Wednesday marked 100 days to go until the opening of the 2018 Olympic Winter Games in PyeongChang, South Korea, and once again the International Olympic Committee made it as clear as the sort of ice that makes like a frozen sheet of glass in a mountain lake that the Russians will — as they should be — be at those Games.
So much noise in so many U.S. and other western media outlets about whether or not the Russians will, or won’t, be at the Games. So much political pandering from so many anti-doping agencies whose officials either assuredly do or, for that matter, should know better.
The Olympics are about inclusion. Full stop.
The Russians will be in Korea.
Especially now, especially with political tensions around the world being what they are, and those 2018 Games being where they are. Common sense, everyone!
Follow that logic:
There is almost no chance that athletes from one of the world’s most powerful and important nations would be excluded from the Olympic Games over allegations — say again, allegations — related to sports doping.
Olympic sport is part of every government in the world except for one — the United States — and yet it’s a campaign led by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency that expects the world to rise up and say, yo, governments, through your sports ministries, banish the Russians?
Especially now, when the American position in the Olympic scene is what it is because of President Trump?
To underscore the reality that the Russians are coming, all you had to do was compare and contrast the two news releases that the IOC published on Wednesday, with 100 days to go.
This space has made the point, and repeatedly, that the IOC speaks in code. Breaking the code Wednesday was simple.
All you had to do was be willing to put aside the incendiary “the Russians are this or that” rhetoric that from far too many has consumed far too much oxygen over the past several months. That rhetoric is counter-productive to the extreme.
Decoding, Point One:
Understand that when the IOC publishes a news release, it — in much the same way the U.S. Department of Justice brings a case — does so in a bid to advance its own objectives.
Thus when the IOC president, Thomas Bach, publishes an op-ed on the IOC website — first printed in the Korean outlet JoongAng Daily — it is full of signals, indeed.
Keep in mind that Bach, representing West Germany back in the day, is himself a gold medalist, in fencing, in 1976 in Montreal. Because of the U.S.-led boycott, he was unable to compete at the Moscow Games, in 1980. This experience — being barred from the Games, as an athlete — is deep within him.
From the first paragraph of the op-ed:
“In only 100 days from today, the best winter sport athletes from across the globe will come together in PyeongChang for exciting competition, amazing the world with their sporting achievements.”
Does that paragraph say “the best winter sport athletes from across the globe will come together in PyeongChang for exciting competition — except for the Russians?”
Of course not.
Third paragraph, in full:
“The Olympic Games are of course first and foremost about sports and the athletes. But the Olympic Games also always carry a greater significance for humankind because in our troubled times, they are the only event that brings the world together in peaceful competition. The Olympic Games are always a symbol of hope and peace. The Olympic Games are universal. They stand above and beyond all the differences that divide us. In our fragile world that seems to be drifting apart, the Olympic Games have the power to unite humanity in all its diversity.”
There is no way — zero — a reasonable person can read that paragraph and not see which way this is going. Of course, the Russians are going to be at the 2018 Winter Games.
It doesn’t say, “The Olympic Games are universal — except for the Russians.” It says, “The Olympic Games are universal. They stand above and beyond all the differences that divide us.”
People, this is as direct as it gets. For emphasis:
“In our fragile world that seems to be drifting apart, the Olympic Games have the power to unite humanity in all its diversity.”
Look, the Olympic movement is inherently flawed. Of course, it is. It is made up of human beings, and all of us human beings are imperfect. But at its best, the movement — and its franchise, the Games — serves precisely the purpose Bach articulates in this op-ed, offering a moment (to be precise, 17 days) of inspiration and hope that, yes, we can all get along.
Plain and simple, that’s why the Russians will be in PyeongChang. With everyone else.
Again, that’s why the Russians should be in PyeongChang. With everyone else.
Which brings us to ..
Decoding, Point Two:
To be clear, the allegations involving systemic doping within Russia are significant. No one is suggesting otherwise.
At the same time, it is no kind of justice whatsoever to keep out athlete x, y and z, whoever they may be and wherever they may be from, unless you can prove up athlete x, y or z’s case individually, each before an accepted tribunal and to a reasonable standard of evidence.
This is why the IOC did what it did before Rio, and why it’s going to do the same thing for PC for 2018. There’s going to be a meeting in December of the IOC’s policy-making executive board at which that (same or similar) decision is going to be taken, as the signs make plain.
Which is the point of the second news release the IOC put out Wednesday:
The IOC announced it had sanctioned two particular Russians it had been investigating: Alexander Legkov, a gold medal-winning cross-country skier at the Sochi 2014 Games, and Evgeniy Belov, a cross-country skier who did not medal.
See? When you have evidence in individual cases, the IOC is telling us, it will act. Mob justice? No. Case-by-case adjudication? Appropriately, yes.
Headlines are sexy. Process, and case-by-case legwork, is not. As this space has also noted previously, a lawyer friend of much respect once said, and his words bear repeating, “The majesty of the law demands a stately pace.”
In this regard, the second IOC release contains this paragraph:
“Due to the nature and complexity of the cases, this thorough, comprehensive and time-consuming process has taken several months and had to involve external forensic experts, who had to develop a legally-defendable methodology for all the cases under the jurisdiction of the Disciplinary Commission. Due process has to be followed, and re-analysis is still underway.”
For emphasis, everyone: “Due process has to be followed …”
Due process is no fun, everyone, unless it’s your process that is due. Then you would fight like hell to make sure you were getting every single bit of the process due you.
You know what? The Russians unequivocally deserve that process.
As hard as it may be for some of you to acknowledge: even, or especially, upon allegation of systemic manipulation — that's when affording due process to prove up what really happened is, truly, the best of the Olympic spirit.