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Op-ed: Damage is done in Olympics

July 25, 2016, 14:09 UTC+3

The latest doping scandal has undermined Russia’s credibility and incurred irreparable damage to the world’s sports power

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© AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky

By Elena Dilber, international sports journalist

Russia’s national Olympic team has been given the green light to take part in the 2016 Games, after the IOC delivered its verdict on Sunday. Is the light really green? Picture coming to a fancy restaurant, but the maître d’ doesn’t want to let you in, even though you have reserved a table, and only after a long battle with management are you humbled with screechy permission to take your seat and enjoy your meal. Wouldn’t that spoil your mood and appetite?
This is exactly how the Russian team members feel on the verge of the Rio Games.
The IOC didn’t ban Russia, but delegated the right to approve athletes’ participation to the international sports federations, who can deny entry for those contenders who will not meet the requirements set by the IOC and WADA. This means the future of those Russian competitors lies in the hands of the global federations, however some athletes have already arrived in Rio.  What should they do now? Should they sit on their unpacked baggage waiting for the final approval?

Undoubtedly the team’s mood was spoiled by all the scandalous events the country was involved in.  One can only guess what it felt like to train under such pressure without knowing what would happen in the near future. Russia’s Olympic committee even canceled a ceremonial send-off for its athletes as the team’s participation in the Games remained uncertain till the very last moment.

By considering the possibility of taking a blanket ban, the IOC has already expressed distrust to the Russian sports ministry and athletes. The country’s reputation has been substantially tarnished and it will take years to wipe out the disgrace and restore former prestige.
Participants from other countries will now cast suspicious glances at the Russian champions whose victories will be constantly questioned and doubted. As a result, the national team members will be exhausted by additional drug tests initiated by WADA.
The latest doping scandal has undermined Russia’s credibility and incurred irreparable damage to the world’s sports power.

Just a reminder, national track and field practitioners were banished from competing in Rio due to breaches in doping regulations. A total of 68 unfairly punished team members, including the two-time Olympic winner Yelena Isinbayeva, will skip the 2016 summer Games, as the Court of Arbitration for Sport rejected Russia’s appeal to overturn a total ban by the IAAF. This means the forthcoming Olympics will be held without the world high jump champion, Maria Kuchina, the 110-meter-hurdle, world gold medalist, Sergey Shubenkov, and world-record pole-vaulting champ Yelena Isinbayeva.
The Olympics are the pinnacle of sport and the highest goal of all athletes to perform there. It’s a disaster to realize you have a chance to fight for a podium place, but you are not allowed to compete.

For instance, American middle-distance runner, Don Paige still regrets he missed a chance to win a medal at the 1980 Games. Possessing the fastest 800-meter time that year he could have battled for the gold but missed the event, because of the US boycott. Steve Ovett triumphed in the Olympics 800-meter race, while Sebastian Coe settled for silver. Coe also added the 1500m gold to his record at the same Olympics.  Who knew that 36 years later this man would make a tough decision to uphold an Olympic ban on Russia’s track and field team?
Curiously enough, Sebastian Coe who took part in the 1980 Olympics stands in favor of harsh measures towards Russia, while Thomas Bach who was denied a chance to perform in Moscow insists clean athletes must not be punished.
Doping scandals have always existed in sport. For example, the world famous American sprinters Marion Jones and Tim Montgomery were stripped of all the medals and records for using banned performance-enhancing drugs. The Lance Armstrong doping case produced a bombshell effect in cycling. But the US Olympic team suffered no losses due to these doping stories.
At the previous Games in London, team Russia finished fourth in the overall standings, harvesting a total of 23 gold medals.  Now in the absence of the national track and field squad this result would hardly be surpassed.
Olympics have always been the biggest sports holiday, but for the national team of Russia the competition has already been converted into a nerve-wrecking doping battle where athletes will fight not only for medals but for the country’s shattered image and reputation.

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