Russian Doping Scandal: Olympic Problem

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In the midst of the lead-up to the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Summer Olympics, Russian track-and-field runners Mariya Savinova-Farsonova, Ekaterina Poistogova, Anastasiya Bazdyreva, Kristina Ugarova and Tatjana Myazina have been “provisionally sanctioned” by authorities who claim these and others were involved in a massive doping scandal. Other parties being implicated include runners on both men’s and women’s teams, as well as five coaches and a doctor.

In addition, increased probing into team records shows that six of the country’s track stars with abnormal doping test results were allowed to participate in the 2012 London Olympics. The consequences of this vast conspiracy could span from lifetime bans for those involved to the revoking of two 2012 medals. Discussion has even begun to ban the Russian track team completely from participating in the 2016 Olympics. While no full decisions have been made, as accusations fly, the implications the scandal carries for Russia’s and other countries’ teams continue to heighten.

Suspicion of the Russian track team’s activities began with “Top Secret Doping: How Russia Makes Its Winners,” a documentary released in December 2014. The film, aired by German public broadcasting network ARD, alleged to have video footage from insiders displaying what it deemed as “systematic state-sponsored doping.” Just two days after the hour-long program reached German televisions, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) ordered immediate action and investigation concerning its claims. After months of scrutiny from the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), a 323-page report was issued Nov. 9 summarizing its findings and concluding that the Russian track-and-field industry has become a “culture of cheating.”

The matter of the scandal, according to the report, extended far outside the athletic world. Insiders reported that at one of the key anti-doping laboratories, covert agents under the FSB, successor to the Soviet KGB, posed as visitors and even workers. These FSB members allegedly tapped employee phones and bugged areas of the Moscow Anti-Doping Laboratory, creating an environment of pressure and fear. In addition, the lab’s director, Grigory Rodchenkov, ordered almost 1500 test samples to be destroyed days before a WADA inspection, later claiming to have misunderstood the organization’s instructions. Other alleged methods of covering up positive doping tests included bribery, false identities and intimidation, with some testers even reporting cases of smuggling and threatening phone calls.

Until further evidence is found to disprove the allegations or unless state-sanctioned doping is eradicated, WADA will continue to fight the Russian track-and-field team’s entry into the Rio Olympics, with report coauthor Richard McLaren labeling the incident as “worse than FIFA.” Currently, the Russian government has admitted only to destroying samples, with investigations being met with mixed reactions from its greatest authorities.

While Vitaly Mutko, its sports minister, has responded to the accusations with disdain, President Vladimir Putin has ordered a second investigation by Russian internal forces. The country promises that the Moscow Anti-Doping Laboratory will comply with accepted principles by March 2016, which will serve as the moment of judgment for acceptance into the Rio Olympics. In addition, WADA is now teaming up with INTERPOL, the world’s largest international police organization, to conduct a global doping investigation ensuring that all Olympic-participating countries are performing fairly.

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