Putin sees Russia as a great power and undoubtedly sees Olympic medal counts as another means to solidify his country’s great power status.
The Games of the XXXI Olympiad open tonight in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. As you watch the parade of nations, you may notice Russia’s contingent of Olympians is noticeably smaller. That’s because well over 100 Russian athletes have been banned from competing in the Olympics for their use of performance-enhancing drugs.
In December 2014, the World Anti-Doping Agency began looking into allegations that Russia was running a state sanctioned doping operation for its Olympic athletes. The anti-doping agency’s investigations found that Russia had indeed operated a state-sponsored doping operation for athletes competing at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London and the 2014 Winter Olympics that Russia hosted in Sochi.
One of the investigative reports, released on July 18, stated that Russia’s “Ministry of Sport directed, controlled, and oversaw the manipulation of athlete’s analytical results or sample swapping … ” The report also cites the active engagement of the Centre of Sports Preparation in Russia and the Russian Federal Security Service.
The head of the International Olympic Committee described Russia’s actions as a “shocking and unprecedented attack” on the integrity of the sport and on the Olympic games.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s regime defines itself against the United States. Putin sees Russia as a great power and undoubtedly sees Olympic medal counts as another means to solidify his country’s great power status.
At the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics, Russia came in 11th in the overall medal count, winning only three gold, five silver, and seven bronze medals. In Sochi, however, at the apex of the state-sponsored doping operation, Russia won 13 gold medals, 11 silver, and nine bronze, coming in first in the overall medal count.
Russia also seeks to make a mockery of international norms, values, and standards of conduct. The doping scandal shows a complete lack of respect for the integrity of sport as well as for the international organizations that organize the Olympic Games and the countries and athletes that participate from across the globe.
In July, the International Olympic Committee decided against issuing a blanket ban for Russian athletes at the Olympics, instead largely leaving the decision to the international federations of each sport to decide whether Russian athletes would be individually banned from participating.
The World Anti-Doping Agency criticized the International Olympic Committee’s decision not to issue a blanket ban, saying that the investigations “exposed, beyond a reasonable doubt, a state-run doping program in Russia that seriously undermines the principles of clean sport embodied within the World Anti-Doping Code.”
While some Russian athletes will be able to compete at the Olympics in Rio, the doping scandal has once again highlighted the criminal nature of the Russian regime, a nature that is at the very heart of the country’s actions at home and abroad.
The next president must come into office approaching Russia as it actually is, not as the U.S. wishes it might be. Russia is not a fit international partner, the size and scope of the doping operation, as well as the government’s involvement in directing it, once again drive this point home.