By Cuinn Huber
As the 2021 Tokyo Olympics comes to a close this year most people will remember the positive highlights of the games. These moments include Bobby Finkes’ incredible 800m freestyle comeback, Oksana Chusovitina competing as a gymnast in her eighth consecutive Olympics, and Tom Daley’s Knitting skills in the stands at the aquatics centre. These athletic feats were well covered in the media. However there are not many people talking about the International Olympic Committee’s failure to live up to their stated commitment to strengthen the integrity of sport and support clean athletes.
In 2019 the World Anti Doping Agency (WADA) banned Russia from competing in any major international competitions for four years, through 2023, including the Olympic games. The Russian olympic team was caught running a state-sponsored doping program for their elite athletes. This doping occurred multiple times including in major championships such as the 2014 winter Olympics in Sochi and the 2012 Olympics in London. But before the Olympics started the IOC allowed these athletes into the games as competitors for the “Russian Olympic Committee.”
Allowing these athletes to compete is a slap in the face to clean athletes everywhere. The Russian athletes have not faced any consequences for their cheating despite being caught multiple times.
Meanwhile, American Track and field sprinter Sha’Carri Richardson was treated quite differently by the IOC. While hundreds of athletes that used performance-enhancing drugs were allowed to compete, she was suspended for using a performance-hindering drug. Before the Olympics, Richardson tested positive for marijuana. Like the performance-enhancing drugs that the Russian athletes took, marijuana is banned. However, unlike the drugs that the Russian athletes took, marijuana is a substance that hinders your performance. Yet the IOC banned Richardson with no hesitation.
Why would marijuana use get an athlete banned but taking actual performance-enhancing drugs such as Human Growth Hormone does not? I believe this is because the IOC is bought off and corrupt and most likely took bribes to let the Russians in. There have been other bribery scandals at the IOC. In 1999, it was discovered that the IOC accepted bribes from the Salt Lake City Olympics bid committee. In 2015, Lamine Diack, an honorary member of the IOC, was suspended on suspicion of taking bribes to cover up positive drug tests for the Russians. More recently, it was discovered that the Japanese Olympic Committee paid over $370,000 to Diack’s son before and after Tokyo was chosen as the site of the 2020 Olympic Games.
How can things be changed to stop something like this from happening again? The most important thing we can do is to clean up the IOC. There needs to be an independent investigation to uncover hidden doping tests and conflicts of interests among the board members. Once that investigation is done every single corrupt board member needs to resign or be removed from the IOC. The only way we move forward is by completely replacing who is in charge and providing more independent oversight. Then the consequences for cheating need to become stronger. The committee should consider banning an athlete for life if they have one positive test for performance enhancing drugs.
While that may sound harsh, it is only fair considering that cheating athletes defraud the sport, fans and fellow competitors. This would also probably be the only thing that would make cheating athletes rethink their choices. Today too many athletes do not have significant consequences for testing positive. Allowing Russian athletes to compete as part of the Russian Olympic Committee, instead of the Russian team, is an example of an insignificant consequence. About 300 Russian athletes competed for the ROC. The team convicted of state-sponsored doping wore the colors of the Russian flag and included athletes who formerly competed for Russia. They won 71 medals at the Games, including 20 gold medals. Clearly, the IOC failed to live up to its commitment to strengthen the integrity of sports and support clean athletes.