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Russian Doping Scandal

Isabella Zhou, Features Writer

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Since its beginnings in 1896, the Olympics has been considered one of the world’s most prestigious international competitions. In the Olympic games, athletes from over 200 countries can fairly compete in over a total of 50 summer and winter Olympic events. During these times, countries around the world publicly display their friendly rivalries by competing for medals.

However, recent doping tests put into question the exact “fairness” of the Olympics.

Since the development of performance enhancing drugs, or PEDs, many of the world’s most prominent athletes have been fighting off allegations of doping. Alarmingly, many of these allegations may not be completely unfounded. The Wikipedia page of confirmed doping cases runs long, including cases from as recent as 2014 and 2015.

Many may also remember the downfall of Lance Armstrong, the American athlete who won seven consecutive Tour de France competitions but was stripped of all the awards in 2012. Why did he lose all his medals? Following an extensive investigation, the United States Anti-Doping Agency, or USADA, found Armstrong guilty of doping.

Yet, to the shock of sports fans around the world, another entity has recently admitted to perhaps one of the most widespread and systematic doping schemes in the history of competitive sports. On December 27, Russian officials finally confirmed that they had been systematically doping their athletes. This practice occurred, not just during the recent Sochi winter Olympics in 2014, but also during a variety of other sporting events over the years.

In May, Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov, Russia’s anti-doping lab chief, admitted to the fact that Russian officials had been covering up the use of PEDs in an interview with the New York Times and confirmed that he had personally tampered with samples from at least 15 Russian athletes who competed at Sochi in 2014. An investigation by the World Anti-Doping Agency, or WADA, soon followed.

The investigators, headed by Canadian lawyer Richard McLaren, became certain of the scheme after scrutinizing an official lab in Moscow, Russia’s capital, and finding that lab workers had been covering up for athletes that had tested positive for the use of performance enhancing drugs. Blood and urine samples that tested positive were removed and replaced with “normal” samples. The investigators also found that government intelligence agents had been involved with the removal and replacement of the samples in the supposedly untamperable containers. These agents were most likely aware of the scheme.

In addition, the global anti-doping regulators confirmed that the lab had been providing athletes with a blend of steroids, known as a “cocktail”, that can be consumed with Chivas Regal Scotch or vermouth to  lessen chances of detection. The main drug in the cocktail was Oral Turinabol, which was also used by the East German government in the 1970s and 1980s to help its athletes win gold medals.

In December, McLaren, published the extensive results of his investigations. In his report, he listed dozens of athletes, whose drug use had previously been covered up by the lab in Moscow. Additionally, he asked the International Olympic Committee, or IOC, to hold disciplinary proceedings against the athletes who were guilty of doping.

McLaren’s investigations and his confirmation of Dr. Rodchenkov’s confession finally prompted Russian government officials confirm the allegation of doping.

The anti-doping regulators did not connect Anna Antseliovich, the acting general director general of Russia’s anti-doping agency, to the doping plot. Nonetheless, she solemnly commented that, “it [the doping scheme] was an institutional conspiracy.” Subsequently, she emphasized the fact that the government’s top officials, including President Vladimir Putin, were not aware of the lab’s actions and should, therefore, not receive any of the blame for the incident.

Although some believe that Antseliovich is covering up for the government’s top officials, including Putin, there is no evidence to back this accusation.    

Antseliovich’s words echo those of McLaren, who stated that “it is impossible to know how deep and how far back the conspiracy goes… It’s time that this stops.” McLaren’s report has caused the IOC to take actions in response to the doping conspiracy by reviewing the samples that the Moscow lab tampered with. Many of the Russian athletes mentioned in the 144 page report are in danger of losing their rights to compete in future Olympic games.

Russia’s recent doping conspiracy has brought the corruption involved in the Olympics into the spotlight. At least in recent years, many Russian athletes have had the upperhand in a variety of sports competitions, not just limited to the Olympics.

McLaren’s disclosures have also called into question the WADA’s ability to detect and control the systematic use of performance enhancing drugs. Two points of controversy surrounding the WADA were that it was unable to detect the use of performance enhancing cocktails in the first place, and that it only held an investigation after the admission of Rodchenkov, a former collaborator in the scheme.  

Shortly after Russia’ admission, Fancy Bears, a Russian hacking group, accessed some of the WADA’s private information. Suspected to be the same group that hacked the Democratic National Committee, Fancy Bears revealed that a large number of American athletes, including tennis superstar Serena Williams, had taken banned drugs, supposedly for for medical purposes. Fancy Bears stated that it had hacked the WADA as an act of revenge for the investigation into the accusations against Russia.

Forming a connection to Snowden’s release of the NSA’s classified information back in 2013, Mr. New, a U.S. History 1 teacher and the instructor for the Holocaust and Genocide course, stated that Fancy Bear’s actions have jeopardized the right to privacy of the American athletes. “Are you the right person to release that information? To how many people are you supposed to release that information?”

Mr. New also acknowledged that many athletes mentioned in the information released by Fancy Bears were taking prescriptions for legitimate health concerns, and how it was unfair to implicate them simply because they were on a list of PED users held by the WADA.

On top of that, Mr. New proclaimed that “If Putin and Americans were to come together to try to figure out Fancy Bear’s influence and the extent of that influence, then you’re solving the issue on a larger scale.” By Russia and America owning up to any respective wrongdoings and addressing doping in the IOC, both countries would be able to bring about change in the positive direction. In such a case, Russia would have to acknowledge Fancy Bears’s wrongdoings, and guilty individuals on both sides would have to admit to the use of PEDs. The question is: Will America and Russia ever be able cooperate in such a manner?

“It’s really a community thing.” Mr. Crisafi, a health and physical education teacher, commented on these recent events and possible ways to solve the problem. Mr. Crisafi emphasized that it should be everyone’s responsibility, not just that of the higher-ups, to solve any kinds of complications.

“[The] use of PEDS will continue as long as there is a supply and demand; it’s just like economics,” Mr. Crisafi emphasized. Unless the community works together to combat the use of any kinds of illegal or banned, people would continue to use them.

Mr. Crisafi remarked that “anyone who uses that stuff is foolish. They are putting themselves at risk for health problems now and own the road.” Similarly, Mr. New reflected that “it’s disappointing that we’ve created this environment where people feel that need to do that [use PEDs] to their body in order to have success.”

The exact consequences of Russia’s doping scheme remain unclear as the IOC and WADA continue to investigate the exact extent of the Russian government’s involvement. Currently, the sports community is at a standstill, hoping that the names of some of its favorite athletes are cleared. While Russia is still considering a bid for the 2028 games, the practices of the Russian officials involved in the doping scheme, and the late actions of the WADA and IOC have tarnished the “clean” reputation of the Olympics.

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Russian Doping Scandal