Is the punishment severe enough?
There is an interesting split in opinion about the International Olympic Committee’s decision, announced this week, to ban the Russian team from the upcoming winter games in South Korea.
The IOC made the decision because of Russia’s rampant doping of athletes at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, though Russian President Vladimir Putin continues to deny there was a state-sponsored effort by the home country to cheat.
But the IOC made the ban less impactful by offering the carrot that Russian athletes who prove they are clean will still be able to compete under a neutral flag. Putin gave his blessing, too, for the country’s athletes to take part in this fashion.
So is it really a ban, or much punishment, if the country’s athletes, whom everyone watching will still know are Russian, just can’t wear their team jerseys, wave their flag, and hear their country’s anthem, should they wind up on the podium?
In some ways, it doesn’t feel like enough. Not when one considers the athletes who had their moments of glory stolen by cheaters. Medals awarded years after the fact just aren’t the same. Nor are the opportunities those medals can bring athletes, many of whom often languish in little-recognized sports that are expensive to pursue, with a chance at the limelight only every four years.
Just ask Canada’s Beckie Scott, who has become an anti-doping advocate in the years since her 2002 Olympic gold medal. Gold, you ask? Yes, but originally, she was only awarded the bronze medal. When it was discovered the two athletes who finished ahead of her were doping, she was elevated first to silver, then gold. But that was not until 2004. She was the first North American woman to win an Olympic medal of any colour in cross-country skiing. Imagine if she could have stood on the top spot on the podium in 2002 for her feat.
Of course athletes from other countries, including Canada (remember the infamous Ben Johnson?), have been caught doping over the years, but what makes the case of Russia different is the shear size and scale of the cheating.
Some argue that the IOC has failed to take doping seriously enough for years, so why now? We say to that, better late than never.
As for allowing Russians to compete if they prove to be clean, well, that seems only fair in the end. We shouldn’t punish the innocent, after all.