athletes, under the Olympic flag. A total of 168 athletes were eligible to compete under this dispensation and have come to be known as “OAR” - Olympic Athletes from Russia. Olympic athletes from Russia. Russia.
The name Russia isn’t forbidden. It’s being said plenty of times over the course of the NBC broadcasts. The OAR during the team figure skating competition were continuously mentioned to be “sitting in the Russian box.” The New York Times headline today declared “Russian figure skaters dominate despite Olympic ban.” For a country that has been banned from the Olympics, we sure are saying their name a lot. Some punishment, hmmm?
The inclusion of the Russian athletes should also cause us to raise a collective eyebrow (again) at the IOC and how they have (failed to) handle the accusations of doping in the Olympics. The IOC has allegedly known about the state-sponsored Russian doping since about 2013. Their response has been lackluster. Prior to the Rio Games the IOC removed itself from the process of determining doping cases, electing to send it instead to the independent Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).
Again, fast forward to 2018, and the IOC is now upset at the decision by CAS to reinstate 28 Russian athletes who appealed the ban handed down to them by the IOC. Doping the Olympics isn’t new. The 1904 gold medalist in the marathon, Thomas Hicks, fuelled during his race with whiskey, egg whites, and ‘tonic’ - what we today would call pesticide (strychnine). This would be the first ever recorded instance of an Olympian using performance-enhancing drugs. In other words, the IOC has had a few years to figure out how to handle this.
This ban raises a concern on several different fronts. For now, we’ll watch and wonder, as we hear about these Russian athletes…exactly what is the punishment?