On Dec. 5, the International Olympic Committee announced it would ban Russia from competing in next year’s Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. The decision was a result of the committee’s commission investigation into the practice of doping by the Russian Olympic team during the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia.
This action by the International Olympic Committee comes at a time when doping, also known as the use of performance-enhancing drugs by athletes, is a widespread problem on the international stage. In Russia, the doping in Sochi was committed on a national level, in an operation that is believed to be unrivaled in its scale.
Regarding the actions of the Russian Olympic Committee, in the report issued by the International Olympic Committee, Thomas Bach, the body’s president, wrote, “This was an unprecedented attack on the integrity of the Olympic Games and sport.”
The ban is the first of its kind in Olympic history, so its implications cannot be fully anticipated. However, this ban is an appropriate one in light of the significant role Russia has traditionally played in the Olympic games.
The nation has won 556 Olympic medals since 1994, more than every other nation besides the United States. Many of the medals that Russia won at Sochi have already been revoked, and the rest are in question.
The first widely published concrete evidence for Russia’s doping during the Sochi games came with the documentary “Icarus” and a related article published in the New York Times in May 2016.
In these, the director of Russia’s anti-doping laboratory during the 2014 games, Grigory Rodchenkov, exposed the actions of the lab staff: developing a unique blend of performance-enhancing drugs and replacing tainted urine samples with clean samples. His accounts were consistent with previous findings published by the World Anti-Doping Agency and he also supplied emails between officials to back up his claims.
At a time when Russian politics are tightly intertwined with those in the West, the doping operation at Sochi was and remains a flashpoint. Those who have covered the scandal and ban have gone back and forth about whether or not the doping would benefit Russian President Vladimir Putin politically.
Andrew Osborn, writing for Reuters, suggested that the ban strengthens Putin’s message that the wider world is out to get Russia. In contrast, former U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul, writing for the Washington Post, said, “Gold medal winners will not get to hear the Russian national anthem, all because of Putin’s decision to cheat.”
This is not the first time that Russia has involved its athletes in a plan for doping — it notably occurred ahead of the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, which the Soviet Union ultimately boycotted, and again in the 2016 games in Rio de Janeiro. The Soviet Union had a history of doping, and Putin is engaging with this tradition as the leader of Russia.
The International Olympic Committee is working with a panel to offer spots in the Pyeongchang games to Russian athletes who would compete under the name “Olympic Athlete from Russia,” according the report published by the body. The Russian national team will have the opportunity compete again in future Olympic competitions after passing a rigorous test.
While these provisions are appropriate, the committee should also consider banning the Russian team from the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. Until there is a demonstration of remorse by the leaders of the doping scheme and consideration of the further impact of Russia’s actions, the country should not be allowed to compete in the games.
Georgia Westbrook is a senior majoring in art history and Noah Bressner is a senior majoring in history.