For all the noise in some quarters of the press and from some athletes’ groups, the World Anti-Doping Agency on Thursday did the right thing and reinstated Russia.
Yes, the right thing.
This drama has been going on long enough. At some point there needs to be closure. That time is now.
Of course, the Olympics are rooted in a set of ideals. But the Olympic movement operates in the real world. The real world is about more than just morality. It’s also about all the things that make our world go around, especially where sport and and government intersect, a myriad of interests that include politics, diplomacy, business and hard cash, and to pretend otherwise is silly.
In real life, solution is the way forward. Solution typically takes negotiation and compromise.
The Russians have been punished; their team didn’t go as a team to the 2018 Winter Games. Moreover, there’s rehabilitation: it’s in everyone’s interest to have a rebuilt and robust Russian anti-doping agency.
It’s now two years until the Tokyo Games. This thing has to go forward, with the Russians being given the opportunity to acknowledge the language in the International Olympic Committee’s Schmid Commission report and, more important, produce the Moscow lab data by Dec. 31 or else — that is, give a WADA independent expert access by that date to that raw data.
First, that’s real-life compromise.
Second, it seems highly unlikely that Russia would have agreed to this condition unless it was prepared to meet it.
For most people, there is not a lot of understanding about whether it is the IOC that has reinstated Russia (it did so pretty much right after the 2018 Winter Olympics) or WADA, or what. A Venn diagram might show where WADA’s and the IOC’s interests could be said to overlap. All the same, and to be clear, and it would be super-helpful in particular if those athletes and others so ardently lobbying for “clean sport,” as if cheating happened only in Russia and not in their countries (ha!) could wrap their minds around WADA’s task, around what it has been trying all along to do: get the Russian Anti-Doping Agency compliant.
Real world: WADA is in a much-better and -stronger position than it was before Thursday. Why? Because now it has a written agreement. And the pressure is on the Russians to comply.
Also, compare and contrast:
WADA made requests to the previous regime connected to Russian sports. Response: zero, zip, nada.
Now: again, agreement in hand, WADA is in a much-stronger position to deal with RUSADA compliance.
In the meantime, it’s worth observing who has been complaining the loudest and longest.
Basically, the criticism has come from the United States, Canada, some parts of Western Europe, New Zealand and Australia.
The rest of the world, which is most of the world? To reiterate, zero, zip, nada.
What does this tell you?
When silence speaks volumes?
Meanwhile, it is the case that claiming moral superiority can often prove a slippery slope.
The United States, for instance, can’t even get its professional leagues on board when it comes to world anti-doping standards. Who is the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency to be preaching morality when hulking NFL players may well be jacked up on who knows what, and USADA — at least as much of the rest of the world sees it — is not doing jack about it?
Travis Tygart, the USADA chief executive, issued a statement after Thursday’s decision calling it “bewildering and inexplicable.” This is empty rhetoric. The decision is fundamentally rational and, as noted above, completely explicable.
Then there is Grigory Rodchenkov, the former Moscow lab director, who wrote in an op-ed for USA Today that reinstatement would be a “catastrophe for clean sport.” What absurd, unsupportable hyperbole. And from a proven hypocrite — the guy who also writes, “For years, RUSADA undermined the idea of clean sport,” as if he had nothing to do with it, Rodchenkov going on to note a few paragraphs later, that it is “with a heavy heart and deep regret that I recall those moments that betrayed the Olympic ideal.”
This guy is in hiding, protected by the United States, at taxpayer expense, in the witness protection program? For what reason?
Jim Walden, Rodchenkov’s lawyer, said the WADA decision “represents the greatest treachery against clean athletes in Olympic history,” never mind what his client did while he was in Russia, asserting next that Congress ought to put athletes from the 205 other national Olympic committees who take part in international competition under U.S. criminal law — even though the U.S. criminal code does not make doping a federal crime for American athletes. Nor is doping a crime in any of the 50 states.
That kind of stupidity — it’s bullying, really — is intended primarily to pressure the Congress and the United States Olympic Committee.
Let’s call it for what it is: so much hypocrisy.
What also has been fascinating is that in the nearly four years since the Russian drama exploded — since December 2014 — every single government in the world has had the chance to make a statement by contributing difference-making money, let’s say tens of millions, which in government terms is chump change, to the anti-doping campaign.
None has done so. Zero, zip, nada.
This tells you what?
Too, what does it tell you that no major corporate entity has contributed really big bucks?
Or that no Olympic sponsor has spoken out, much less pulled out?
Indeed, Allianz, the insurer, just days ago announced it was becoming a top-tier International Olympic Committee sponsor as of 2021 in a deal that runs through 2028 and is likely worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
That’s money talking.
Since money indisputably talks, consider:
Tygart, later in his statement, writes about “reforming” WADA and “removing the inherent conflict of interest from having the IOC fox guarding the WADA henhouse,” OK. The IOC contributes half of WADA’s roughly $30 million annual budget, governments from around Planet Earth pony up the other half according to a complicated formula, and no one — to reiterate, no one — has stepped up with any other dollars. It’s coming up on four years already. Show me the money.
This fox and henhouse thing may make for a great soundbite. But so what? The real world demands solution.
Here is the bottom line, having written about doping in sports for 20 years now:
The sun is going to come up on Friday, doping in sports is problematic for sure but it’s always going to happen because the only limit to cheating is human imagination and well-intentioned people should do their best to say no, no question, but for all that there is a huge sense of excitement about Tokyo and 2020 in a way that was absent from Rio and 2016, and billions of people around Planet Earth will tune in, on their TVs or phones or whatever, to see, and feel a part of it, and do you know why?
Because something might happen that can only happen at the Olympics, where everyone from everywhere is together at one place at one time, and we all want to be believe — we need to believe — that we can all get along.
Everyone includes Russia. It’s in everyone’s interest to get the Russians compliant.
Which tells you this: the time is now for solution.