Russian PED Scandal Poses Ethics Challenge for 2018 Olympics

Julie Schreiber, Sports Editor

The 2018 Winter Olympic Games in PyeongChang, South Korea are just months away, and it remains to be seen whether athletes from team Russia will be allowed to compete.

As the February start date approaches, many Russian athletes are still caught in the crossfire of a major years-long doping scandal that involved both the usage of performance-enhancing drugs and the tampering with of urine samples for drug tests. Although final decisions from the International Olympic Committee remain to be delivered, it is in the best interests of the IOC to ban all of the Russian team from the 2018 Olympics in order to preserve the standards and integrity of the Olympic Games.

The issue of Russian doping first came to light after the 2014 Sochi Olympics. Exclusive reporting in The New York Times led to an exhaustive study by Canadian professor, lawyer, and World Anti-Doping Agency investigator Richard McLaren, who outlined how a Russian intelligence team, alongside Grigory Rodchenkov — the former head of the Russian national anti-doping lab — blatantly helped Russian athletes evade detection in using performance-enhancing drugs during the 2014 games.

Athough McLaren originally identified over 1,000 athletes in his report, only 96 cases have been reviewed by the World Anti-Doping Agency, under the administration of the IOC. Of the 96, all but one athlete were cleared. Russian authorities, meanwhile, continually deny the doping allegations, and in a press conference last week, Russian Olympic Committee President Alexander Zhukov publicly attacked the notion that Russian athletes might be banned from the PyeongChang Olympics.

WADA also revealed in their 323-page report that during their investigation — which lasted almost a year — Russia’s “culture of cheating” prompted a Moscow Laboratory to intentionally destroy over 1,400 samples.

By dodging the clear evidence of Russian doping and acting complacently, the IOC is not only prolonging a pressing decision, but trivializing the Olympics’ intergrity. Its hesitation to aggressively punish Russian athletes sends the message that as long as a nation is both cryptic and well-connected, it can get away with serious offenses.

Last week, a committee of 17 national anti-doping agencies, fed up with the continual indifference of the IOC in this matter, issued a public statement calling for a total ban on Russian athletes at the PyeongChang Olympics. The statement pointed to Russia’s “proven corruption of the Sochi Olympic games and its continuing failure in its obligations to clean sport.” The statement also called for “an immediate issue of meaningful consequences.”

Russian officials now face pressure to either acknowledge the truths of McLaren’s report or produce the evidence to challenge it. While this is a step in the right direction, these nations should not have to perform the job of the IOC. The reluctance of the IOC to punish the Russians makes the Olympics potentially unsafe for other athletes, is unfair to other nations that dutifully punish their athletes for doping, and violates everything the Olympics stands for.

If the Russians get off unpunished, it will undoubtedly encourage the use of performance-enhancing drugs by other countries in future Olympic games. The IOC cannot try to pretend that doping and cheating did not occur. The clock is ticking for the I.O.C and the Olympics to come to a verdict as Russia, one of the world’s largest and most powerful nations, is still set to compete.