‘Why I believe the Olympics are a charade’

Smells like team spirit: Olympians with no country to represent get their own team. © Getty
by Simon Jenkins

An award-winning columnist who has edited The Times and Evening Standard and served as chairman of the National Trust. Sir Simon was knighted in 2004 for services to journalism.

Russia has been banned from the 2018 Seoul Winter Olympics. Its crime: state-sponsored doping. But according to Simon Jenkins, Russian athletes are far from the only ones bearing guilt…

I have some sympathy for Vladimir Putin. For years, he was playing footsie with the International Olympic Committee (IOC). The IOC had surely known perfectly well, and for decades, that Russian athletes, like many others, were doped to the eyeballs.

It turned a deaf ear to all whistleblowers and journalists on the subject, even when clear evidence was privately submitted to it and its laughable “anti-doping” agency by Vitaly and Yuliya Stepanov in 2010. The IOC did nothing to damage the farrago of cheating, waste and corruption that was the 2014 Sochi winter games.

Russia was the IOC’s kind of country. It put chauvinism before money, and money before sport. It spent like mad and doped like mad. When in 2014 the desperate Stepanovs gave their ignored material to the media, the balloon went up. The IOC even admitted to being embarrassed.

Any athlete will attest that the temptation to use drugs is intense.

This week, following claims from another cast-iron whistleblower, Grigory Rodchenkov, and at least three inquiries, the IOC declared that Russia had committed “an unprecedented attack on the integrity of the Olympic Games and sport”. IOC President Thomas Bach said Russians could compete in next year’s winter games in Seoul only under a “neutral” IOC banner, albeit with the word Russia attached – an implausible certificate of cleanliness.

If I were Putin, I would ask Bach: how was I so clean three years ago and dirty now? There is nothing new. And what about all the other countries the IOC must know have doped their athletes? The truth is that this week the IOC, as well as Russia, has been found out.

Supranational bodies will go on corrupting sport and enjoying themselves by Swiss lakes as long as they remain unaccountable oligarchies. They will do so as long as members such as Britain and America collude with their misbehaviour in pursuit of a blind craving for sporting prestige. Britain’s Olympic officials knew about doping, because every athlete knew. The trouble is that something is not news when everyone knows it, except the public.

The reality of sports doping is that it floats on a vast sea of money. Yet the $15 million fine the IOC is imposing on Moscow for anti-doping “costs” is trivial.

Meanwhile, international sport is closing ranks. The IOC felt compelled to ban the Russian sports minister, Vitaly Mutko, from the Olympics “for life”, though it curiously exonerated Mutko’s Kremlin boss. There is no suggestion of any consequent boycott of Russia’s 2018 football World Cup, also run by Mutko. This is despite dark questions still being asked about how the international football body, FIFA, “awarded” the contest to Moscow, at the same time as the 2022 cup went to Qatar.

Any athlete will attest that talent can take you to the top, but to stay there the temptation to use drugs is intense. Teams depend on you. Your country treats your medals as its own, as decorative fodder for the glory of the state. In this respect Britain is among the worst. It tips public money into “winning medals” that poorer states could never afford, and it punishes athletes who fail to win them by cutting their incomes. It is reminiscent of the old Soviet bloc.

The IOC has, perhaps ironically, indicated a way out of this mess. It is to regard athletes from “guilty” countries not as representatives, but as individuals. It should go further: it should now treat all athletes that way, inviting them to participate as citizens of the world.

© The Guardian. The original article can be found under Become An Expert.

You Decide

  1. Should Olympic athletes represent only themselves, not their country?


  1. Either design a new flag or write the lyrics to a new anthem for Olympians who compete as independents.

Word Watch

Vitaly and Yuliya Stepanov
Yuliya is an 800m runner and Vitaly, her husband, is a former anti-doping official. Yuliya underwent doping herself. After they blew the whistle, the couple fled Russia, fearing for their lives.
“A confused mixture” — Oxford Dictionaries.
Grigory Rodchenkov
Rodchenkov was the head of the Moscow anti-doping laboratory, in which role he says he helped carry out a doping programme that ran “like a Swiss watch”. Like the Stepanovs, he has fled the country.
In the past, sportspeople from other banned countries (like Kuwait) have competed as “Independent Olympic Athletes”.
Dark questions
FIFA commissioned a report into claims that Russia had bribed officials to award it the World Cup. The report found no evidence of wrongdoing.
Cutting their incomes
Sports which have been hit hard include badminton, fencing and archery. Bodies representing these sports have complained to the government.
Citizens of the world
The writer Bernard Levin has suggested that athletes should compete naked, as in ancient Greece, to avoid all signs of national affiliation!

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