Egelstaff of Susan
It suits the spirit of the 2020s that we are finishing the year with a reminder that, to put it gently, the fight against doping in sport remains a shambles.
This week, Russia’s suspension from major sporting events for its now notorious doping indiscretions was shortened by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) from four to two years, but a closer reading of the decision shows that Russia got some early CAS Christmas gifts.
Even the four-year ban originally imposed on Russia was not serious enough for some, so the halving of that ban created an uproar, predictably.
Russia’s actions in exchanging dirty samples for clean ones and tampering with samples that would actually come back positive have been called the most advanced state-sponsored doping scheme in the history of sport, as if anyone could forget. A suspension of only two years would feel like winning the lottery for a nation that has committed a shockingly blatant anti-doping rule breach.
The CAS ruling means that Russian athletes will not be able to participate at the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics next year, as well as the following year’s Winter Olympics and the 2022 World Cup under their national flag.
The saving grace for Russian athletes, however, and the thing that makes a joke of the whole charade, is that if they can provide proof that they were not involved in the Moscow laboratory fiasco that shook the sports world, and have also undergone a sufficient anti-doping testing program, Russian athletes will be allowed to participate at all these events under a neutral flag. The lack of the Russian flag, however, is somewhat beside the point, as the athletes are still permitted to wear the Russian colors and use the word “Russia” as long as they have the “neutral athlete.” inscription as well. That’s not much of a reproach, is it? If it looks like a duck and sounds like a duck, even if it is forced to wear the ‘neutral athlete’ slogan, it is a duck.
The only sport which continues to take a strict stand against Russians is athletics, allowing only a maximum of ten Russian men and women to participate as neutrals. The CAS decision, however, means that a major Russian presence in all other sports is likely to continue for the next two years before the suspension ends, after which things are likely to return to normal. It’s nothing short of a travesty.
The reaction against the decision came rapidly and without censorship. “a weak, watered-down result,”a weak, watered-down outcome,”To once again escape any meaningful consequence relative to the crimes, let alone a real ban, is a catastrophic blow to clean athletes, the integrity of sport, and the rule of law.”To escape any substantial repercussions in relation to the crimes, let alone a real prohibition, is a catastrophic blow to clean athletes, the integrity of sport, and the rule of law.
It’s difficult to disagree, even in a phrase, with Tygart’s evaluation.
And cutting the suspension in half to just two years is a slap in the face of athletes and nations aiming for clean sport. Russia has made an absolute mockery of anti-doping laws. The message is that it’s worth the risk if you want to dope.
It does not take a genius to know that the Russian doping scandal has catastrophically harmed the sport’s credibility. Many were cynical, myself included, about how it would ever recover.
The response, when you look at decisions like this week’s from CAS, is that there is a sore lack of willingness to do what it takes to fix the damage.
And more than one thing…
Commentators who embrace the narrative that athletes should remain in their lanes are never difficult to find; they think athletes should concentrate on their sports and hold their heads firmly under the parapet rather than being social issues advocates or spokesmen.
However, 2020, and one person in particular, in recent memory, has done more to kick that view to the curb than anyone in this world.
Manchester United striker Marcus Rashford will win a special award for his campaign against child welfare and for free school meals at the BBC Sports Personality of the Year tonight.
Rashford, who grew up in poverty himself and was last season’s top scorer for his club, will win the honor.