Russians Held to Different Standards
Michael AVERKO | 19.08.2016 | OPINION

Russians Held to Different Standards

What some say about Russia/Russians is more of an indicator about the former than the latter. A good deal of commentary is on record about the Olympics and Russia. For a fuller overview, some additional points can be added.

Bigotry has been definitely at play. From Juliet Macur’s July 20 New York Times (NYTarticle «First Medal of Rio Olympics Deserves to go to a Whistle Blower», is this contemptible excerpt: «The whistle-blowers are holding their breath. The Russians and clean athletes are, too». That kind of sentiment has been expressed elsewhere. Substitute «Russians» for some other group in such a negatively applied way and see the selective outrage. No NYT journo would write a bigoted comparison that differentiates between law abiding citizens and African-Americans, followed by a utilization of crime statistics as «proof» for such a presented contrast.

Like her other NYT Olympic covering colleagues, Macur has been an uncritical cheerleader of their newspaper’s exclusive feature of the Russian doctor, Grigory Rodchenkov,  who has made a series of eye opening claims that (to date) haven’t been firmly established. Likewise, The NYT has given uncritical praise to the questionable report by Canadian attorney Richard McLaren, at the behest of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). McLaren’s report is largely based on Rodchenkov’s claims. Rodchenkov hasn’t been accessible for follow-up. Rather than seeking to cover-up the claim of a Russian state sponsored doping campaign in sports, the Russian government has openly sought a further questioning of Rodchenkov.

In his report, McLaren states a need to get it completed by a certain date – with the obvious intent to serve as a tool to further propagate the call to ban the Russian athletics (track and field) team, as well as the rest of their Olympic compatriots before the start of the Rio Olympics. WADA’s bias against Russia has been clear. It was no surprise that the WADA appointed McLaren went along with their line.

A detailed second guessing of McLaren’s report is provided by Rick Sterling in his Counterpunch articles of August 3 «The Biased Report that Led to Banning Russian Athletes» and 12 «Banning Paralympic Athletes to Bash Russia». I can see instances where McLaren and his supporters will take issue with Sterling. That aspect serves the argument for a greater point-counterpoint scrutinizing of McLaren’s report. Meantime, it isn’t appropriate to fully accept McLaren’s report.

The Russian athletics team got screwed over big time. That wasn’t enough for the heavy anti-Russian advocacy, which sought a complete ban of Russia at Rio.

The suspiciously sudden attempt by the International Association of Athletics (IAAF) and WADA to ban Russia’s lone Rio Olympic track and field participant, Darya Klishina, from competing was rejected on appeal. To the bone, Alexander Mercouris’ August 14 Duran article «Darya Klishina – Last Remaining Russian Track and Field Athlete in Rio Suddenly Banned From the Olympics», expresses my immediate reaction to the announced banning of Klishina.

It remains to be seen whether the ban on the Russian Paralympic athletes will remain in force. The IAAF, WADA and International Paralympic Committee (IPC) appear out of control in not respecting the rights of Russian athletes. In the interests of fairness, these organizations are in need of a comprehensive outside review and overhaul. Meantime, it’s not impractical to seek some interim scrutiny over the three.

Besides harboring bigoted thoughts about Russia/Russians, some in the West harp on a previous time in history. Matthew Futterman’s July 22 Wall Street Journal article «Why Russia Makes the Olympics Better», reminisces about evil Soviet era Russians during the Cold War, in conjunction with his stated depiction to fear competing against present day Russian athletes – a reference to whether they’re clean. Futterman doesn’t take into consideration the lack of actual evidence against Russian Olympians en masse, while downplaying the non-Russian use of banned substances in Olympic sports.

Within reason, one can question Futterman’s characterization (in his article) about Soviet period Olympic cheating against the US. I share his view that the US got a raw deal in the 1972 men’s Olympic basketball final against the USSR – a scenario involving some Soviet allied countries on the review panel of that game. On other matters, a bias of that sort isn’t as clear cut. Circa the 1970s, the US wasn’t generally among the top competitors in the very judgmental sports of gymnastics and pairs figure skating.

Sally Jenkins’ August 10 Washington Post article «In Vilifying Russian Swimmer Yulia Efimova, Americans are Splashing Murky Waters», might very well be the most objective US mass media article concerning Russia and the Olympics. Jenkins clearly reveals that Efimova wasn’t acting under a direct Russian «state sponsored» program, with her prior drug offences being quite minor when compared to some other illicit drug taking occurrences. Jenkins’ article isn’t the norm to be found in Anglo-American mass media.

An additional point to Jenkins’ piece concerns US swimmer Michael Phelps’ stern anti-illicit drug taking stand, as a direct follow-up to what his swimming compatriot Lilly King said against Efimova’s Olympic participation. Upon her initial denunciation of the Russian swimmer, King seemed unaware of the previously banned status of American track sprinter Justin Gatlin. After being informed of Gatlin’s prior offences, King said that he should be banned as well. Phelps has taken a cordial selfie with Gatlin, without any mention of doping.

The IAAF head Sebastian Coe’s stated negativity on Gatlin highlights the former’s hypocrisy. Gatlin isn’t the only US Olympic track and field athlete with prior drug offences. Yet, he and other non-Russian track and field drug cheats (US and otherwise) will be competing in Rio, unlike the clean Russian track and field athletes (as well as some of those with a prior banned status, who served the penalty time allotted to them), who Coe approvingly banned.

Only now, does Coe speak of having the Russian track and field team reinstated sooner rather than later. This one time world record holder in the 800 and 1500 meters eloquently spoke out against boycotting the 1980 Moscow Summer Olympics where he competed. By denying the clean Russian track and field athletes a Rio Olympics entry, Coe knows better than anyone the damage he has done to them.

Coe/IAAF didn’t give the clean Russian track and field athletes ample enough notice on the dubiously revised standard of needing to train outside Russia for an extended period for Olympic track and field consideration. Never minding that drug cheats can and have existed outside Russia.

Moreover, Coe has openly sought getting the 800 meter drug cheat Yuliya Stepanova approved for Rio competition. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) correctly denied that request. For justice sake, too bad the IOC couldn’t have been more forceful against the IAAF/WADA bias against Russian athletes. Stepanova was busted for doping in Russia. Her changed anti-doping stance came after (not before) she was caught. Stepanova has been continuously involved in caricaturing Russia’s top track and field athletes without clear supporting evidence.

For Coe, she’s the better example of what a Russian athlete should be unlike Yelena Isinbayeva, Sergey Shubenkov, Maria Kuchina, Sergey Litvinov and the other clean Russian track and field athletes, who steadfastly claim innocence with no evidence against them.

There’re other like-minded individuals besides Coe who’ve received kid gloves treatment. The former WADA head Dick Pound has been at the forefront in seeking a blanket Olympic ban against Russia.

Pound’s main arguing points are collapsible. He has repeatedly made reference to apartheid era South Africa as one example of a precedent for banning a nation from the Olympics. That absurd red herring overlooks the multiethnic dynamic of Russia’s Olympic team, government and society at large – a far cry from apartheid era South Africa.

Pound is right in saying that innocent apartheid era South Africans missed out on an Olympic opportunity. That view isn’t a legitimate basis to ban Russia from the Rio Olympics. Two or more wrongs don’t make a right. Many of us would like to believe that the international community has evolved in finding workable ways to avoid a primitive collective punishment approach.

Another Pound talking point portrays the Russians seeking to get off in the manner of a speeding violator, who says that other drivers are speeding as well without getting charged. That perception is wrong.

The Russian consensus supports penalizing drug cheats, as opposed to the primitive collective punishment route favored by Pound. I’ve likened his advocacy towards Russia to instances like the driving while black situation in the US. In addition, British academic Ellis Cashmore makes the analogy of revoking the driving license of every resident in a whole town, because a disproportionate minority in such a community (when compared to other towns) are found guilty of wrongdoing.

The collective punishment sought against Russia is premised on the idea of an unproven vast state sponsored doping regimen of athletes. Rather coincidently, the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, recently came out with a statement that the late Serb President Slobodan Milosevic wasn’t part of a «criminal enterprise» in Bosnia. (Of possible interest, a sharp difference of opinion on this topic exists between Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty’s Gordana Knezvic and Andy Wilcoxson.)

Aspects of international law are big on conspiracies like the aforementioned «criminal enterprise» and «state sponsored doping» examples, which are used to punish a given group. The banning of Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro) from the 1992 Summer Olympics was wrong, seeing how other countries at war weren’t banned from the Olympics, for acts that led to many more deaths than what happened in Bosnia. The likes of Efimova, Subchenkov, Isinbayeva, Kuchina, Litvinov and most other Russian athletes, don’t seem to be part of a state sponsored doping program.

Notwithstanding, the Russian government acknowledges a doping problem in Russia and has announced an implemented regimen to curtail that activity. Another subject to tackle is the considerable lack of objectivity within the IAAF, WADA, IPC and a good portion of Western mass media.  

For the reasons stated in this essay, the spin portraying a cowardly corrupt IOC of not doing the right thing in completely banning Russia from Rio, isn’t a well-founded position. The aforementioned instances against Yugoslavia (in 1992) and Russia (at present) are indicative of a cultural bias.

RELATED ARTICLES