In recent article in Reuters, the IOC responded to the hearings by the US House on doping in sports. Quite provincially, the IOC, from their high spot on Mount Olympus chastized the august US body for their attack on the IOC regarding the IOC’s reactions on doping and their current treatment of Russia.
USADA’s Travis Tygart pointed out, during the hearing on the Helsinki commission on how lax the IOC is in their anti-doping stance and also in their seeming appeasement of Russia as a sports power. Travis Tygart is right. The IOC, under Thomas Bach, says the right things, but their actions say something quite different.
In the House of Represenative hearings, there was much discussion on adding criminal charges and fines for sports doping in the United States. This would mean that members of the IOC, whose teams were competing in US, and we caught doping, could face stiff fines, reportedly up to $250,000.
Using an ad hominem attack, the IOC suggested the the US clean up its own house before it attacked the policies of the IOC or its members. The IOC noted that professional sports in the US, as well as US college sports have doping issues that need more testing. While this is true, the IOC is chastizing the US House for getting involved in the Olympic movement.
Avery Brundage, the late American head of the IOC from 1952-1972, would be proud. As complicated and problematic a leader as Brundage was, he might be curious at to some of the decisions supported by Thomas Bach, current titular head of the Olympic movement.
My favorite quote from the IOC has to be the following: “We very much appreciate and welcome moves in the United States to step up the fight against doping and we assume that the very worrying existing challenges with some of the professional leagues in the United States will be addressed as a matter of urgency.” Translation: Hey, Congress, stay out of our turf. Hugs, the IOC.
Mr. Bach seems, most of the time, irritated by both WADA and USADA, the two most effective champions of anti-doping. Bach just wants doping to go away. It won’t. There is too much at stake. Money, prestige for athlete and nations. And the price of being caught, currently is way too small. I am not asking for beheading, but it would be nice that a four year ban, then, a life ban, was in place. Until the charges and humiliation are so draconian, we will have problems with doping.
Also, Mr. Bach does not want to accept that there are many countries that do very little anti doping tests. The only doping tests that work are out of competition. Countries like Belarus, Ukraine, Kenya, Ethiopia, Jamaica, Russia and India have testing that is, at best, has much lower standards than many of their competitor countries, and at worst, conscious lapses in testing.
Finally, Mr. Bach needs Russia back in the happy, joyfield communion of global sports. Putin spent 54 billion US dollars on Sochi, that surpasses the 40 billion total of the 2008 Olympics in Bejing. Bach knows Russia is a sports crazy country. Their recent hosting of the FIFA World Cup gave many a more positive view of Russia. In Russia, religion is no longer the opiate of the people, although it is a huge influencer, sport is the opiate of the people. With great performances by great Russian athletes, Vladamir Putin, a smart and cunning leader if there ever was such a beast, can take the Russian populace’s focus off a lukewarm economy and pressure off his government. To build cathedrals of sport, the IOC needs money, lots of it.
Thomas Bach wants the US government to shut up, and US sponsors to keep writing those big checks for Olympic sponsorships. The USOC is dealing with several crisis, and have taken some creative approaches to move the blame from the USOC to anywhere else, so they are busy. With the LA Olympics just ten years away, the USOC needs to clear its docket and be able to focus on making the LA event huge and successful.
Bach wants the entire world competing in 2020, 2024 and 2028. He wants more happy sponsors and lots of TV revenue. He can’t set records without Russia being involved. Hence, the ironic forgetfullness on including IAAF and FIFA heads in IOC Council elections. Bach is no dummy. He does not know how to control the two most powerful sport federations and is annoyed 24/7 that Lord Coe is keeping Russia out of the world of nations in athletics.
Truth is this. Sports is huge in Russia. Putin knows that. Russians have been great in athletics, and with higher doping standards, they still would be. Why? Russia had great coaches, great athletes and fine development system. Doping gives athletes in close competition that extra point of a percent that makes the difference between fourth and a bronze medal. A government supported doping program, in Russia? I recall the late Emil Zatopek telling me about a conversation he had with the late Vladamir Kuts on doping in the Soviet Union. This was the cold war. US versus Russia, capitalism vs. socialism.
We are in a new cold war. The differences between Russia and the rest of the West are pronounced. The truth is, both sides are wholefully ignorant of the other sides needs and wants. Bach has a point, that Russia as part of the world in sports can be better than isolating them. But, Coe’s approach, while complicated, may achieve more. The controlled return of Russia into the world of sport may not only be a lesson for Russia, but for other countries considering supporting a nation wide doping program.
The admonishment of the IOC will do only one thing to the US Congress. It will have them cast their eyes more deeply into the situation, which is not what the IOC wants, but it is what the IOC will surely get.