Russian Olympic athletes deserving of higher punishment for drug use

By Rachel Pierce | Staff Columnist


The Sochi 2014 Olympics opening ceremony spoke of unity and peace as athletes paraded with their flags, surrounded by world leaders, their humble families and devoted fans. Who would have known that one of the greatest scandals of our world’s history was in motion.

The Olympics represent one of the purest forms of passion, devotion and talent. It has endured corruption, terrorism and war. It is an environment where sports and competition sow peace in the world. For Russia, however, the Olympics are a stage to assert world dominance, and that desire fuels its state-sponsored doping program.

Questions of Russia’s eligibility to compete began to swirl just before the 2016 Rio Olympics when the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) had advised the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to ban Russian athletes from competing. Momentum leading to an investigation began when whistleblower Grigory Rodchenkov, former director of the Russian Anti-Doping Laboratory, released information to the New York Times in May 2016. According to the Times article, Rodchenkov provided spreadsheets and emails that detailed which athletes were doping — including their dosage. The operation to switch positive samples with negative samples in Sochi was also disclosed.

After its investigation, WADA concluded that more than 1,000 Russian athletes used performance-enhancing drugs from 2011 to 2015, across 30 sports. NPR News reported that the IOC’s president, Thomas Bach, claimed that the widespread doping in Russia is an “unprecedented attack on the integrity of the Olympic Games and sport.”

NPR also reported that WADA found that 100 percent of Russian urine sample bottles were tampered with during the Sochi Olympics. This seemingly confirmed Rodchenkov’s claim that “dirty” samples were switched out with clean samples during the night. Not only were Russian athletes instructed to use steroids, but state officials were stealing urine samples from laboratories.

And it paid off. At Sochi, Russia accumulated 33 medals, 13 gold, the most of any other country. But what’s 33 medals if you’ve been drugged to win? According to NBC Sports, 13 medals from Sochi were already stripped from the Russian Olympic Team. 43 athletes have been disqualified.

Looking forward to the upcoming 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, the IOC announced that Russian athletes who fail a drug test would be banned. According to BBC Sports, the Russian national anthem will not be played, competitors will be referred to as “Olympic Athletes from Russia” and will wear different uniforms. This is where the IOC is facing public dissent, with many asking if the punishment fits the crime.

From an individual athletic standpoint, it seems fair. Those who have competed and trained clean should be able to compete. However, Russia’s history, culture and motive deserves a heavier punishment.

Doping is not limited to Russia of course, but due to the country’s history and motives, the IOC’s punishment must be tailored to Russia. The extent of illegal drug use in addition to stealing samples is unlike any other country in the world. The IOC intends to punish the state, not individual athletes. An individualized punishment would be appropriate if it were fewer drugged athletes, and doping was pressed by perhaps individual sports. In Russia, doping appears to be sponsored by the state across all sports, therefore the state must be punished.

As more information surfaces about doping in Russia, more people will think of the games as illegitimate.  We’ll question the integrity of all medalists. Nobody wants to watch a fixed game. It should be in the interest of the IOC to take doping seriously to ensure the credibility, prestige and respect of the Olympics. If Russia and potentially other countries continue doping their athletes, the Olympics will fizzle into an international chemistry experiment.