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A THORNY ISSUE: Russians may be scapegoats

ANDI THORNHILL, [email protected]

A THORNY ISSUE: Russians may be scapegoats

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THE RIO OLYMPICS could go down as the most controversial ever.

For starters, the Games are being staged at a time when the political environment in Brazil is very volatile and industrial relations between the powers that be are strained and some of those involved with the essential services, like the police, who stated a month ago they may not be able to guarantee the safety of foreigners coming for the Olympics.

I wouldn’t be surprised if there are demonstrations organised by opposition groups and other social activists, designed to embarrass the Government for the world to see. Then, of course, there is the small issue of the Zika virus although health officials have said it shouldn’t be a major threat as it seemed destined to be a few months ago.

Some athletes used it as the reason they haven’t made it to Brazil, including the four top-rated golfers in the world. You could say something smells fishy about that move because it is the first time the sport is being played at the Olympics and you would think they would want to be part of history.

The story of the blanket ban on Russian athletes set a bad tone for the Games even though it had nothing to do directly with the Rio organisers. This will continue to be a talking point for the duration of the Games because you have to wonder if Peter should be paying for Paul in this instance.

Systemic doping

The move by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to allow different federations to decide which sports Russians could compete in strengthens this point although it was a clear situation of them passing the buck. The body then seemed to be contradicting itself at the very last minute by setting up a three-man arbitration panel to make the final decision on which Russians can compete at the Games.

In my opinion, this indicates that the IOC’s executive committee was split right down the middle in making their ruling in the first place and its apparent spinelessness could have come from a power play among members. While the morality of their stance looks questionable, it could be, too, that political pressure from outside sources helped to create confusion within the ranks.

Let’s face it, Russia is still a major player in international affairs and would find allies to help fight its cause. These developments have been a major embarrassment to them and they are not used to being pushed around in this manner. It also shows how prestigious the Olympics are and the lengths people go to be part of the world’s supreme multi-event.

What we have to ponder in the circumstances is whether the Olympic movement will ever be the same if political considerations continue to override what on the surface should be decisions based on facts.

In light of the precedent being set, there is always a good chance that similar manoeuvring will occur if there’s an attempt to downsize the participation of other world powers found to be in breach of fair play and sportsmanship. Small, developing countries couldn’t flex the same muscles we are seeing from Russia.

This has been borne out by the fact that the IOC couldn’t allow a key whistle blower to compete in Rio on the grounds that she had a previous drug violation but yet other known cheats with as many as two strikes against their name still have the opportunity to be there.

Eyewitness account

Yuliya Stepanova’s evidence was a major component in the quest to have a blanket ban on all Russian athletes from the Games. She gave an eyewitness account of her country’s wrongdoing. Whistle-blowers have been granted amnesties or given reduced sentences in the past for cooperating with anti-doping organisations.

The truth is that there has been too much hypocrisy in these matters, beginning with the Ben Johnson saga in Seoul in 1988. The current stance against Russia proves it emphatically. Rio has merely been caught in the crossfire.