It’s Time to Stop Romanticizing the Olympics


As if the continued impasse over the federal budget weren’t miserable sufficient, the world of endurance sports activities kicked off 2019 with a self-inflicted disaster of its personal. Once once more, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) is getting blasted for permitting itself to be performed by Russia—the nation behind the good urine switcheroo of 2014. WADA actually shouldn’t be resistant to criticism, but it surely’s value remembering that the company has far much less affect than the athletic establishments that it’s meant to serve. First and foremost, we ought to be holding the International Olympic Committee (IOC) accountable. 

Before we get to that, right here’s an replace on what has to this point been an eventful yr in doping information.

In September, WADA made the controversial decision to reinstate Russia’s nationwide drug-testing physique, which had been suspended since 2015 within the wake of revelations concerning the nation’s state sponsored doping. Russia’s reinstatement, which was closely criticized on the time by USADA President Travis Tygart and others, got here with the stipulation that WADA be granted entry to a laboratory in Moscow in order that the company may acquire additional proof for pending investigations. WADA’s onerous deadline for acquiring information from the Moscow lab was set for December 31, 2018. I’ll spare you the suspense. According to WADA, the group they despatched to Moscow was rebuffed as a result of their tools apparently wasn’t licensed below Russian regulation. The deadline got here and went, eliciting widespread ridicule of WADA President Craig Reedie.   

“I can’t believe that former 1960s badminton starlet Craig Reedie has had his arse handed to him yet again by former KGB colonel Vladimir Putin,” Guardian columnist Marina Hyde wrote final week. 

In response, WADA’s founding president Richard Pound printed an op-ed wherein he claimed that the “lynch mobs” attacking the company had been doing extra hurt than good. 

“Efforts to discredit and destroy WADA will not help the fight against doping in sport and the protection of clean athletes, despite the athlete-centered rhetoric,” Pound wrote, including that, on the finish of the day, we’d be far worse off if WADA ceased to exist. 

As for the snafu of the mysteriously inaccessible Moscow laboratory, on Monday WADA released a statement that the difficulty had been “resolved” and that one other group can be headed to the Russian capital later this week. Assuming that issues work out this time, the truth that the preliminary deadline was missed by a number of days shouldn’t be all too consequential in and of itself. Of course, given all that’s transpired, 1 doesn’t must be a hardened cynic to be skeptical about any information WADA does handle to acquire. 

But what, actually, is the choice for WADA within the case? Even if the company had been to declare Russia noncompliant and re-suspend the nation, that wouldn’t assure any motion from the organizations who truly name the pictures. It shouldn’t be WADA’s important obligation to mete out punishment, particularly if extra highly effective governing our bodies don’t comply with up.

Which brings us to the IOC. 

On January 1, IOC President Thomas Bach printed a “New Year’s Message.” After modestly taking credit score for the burgeoning peace between North and South Korea, he proceeded to tout the IOC’s powerful sanctioning of Russia finally yr’s Winter Olympics and declared that Russia had atoned for its doping sins. As a reminder, regardless of formally suspending the Russian Federation (a suspension that has since been lifted), the IOC nonetheless allowed 160 Russian athletes to compete in Pyeongchang, much to the chagrin of WADA’s Pound, amongst others.

Unsurprisingly, Bach’s announcement didn’t sit properly with everybody, not least as a result of it got here out the day after Russia missed WADA’s “hard deadline.” 

“Bach is sending a clear message that he will back Russia no matter what, no matter the rule violations, compliance be damned,” USADA General Counsel Bill Bock tweeted on January 1. 

“If he were in the U.S., Mueller would be investigating. A more definitive statement of utter capitulation and feckless weakness cannot be imagined,” he added.

To make certain, Bock has additionally been an outspoken critic of WADA, arguing that the group has been far too lenient within the face of Russian non-cooperation. (It’s value mentioning that, as a 2nd requirement for reinstatement, WADA required that Russia “publicly accept” that state-sponsored doping did happen. Shockingly, this has not occurred.)

However, within the age of micro-dosing and over-the-counter EPO, we want some iteration of WADA to exist. If we’re going to have anti-doping guidelines there must be some technique of implementing them on a global scale. On the opposite hand, when it comes all the way down to it, we don’t strictly want the Olympics so as to have elite-level worldwide athletic competitors. 

I do know what you’re pondering. As somebody who spends a whole lot of time writing about skilled distance working, I’m as conscious as anybody that the Olympics are the one time non-enthusiasts have a tendency to note the game. If you’re a professional runner—or, for that matter, a professional skier, or swimmer, or roller!—there’s no larger stage. What’s extra, when you’re an elite athlete in an “Olympic sport,” chances are high that the importance of the Games is so embedded in your psyche which you could’t think about competing with out the five-ring dream beckoning within the distance; witness the countless athletes with Olympic tattoos and the numerous extra who say that making an Olympic group can be the best triumph of their profession.

And I completely get it. I’m in no hazard of turning into an Olympian and but ever since childhood, I’ve been indoctrinated by the pageantry of all of it: the torch relays, the theme songs, the medal displays, Citius, Altius, Fortius, Bob Costas’s immutable face… 

But we shouldn’t let our sentimental concepts about what has advanced right into a multi-billion greenback advertising operation lead us to imagine that the Olympics should, as a rule, all the time characterize the head of athletic achievement. If the Olympics don’t give a shit about clear athletes, maybe clear athletes ought to return the favor. 

“When we will hit that critical mass where more athletes look at the Olympics with disdain than with esteem is an open question,” Jules Boykoff, famous Olympics critic and writer of Power Gamesput it to me in an e mail. “But there’s no question that these days, for clean athletes, serious grievances churn beneath the shimmery surface of the Games.” 

Of course, turning such grievances into significant motion is a tall order. For most, the Games are nonetheless a possibility that’s too seductive (and profitable) to go up. For now, the one ones who we’d anticipate to protest are those that can afford to take action. 

“I think if some big-name athletes took a stand against the IOC and said they’d withhold participation unless things improved, that could make a dent,” Boykoff wrote in his e mail. 

“More than likely, that would come from an Olympian coming toward the end of their career, or one who has solidified so many sponsorship deals outside the Olympics that they would be insulated from the decision not to participate, let alone any threats the IOC might try to level.”

Prospective host cities have more and more been giving the Games a hard pass. What if athletes beginning doing the identical?

(Editor references)

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