Subtlety has been completely removed from the equation. Absolute ridiculousness has ensued.
It doesn’t get any more apparent than this. There still seems to be a fear lingering in the IOC office that Russia could provide us with a show at next month’s Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea. If not fear, then what exactly is it that has incentivized the recent decision of stopping three top Russian medal prospects, Sergey Ustiugov, Anton Shipulin and Viktor Ahn from participating?
Under the guise of state-run doping, IOC struck a humiliating blow to the Russian team by the ultimatum of participating under a neutral flag as was announced in December last year. No hymn, no flag and absolutely nothing in relation to the symbols of Russia. Those were the criteria.
While there was debate in the country about what steps would be best in tackling this decision, Putin announced that no athletes would be kept at home and that all athletes should make individual decisions about participating. Most agreed to go, but extensive doping tests were required.
Previously, when the McLaren Report debacle ensued, Russia took all necessary steps in complying with both the IOC and WADA by answering all questions and offering full transparency in their search for documents and doping tests. While Russia complied, other actors in this drama failed to even turn up.
Usually in such high-profile ‘’investigations’’, all stakeholders would have to be present, though somehow Grigory Rodchenkov, the main instigator of the accusations, felt threatened and refused meetings with Russian representatives abroad.
The path for clean athletes
IOC and WADA took mutual steps in making sure that every single Russian at the games would be clean and double-tested every athlete thoroughly with a final list of 400 athletes being provisionally cleared. From this list, Russia handpicked 232 that would form the official Russian squad en route to the games. Among them were stars such as Sergey Ustiugov, two-time World Champion cross-country skier and Anton Shipulin, a gold medallist biathlete at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.
Since the December-decision, Russia has cooled down from the onslaught of barriers for their participation but with today’s decision to handpick and remove clean athletesthat were favourites in picking up medals, it has left even the sceptics that initially didn’t believe in the politicized nature of this sports crisis into firm believers. With just weeks left to the games, IOC has decided that the above-mentioned stars and a further list of athletes including top hockey players such as Anton Belov and Valeriy Nikushkin would not be allowed to compete.
The pattern is there – any Russian favourite to win a medal is excluded.
Why then have the IOC only allowed three biathletes, most of them newcomers to international sport with a slim chance of winning anything? Why hand-pick those hockey players that have most experience and arguably have the largest impact on the team? Pavel Kulizhnikov and Denis Yuskov, among the favourites to win gold at Speed Skating have also been removed.
With just weeks to go, this hand-picking formula, that the IOC has yet to show us, has caused a severe need of restructuring the Russian team, which has created chaos and affected the preparation of the remaining Russian athletes.
It has become solidified – the character assassination of Russia has stretched into the world of sports and remains no less politicized than it was before. Before it was done through boycotts but has now evolved into a more chaotic form. The obvious hand-picking has interestingly coincided with Russian victories on the geopolitical arena and to think that there was no correlation between the two before should leave one with less speculations and more revelations.
Russia is simply not allowed to win under any circumstances.
Dennis Vance is a writer and blogger based in Moscow, Russia. He started the Kremlinology blog in 2016 and has continued to write about Russian affairs, geopolitics and everything in between.