What seems abundantly clear, with the International Olympic Committee preparing to make one of its most important decisions, is that Russia has no place at the Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, in February.
There should be no Russian flag, no Russian anthem, no Russian uniforms: zero Russian pageantry after all the Russian skulduggery.
That is now the minimum acceptable response to Russia’s massive and state-sponsored doping program and its continued boot dragging on taking full responsibility and instituting genuine, verifiable root-to-branch reform across all Olympic sports.
Russia is of course hardly alone when it comes to doping: See Lance Armstrong, Marion Jones, Alex Rodriguez and other charismatic American icons who turned out to be frauds. But Russia is now in a class apart with the former East Germany in terms of scope and government meddling; in terms of audacity, too, with its switching of samples through a hole in the laboratory wall at the last Winter Olympics in Sochi in 2014.
They hosted the world and duped the world, as has now been reconfirmed by the I.O.C.’s own investigation.
Bring on the comeuppance.
The remaining big question, with the I.O.C.’s beleaguered president Thomas Bach expected to make an announcement on Tuesday, is whether there should be any Russian athletes in Pyeongchang. Should some be allowed to compete as individuals without any of the nationalistic trappings after proving they are subject to strict drug-testing regimens?
Richard Pound, the senior I.O.C. member, thinks not.
“I think it has gone too far, and the government shows no contrition or recognition regarding the established facts,” Pound said in an email message on Saturday. “That makes everyone complicit.”
With Russian leader Vladimir V. Putin having suggested that he would resist sending athletes to compete as neutrals, Pound thinks the message from the I.O.C. needs to be unmistakable after its “fumbling of the ball in 2016.”
“The I.O.C. needs to take control of the situation, rather than allow the Russians to pre-empt it by walking away,” Pound said.
A 75-year-old Canadian tax lawyer and former Olympic swimmer, Pound has been one of the key figures in the fight to make Russia accountable. He was chairman of the World Anti-Doping Agency commission that first confirmed the scale of Russian cheating in track and field in November 2015 in the wake of a report by the German television network ARD.
“It’s worse than we thought,” Pound said then before also making it clear that he hoped the Russians would take the hint, make the necessary institutional and cultural changes and not be banned from the upcoming Olympics.
A blanket ban could generate legal appeals. For Pound to advocate such a penalty represents a significant hardening in his position. And though he is the only I.O.C. member to have taken this stance publicly, one suspects Bach and many of his lieutenants were feeling rather embittered themselves as they listened to Vitaly Mutko last week. Mutko, the former Russian sports minister now in charge of organizing the FIFA World Cup in Russia in 2018, engaged in a filibuster devoted to denial at a FIFA news conference in which he lashed out at the I.O.C. and others and continued to reject the notion of state involvement in Russian doping.
If this was contrition, it certainly did not sound like it. Nor does it help that Mutko, one of the alleged overseers of the doping effort in Sochi, actually got a promotion after those Games and is now deputy prime minister.
But more earnest attempts at kowtowing could be forthcoming, perhaps even a rapid marginalization of Mutko, which the I.O.C. would likely perceive as too little too late.
For now, the lobbying is accelerating. Yevgenia Medvedeva, the Russian who has dominated women’s figure skating since the Sochi Games, is expected to give a speech to the I.O.C. executive board as part of the Russian delegation to Tuesday’s meeting in Lausanne, Switzerland. Medvedeva would be one of the main attractions in Pyeongchang if allowed to compete.
Meanwhile, the leaders of three international winter sports federations — ice hockey, luge and curling — have made it clear that they do not support a blanket ban on Russian athletes in Pyeongchang.
“Although we recognize the need to confront doping in sport, Olympic participation should not be used to sanction the many for the actions of the few,” said the International Ice Hockey Federation in a statement last week.
The trouble is that in Russia’s situation, individual clemency would seem more a case of not sanctioning the few for the actions of the many. The numbers are stunning, and they continue to tick upward. The I.O.C. has now retroactively banned 25 Russians who competed in the Sochi Games for doping offenses, stripping 11 medals, and it is not over yet.
As of Sunday, 99 Russians had been disqualified from all past Olympics: more than three times the total of any other nation.
Collective punishment already applies in other instances in sports. Consider relay team members who are stripped of medals because of a teammate’s doping violation; or athletes who have been forced to comply with their nation’s Olympic boycotts.
There have been plenty of lost generations for both just causes and more dubious causes. In Pound’s veteran view (he has been an I.O.C. member since 1978), the Russian situation has much in common with the I.O.C. banning South Africa — and all of its athletes — from the Olympics from 1964 through 1988 because of the nation’s segregationist apartheid policies.
“At a certain point, everyone in Russia is part of the corrupted system and must suffer the consequences of such involvement,” Pound said. “The I.O.C. needs to be sure it is not swayed by heavily conflicted international federations or by the mantra of ‘collective responsibility but individual justice.’ We are much closer to the apartheid model, where even those totally opposed to apartheid were also excluded by reason of the government actions.”
The I.O.C. already has missed one opportunity to send an unmistakably strong message to Russia and the athletes it has defrauded: declining to ban the Russian team from last year’s Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. Instead the I.O.C., citing the need to complete its own investigations, left it up to individual federations to make the call.
Track and field’s governing body, the International Association of Athletics Federations, was the only one that banned the Russian team, although it did allow one Russian athlete, long jumper Darya Klishina, to take part as an independent athlete because she had been based outside of Russia and was subject to extensive international antidoping controls.
With Russia still banned from track and field this year, Klishina was part of a delegation of 19 authorized neutral athletes who competed in the world championships in London in August.
That presumably would be the template if the I.O.C. does the expected and allows independent Russian athletes but no Russian team in Pyeongchang. It would be, as it was in London, an odd arrangement: muted celebrations, laps of honor without flags, the Olympic anthem on the podium. But in Russia and elsewhere, the medals won by neutrals would still be perceived as Russian medals.
That is if Putin allowed neutrals to compete: something he has said would be “humiliation for the country” and something he is presumably not eager to accept with Russian presidential elections coming in March.
“You probably cannot divorce this issue from the dynamics and politics of the presidential election,” said Michael Payne, the global sports consultant and former I.O.C. marketing director.
But Bach and the I.O.C. can no longer be concerned with Russian politics or Putin’s credibility at this very late stage in the Games. The future of their own organization and their own credibility is too much at stake.
Based on what they and we now know, the I.O.C. must, at the very least, ban Russia from Pyeongchang. Don’t be shocked if it follows Pound’s advice and bans the Russians, too.