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TOKYO – Traditionally, doping at the Olympics has been an uncomfortable companion to the skyrocketing sporting exploits of the Games.
In Tokyo, that hasn’t been the problem it often is, due to concerns about the coronavirus pandemic.
But he’s still there, with a Russian team that embodies the doping controversy.
A joke and suspicion
There’s a joke that went around these Olympics – when was there ever so much talk of positive tests, and not are they performance enhancing drugs?
Yes, the coronavirus has put doping aside.
Or at least it did, until American swimmer Ryan Murphy finished second behind Russian Evgeny Rylov in the men’s 200-meter backstroke.
” I do not know if [the race] was 100% clean, “Murphy said at a press conference afterwards,” and that’s because of things that have happened in the past. “
His doping suspicion could have been based on a number of things in the past.
In 2016, the revelation that Russia was running a state-sponsored doping system, which Russia has always denied.
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Also in 2016, a widespread failure of drug tests, not just in Russia, before the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. Travis Tygart, CEO of the US Anti-Doping Agency, said the failure occurred in ten sports considered to be at high risk for doping. Including swimming and athletics.
“In these high risk sports alone,” Tygart said, “there were 1,913 athletes who went unchecked in the months leading up to the Rio Olympics.”
This is important, he says, because most cases of doping occur before a big event, like the Olympics.
“At least six months before a major competition,” Tygart said, “you need to have robust out-of-competition testing as this is the period when athletes will be using human growth hormone or EPO or other steroids. who will be out of [their] system when [they] attend the Games and [they’ll] negative test at the Games. But you will still benefit from the drugs you used before the Games. So it’s absolutely essential. “
Before Tokyo, there was another failure, because of the pandemic.
“[In 2020] you had about a 45% reduction in [global] tests, according to WADA [World Anti-Doping Agency] statistics, “he said.” In the first quarter of 2021, this year you had about a 20% reduction, according to WADA statistics. “
In other words, athletes like Ryan Murphy have plenty of reasons to be suspicious.
At this post-race press conference, Murphy said he was expressing general concerns about doping and was not directly blaming Rylov, who was sitting next to Murphy. Rylov was asked if he felt like he was being charged with anything and if he was using prohibited drugs.
“I’ve always been for clean competition,” Rylov said through an interpreter, “I’m still tested. So from [the] from the bottom of my heart I am for clean sport. “
A name-only ban?
He can be.
But the point is that his country is being punished for a third consecutive Olympic Games for being not clean.
And punished, critics say, is a relative term.
Russia is technically banned from the Tokyo Games for its years of anti-doping rule violations. From the state-sponsored system to the claims, the country has more recently manipulated drug test results. Following the ban, Russian athletes, again, are expected to compete as neutrals. At the 2018 Winter Games, they were Olympic athletes from Russia. In Tokyo, they compete for the Russian Olympic Committee, or ROC.
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They cannot fly the Russian flag or hear their anthem when they win gold.
But they found a moving alternative.
The International Olympic Committee has approved the use of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1, and it is starting to be played.
On Wednesday in Tokyo, ROC had won 13 gold medals and were third in the overall medal standings. ROC winners receive congratulatory tweets from Russian President Vladimir Putin.
And in response to renewed suspicions from Ryan Murphy and others about Russia, the official ROC twitter account released a uncompromising response.
“How maddening our individual wins as colleagues in the store are,” the tweet said, in part. “Yes, we are here at the Olympics. Absolutely right. Whether someone likes it or not. The old barrel organ resumed the song about Russian doping. Someone is twisting the handle diligently. Propaganda in English, oozing verbal sweat in the heat of Tokyo. From the mouths of athletes offended by defeats. “
USADA’s Tygart says the bravado is not surprising.
“Look, this obviously shows how the quote, the ban without quotes really was a joke,” Tygart said. “Everyone knows [the ROC] are Russian athletes and no changes were evident from Russia. And that only emboldens them to continue denying and attacking those who would like the rules to be enforced. “
Where is the fault
Tygart and other critics say much of the fault lies with the IOC and WADA.
“It’s just not fair to clean the athletes who are held to the highest standards, that the IOC and WADA continue to turn a blind eye,” Tygart said.
Asked this week about Tygart’s criticisms, in particular that IOC and WADA leaders are trying to “make dust in the eyes of the world” by claiming Russia is banned, IOC spokesman , Mark Adams, did not respond directly.
” It’s a question [that’s] in the hands of the international testing authority, “said Adams,” which is independent of [the IOC]. They told us they had the greatest pre-Games testing program ever. ITA does a lot of work. So far at these Games we haven’t seen a lot of positive tests as far as we know, so at the moment we think we can give people confidence. It looks like the ITA is running a great program. “
Tygart says Russia, with its power and money, is too big for the IOC to apply meaningful sanctions.
“Let’s not forget,” he said, “Russia has invested over $ 50 billion in the Sochi Olympics [in 2014] and they continue to invest money in organizing international events at all levels. And they have an important political weight within the IOC in the movement of the International Federations. And [the IOC] don’t want to take a tough stand because they’re afraid of backlash [from] Russians. Ultimately, in the eyes of the IOC and its lame leadership, [Russia] is just too big to fail. “
If real punishment was possible, Tygart believes it should not be against individual Russian athletes, but rather against Russian leadership. Which he said should be transparent and publish drug test results as a way to start winning back the world’s trust.
Other than that, he believes the Russian and Olympic leaders are ready to overcome the Russian ban, which has been reduced from four to two years.
It is expected to end at the end of 2022, which means that the Winter Games next February will still be Olympics of neutrality and most likely of suspicion.