Tuesday, October 23, 2018
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The Olympic Ban Helps Putin, Hurts Russia


New York Times

IT was probably a coincidence, but there's a certain symmetry to Vladimir Putin's announcement that he is running for yet another term as Russia's president on the day after his country was banned from February's Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. Putin has maintained his popularity in large part by persuading Russians that he is the guarantor of their national greatness against the machinations of a West forever conniving to keep Russia down. The Olympic ban was the perfect setup to declare his candidacy.
Speaking at the giant Gorky Automobile Factory in Nizhny Novgorod where he announced his decision a decision that will keep him in office for another six years, since he will be sure to win Putin dismissed the International Olympic Committee's stern punishment as an"absolutely staged and politically motivated decision." The 17-month IOC investigation that confirmed the"systemic manipulation of the anti-doping rules and system in Russia" and led to the ban was accorded no credence. The committee has now retroactively banned 25 Russians who competed in the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, for doping offences, stripping 11 medals, and the investigations continue.
The irony in the back-to-back announcements is that the same power plays that garner Putin plaudits at home have spectacularly backfired abroad. The annexation of Crimea, the interference in Ukraine, the meddling in US elections and the elaborate, state-sponsored doping of athletes, to name the more grievous of them, have sharply diminished Putin's, and Russia's, stature in much of the world.
However Putin depicts the ban, the fact is that it's the least the IOC could have done, and the sooner the Russians understand this the better for their great athletes. The IOC has come under considerable criticism over the years for its anaemic response to scandals and doping, but Russia's brazen and elaborate cheating at the 2014 games, revealed by the former director of Russia's anti-doping lab, rendered Russia's participation in the South Korean games unthinkable.
Some will argue that the IOC should have been even tougher, imposing a blanket ban on all Russian participation. As it is, while Russia is banned from fielding a team, sending officials or raising its flag in Pyeongchang, the Olympic committee ruled that Russian athletes with proof of credible drug testing will be allowed to compete in neutral uniforms and under the Olympic flag, yet still identified officially as"Olympic Athletes from Russia." The committee also said the ban on Russia may be lifted in time for an appearance in the closing ceremony.
Putin said that those athletes who want to will be allowed to compete individually. That is to the good. The sanctions make clear that the culprit is the Kremlin and its greed for glory. And while athletes who followed the orders of their coaches and downed illicit chemical cocktails must pay a price, those who have remained clean should not. And the insignia on their uniforms will help proclaim that"Clean Olympic Athletes from Russia" are always welcome on the level playing fields of international sport.

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