Russia accused: state-run doping and thuggery

In the dock: Runner Mariya Savinova and hooligans have raised awkward questions for Russia.

It is the largest country on earth with the second most powerful military and the 12th biggest economy, rife with cheating athletes and vicious hooligans. What’s to be done about Russia?

No nation has seen its whole delegation of track and field athletes banned from the Olympics for doping. But this year in Rio, that fate will befall the world’s largest country.

The International Association of Athletics Federations has extended a ban on all Russian athletes taking part in its competitions. It is punishment for a long-term, ‘state-sponsored’ doping programme which was covered up by corrupt officials.

Shocking details have emerged since the ban was first enforced in November. Two whistleblowers have been found dead; three others have fled Russia. Last week, a new report said athletes, customs officials and even armed security agents had obstructed and intimidated the anti-doping authorities.

Anti-doping chief Craig Reedie said this weekend there had been ‘no cultural change’ in Russia’s handling of the issue.

Russia’s football team may also be banned from Euro 2016. Last week, over 30 people were injured in violence before and after their game against England; the police blamed around 150 ‘well-trained’ Russian thugs.

There have been clashes since. Twenty fans have been deported. Reports suggest the hooligans have connections to far-right nationalist groups and some are even soldiers who fought in Ukraine.

Just as Russia’s government was closely involved in the doping, this weekend there were suggestions it was sanctioning the fighting. A UK government official told The Observer the violence ‘looks like a continuation of the hybrid warfare deployed by Vladimir Putin’.

Russia has become detached from the outside world in recent years. It was expelled from the influential G8 group of rich democracies after war broke out in Ukraine in 2014, while the EU imposed sanctions on it. Putin’s crackdowns on the press, LGBT freedoms and political opposition have caused concern.

But last week, several senior European politicians attended a major economic conference in St Petersburg. This suggests there could be a thaw in relations. Would this be wise – or should the international community disengage from this pariah nation?

For the high jump

Russia must be cast out, say some. Putin has defined himself as the enemy of open, liberal societies, and even Russia’s sporting teams are at his whim. His government cannot be trusted and should be given no legitimacy. If decent governments stand for anything, they must limit his influence.

That is unrealistic, respond others. Alienating one of the most powerful countries in the world will not solve wars, poverty or other crises. Economic reality requires that countries trade with a nation of 150m people. Leaders must accept the world as it is and deal with powerful people, even if they do not like them.

You Decide

  1. Do you always abide by your principles, or is that unrealistic?
  2. Should the international community cast out Russia?


  1. Re-write this story in your own words, using no more than five sentences.
  2. Would you have banned Russia from the Olympics? Prepare a convincing one-minute speech, arguing either in favour of the decision or against it.

Some People Say...

“Leadership means engaging with others — even your worst enemies.”

What do you think?

Q & A

I don’t live in Russia. Why do events there matter to me?
Russia has the second strongest military, and one of the largest economies, in the world. Meanwhile, Vladimir Putin is becoming more powerful and expanding Russian influence abroad. If Russia is hostile to your country, it is more likely to undermine the values you hold and hurt your economic interests. The question is whether to stop that by engaging with it or isolating it.
How important is Russia?
Russia has played a significant role in international relations for around three centuries now. For much of the 20th century, it was one of the world’s two superpowers. And Putin is a former agent of the Russian security services — he, like many of his background, seems to see the strong Russia of the past as a good guide for the future.

Word Watch

People who tell the authorities about wrongdoing in an organisation they are part of.
From the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).
Customs officers tampered with packages containing samples. Examples of uncooperative athletes included one who hid clean urine inside her body and another who ran away from the testing area.
The deportees included the leader of the Russian football supporters’ association, Alexander Shprygin, who reportedly has far-right links. He and two fans, who were jailed for the violence, were part of the official Russian delegation which met police and organisers before the tournament.
A significant number of those involved are believed to have been in Russia’s ‘uniformed services’ — suggesting the fighting may have been directed.
The St Petersburg International Economic Forum. This year’s guests included the prime minister of Italy, the president of the European Commission and a former president of France. Last year Alexis Tsipras, the Greek prime minister, was the only European politician to attend.

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