Russia, but not as we know it: The ban that means nothing at the Tokyo Olympics

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
·4-min read
In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
 (REUTERS)
(REUTERS)

It’s Russia but not as we know it. Instead, a place above Great Britain in the Tokyo medal table, sits ROC — the Russian Olympic Committee.

In the BBC commentary and often at the venues here in Tokyo, athletes are announced as Russian because that is what they are, and it is like nothing ever happened: not the systematic doping; not the cover-ups going all the way to the Kremlin; and not the lack of apology for any wrongdoing.

Russia has 330 athletes at these Games — just behind the 375 brought by Team GB — and is expected to finish ahead of them in the medal table come the end of next week.

There is no Russian flag or national anthem — hardly the most Draconian of punishments for a doping system which made a mockery of London 2012 and rewrote the masterplan of doping as hosts of the Sochi Winter Olympics.

The neutral uniforms they were made to adorn at the subsequent Winter Games in PyeongChang have gone, again replaced by Russia’s colours — red, white and blue.

Dr Grigory Rodchenkov was the mastermind of cheating which played out in London, Sochi and before and after. Now in hiding in the United States having lifted the lid on the extent of the cheating, a Russian team in Tokyo — whatever the name — does not sit comfortably with him.

At the prospect of Russia competing in Tokyo, he told Standard Sport last year: “Russian cheaters might be able to escape proper sanctions and punishments yet again and then somehow participate in the Olympic Games in Tokyo. If this happens, the fight against doping will lose even more credibility — as difficult as that is to imagine.”

Grigory Rodchenkov in a scene from the 2017 Netflix documentary Icarus, in which he reveals he is overseeing Russia’s state-sponsored doping programme (Netflix)
Grigory Rodchenkov in a scene from the 2017 Netflix documentary Icarus, in which he reveals he is overseeing Russia’s state-sponsored doping programme (Netflix)

In fairness to the 330 competing, they all had to be cleared of any doping misdemeanours by their international federations — the IOC having passed the buck onto the individual sports to sort out the mess. Plus, they had to prove they were not among the hundreds of names on the Moscow database that Rodchenkov downloaded and took with him out of the country as he fled in fear of his life.

But the whole Russian punishment has been so watered down. WADA’s four-year ban was halved by the Court of Arbitration for Sport in December. And rather than go away quietly, Russia is increasing its influence in sport, with Alisher Usmanov, Vladimir Lisin and Umar Kremlyov the presidents of fencing, shooting and boxing’s international federations respectively.

There is a sense a powerhouse in the sport has been able to force its way back into the Games… from Russia with shove, if you like. And some of the supposed compromises are ridiculous.

ROC win the first ever men’s basketball 3x3 silver medal (REUTERS)
ROC win the first ever men’s basketball 3x3 silver medal (REUTERS)

Olympic officials made it clear ROC’s synchronised swimming team was not allowed to compete to From Russia With Love as part of their routine. And Russia’s plan to have a military anthem as its stand-in national anthem was rejected in favour of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No1 instead.

It was WADA founding president Dick Pound whose independent commission revealed the full scale of the Russian cheating back in 2015. Currently in Tokyo until the weekend, the Russian presence is far from ideal in his eyes.

“They’ve had their knuckles lightly rapped,” he said. “When you consider there were 10 or 12 years of total corruption and interference with competitive results in events in which Russians were performing, the punishment was not proportionate to the crime.”

The essence of Russia at the Olympics is this: no flag, no anthem, no Government officials and no name, in theory.

“The decision was that it was a Government designed and administered programme and it’s the country that should be punished, not the Olympic committee,” said Pound. “That’s a very charitable view on separation between athlete and Olympic Committee. But it is what it is and it played out that way.

“Everyone in the world except Russia accepts the problem. They’ve never acknowledged it and their portrayal of it inside Russia is very different to that outside. I don’t think it’s changed the world’s opinion about the degree of perfidy that was at play.”

Read More

Grigory Rodchenkov: ‘The situation in Russia is becoming even worse... the lies and denials continue from top’

Whistleblowers Vitaly and Yuliya Stepanov living in fear but have no regrets as doping saga heads to court

Sun Yang’s eight-year doping ban overturned by Swiss Court, according to WADA

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting