According to the World Anti-Doping Agency’s (WADA) most recent results (2014), the leading sports doping offenders are as follows: Russia (148), Italy (123), India (96), Belgium (91), France (91), Turkey (73), Australia (49), China (49), Brazil (46) and South Korea (43).
What hasn’t been made clear is that these figures encompass all sports, not just Olympic sports. As an example, of Australia’s 49 offenses, 20 of them came in Rugby League. Should that be used in deciding whether or not to ban Australia from competing in the Olympics? Obviously not.
What also hasn’t been made clear is that it is irrelevant to look at the absolute number of transgressions of any nation in making a decision on whether or not to impose a ban. We would expect the US, for example, to have a much higher number of athletes caught doping than Fiji because the US has far more athletes than that tiny nation. Likewise, it makes sense that Russia would have more athletes caught doping than, say, Bolivia.
The actual numbers
When we look at doping offenses by countries in Olympic sports, and the number of athletes they send to the Olympics, we find the following:
Italy: 104 offenses with 284 athletes; Russia: 91 offenses with 436 athletes; India: 67 offenses with 83 athletes; France: 50 offenses with 330 athletes; China: 46 offenses with 396 athletes; Turkey: 35 offenses with 114 athletes; Brazil: 31 offenses with 258 athletes; Iran: 29 offenses with 53 athletes; South Africa: 27 offenses with 125 athletes; Belgium: 25 offenses with 115 athletes.
Do the math yourself; by these official numbers, Italy has the most offenses, and from a smaller pool of athletes, than Russia. India has a higher rate of offenses than Russia, as does Turkey and Iran. Meanwhile, South Africa and Belgium have virtually the same rate of positive doping as Russia.
One of the charges is that the Russian Ministry of Sports approved the doping. If so, why would they have done such a poor job as to have fewer people cheating than Italy? Did the Italian Ministry of Sport take part in Italian doping? If not, how could Italy have so many athletes doping without their Sports Ministry knowing?
Also, who remembers the names of Tyson Gay, Tim Montgomery, Justin Gatlin, Dennis Mitchell, Shawn Crawford and Carl Lewis? Yes, all 100 meter sprinters from the US, all having made the final over the past five (summer) Olympic games, some of whom “won” the gold medal. Six American sprinters were all caught doping in the same discipline over decades, but their Sports Ministry knew nothing?
Or who remembers the Chinese Swim Team from the 1990s? Or the Austrian Ski Team from the 2006 Winter Olympics? None of these Sports Ministries knew anything of the mass doping, yet in every doping case that concerns Russia, we’re so sure that the Russian Ministry did?
Despite these obvious troubling questions, the entire Russian Track and Field Team were banned from the Summer Olympics last year and, just yesterday, all Russian athletes were banned from the upcoming Winter Olympics. Those Russian athletes deemed “clean” will be allowed to participate under a neutral banner – they won’t be able to officially represent Russia. This is collective punishment that has no precedent. Not even East Germany suffered a blanket ban during the 1960s, 1970s or 1980s.
In contrast, the revelation last year that countless Western sports stars are doped to the gills, and that their respective sporting authorities have for years been providing them with quasi-secretive and ethically dubious ‘exemptions’ to cover their doping practices, made hardly a dent in their reputations, their wallets, and their continued involvement in sports.
The man who sold his soul
So, how did we get here?
As is now a familiar pattern when it comes to sanctioning Russia in toto based on the testimony of one shady character, the banning of Russia from sporting events stems from the claims made by one Grigory Rodchenkov. He fled Russia in 2015 to (where else) the USA, where he spilled the beans on an alleged doping program during the 2014 winter Olympics in Sochi.
The strange thing is that Rodchenkov has been accusing others of what he himself has done in the most egregious way.
As the head of the WADA-approved Moscow anti-doping laboratory, Grigory Rodchenkov was responsible for tampering with the samples of Russian athletes and developing a three-drug cocktail of banned substances that he mixed with liquor and sold for personal profit to Russian athletes that competed in the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. According to an investigator with Moscow City court, he prescribed many of these drugs as ‘vitamins’ to unwitting athletes. For years prior to this, Rodchenkov and his sister Marina also ran a sideline selling PEDs (Performance Enhancing Drugs) to anyone else who was willing to pay. In 2011, the two Rodchenkovs were arrested and found guilty of drug dealing. Marina spent 18 months in prison while Grigory escaped jail time by claiming insanity and spending time in the Kashchenko psychiatric hospital.
In 2015, two ‘whistle-blowers’, former Russian 800m runner Yuliya Stepanov and her husband, interviewed and recorded Rochenkov, without his knowledge, where he talked about doping at the Sochi Olympics. In February 2016, allegedly ‘fearing for his safety’, Rodchenkov fled to the USA, where he is currently part of a witness protection program. The Stepanovs are also ensconced somewhere in the Land of the Free.
Rodchenkov’s allegations were the basis of the two part World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) report authored by Canadian lawyer Richard McLaren that led to all Russian track-and-field athletes being banned from the summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in 2016, and to the recent blanket-ban for the upcoming winter games in PyeongChang. But as ITV Sports editor Steve Scott put it last month, the report didn’t even come close to establishing “beyond reasonable doubt”. Ninety-five out of 96 cases Russian athletes under investigation by WADA were shut down because “there was not sufficient evidence to pursue an anti-doping violation”. Given his criminal history, it is not surprising that Rodchenkov has attempted to implicate ‘the Kremlin’ in what was likely a criminal scheme largely of his own making.
A couple of days ago, Russian NTV aired extracts of a video where Rodchenkov reveals details that you won’t find in any Western media coverage of the ‘Russian doping’ story. In one video Rodchekov says that he “does not care about the fight against doping” and plans to “destroy all Olympic sports of Russia for the next five years!” In another video he admits that he’s a “terrible person” who has “sold his soul” and has “[committed] all sins except pedophilia, homosexuality and drug trafficking.” He goes on to boast that his “expensive” apartment in Los Angeles and latest-model Infiniti sports car “are paid for” in full. By whom, he does not say, but we can easily imagine.
Cultural war against Russia
When the US government realized that it could no longer militarily intimidate Russia, a few years ago it decided to try to wage economic warfare against the country. When that effort also failed, the reality-creators in Washington figured they could force the Russians back in line by initiating a global smear campaign. From gay rights to hacking elections to sporting events, nothing is off the table when it comes to spreading bogus allegations about how ‘evil’ Russia and the Russian people supposedly are. Will Washington succeed now where they have so far repeatedly failed? Probably not.
While this selective demonization of Russian athletes may help to besmirch the image of Russia in the minds of ordinary people, those who know just how rampant doping is in just about every professional sport around the world (in particular in the USA) will have a hard time seeing that Russian doping – ‘state-run’ or otherwise – is anything but par for the course. By the same measure, informed people will see this black propaganda offensive for what it is: weaponizing sport in the geopolitical war waged by America against Russia.
Likewise, a majority of the Russian people will not be fooled, and if the US government (which is clearly behind this effort) expects to sow anti-government sentiment in Russia, they will be disappointed. On the contrary, the ongoing flagrant attempts to isolate Russia using underhanded tactics will simply serve to convince Russians (and all rational people around the world, for that matter) that the USA and its agents are duplicitous, cynical and arrogant, and that they never play fair. And so we must chalk up this ‘Russian doping scandal’ as one more pyrrhic victory for the ailing Empire of chaos.
Notes: Thanks to Christopher Coman for additional research for this article