In a move that surprised me if no one else, the International Olympic Committee stood up and actually made a reasonably good but difficult sporting decision yesterday, banning Russia from participating in the 2018 Winter Olympics. The ruling came after an investigation into allegations of a sophisticated doping scheme backed by the country’s government and also included various suspensions, lifetime bans and a $15 million fine.
Another surprise? Russia seems to be taking the whole thing rather well.
“They are so scared of us,” wrote Irina Rodnina, the former Olympic skating champion who is now a pro-Kremlin MP, on Twitter. Vladimir Zhirinovsky, leader of a pro-Kremlin ultra-nationalist party, called the decision “political and sporting racism”.
Konstantin Kosachev, chair of the foreign affairs committee in the upper house of Russia’s parliament, said the decision was “part of the general western policy of holding Russia back” – a theme that was developed by other officials.
“They are always trying to put us down in everything – our way of life, our culture, our history and now our sport,” wrote Maria Zakharova, spokeswoman for the Russian foreign ministry, in a Facebook post.
Zakharova lumped in the Olympics ban with “world war, the collapse of the Soviet Union and sanctions” as ills the west had supposedly imposed on Russia.
Sergei Alekseyev, the head of the Association of Sports Lawyers, told the Parliamentskaya Gazeta newspaper: “Basically, Russians have been discriminated against based on their nationality, which is no more and no less than genocide.”
Yup, everyone’s totally fine with it.
One person who is legitimately totally fine with it at least on the surface is Vladimir Putin, who says that he won’t stand in the way of any Russian athletes who want to compete as neutrals, something the ban allows for as long as certain conditions are met. I’m not sure how in a case like this you go about sorting out truly clean athletes from dirty ones, but for the moment I’m more interested in Putin.
We know what he said, but we also know that with him, as with many politicians, there is a tendency for their words to differ from reality, sometimes profoundly and with dire consequences. It only makes sense that he, the most prominent Russian on the world stage, would put on the reasonable face and leave the crazy talk for underlings to engage in. A lot of things in the diplomatic arena are probably easier that way. but what may not be so easy is sorting out the true position of the State on what these athletes do. the Russian government hasn’t exactly been shy about harshly dealing with folks who go against it, so I hope anyone who is serious about competing knows what they may be getting into in light of all of the apparent anger. I also hope I’m over-reacting by even thinking about writing that sentence. It would be nice to believe that sports aren’t important enough to ruin or lose lives over, but to believe that we also have to believe that authoritarian governments only care selectively about being undermined on a grand scale, and I’m not sure anyone believes that.