IT IS not news that doping is widespread in sports, including at the highest levels, or even that Russian athletes in particular have been caught using banned drugs to enhance their performance. Nonetheless, a report by an independent panel of the World Anti-Doping Agency offers breathtaking evidence that the prevalence of banned substances in Russian track and field, and probably other sports, is the product of systematic corruption that goes well beyond individual athletes and coaches, implicating not only the most senior officials in Russian athletics but also the Kremlin as well.
The report describes pervasive bribery, graft and collusion among Russian sports officials and agencies determined to skirt international anti-doping rules and procedures, in service to the goal of winning at any cost. Athletes not initially willing to use pharmaceuticals were coerced to do so. Agents of the Federal Security Service (FSB), the KGB’s successor agency, were seen regularly at Moscow’s main anti-doping lab, the better to intimidate any officials who had not gotten the message that full and accurate results were not welcome by higher-ups.
Incredibly, the commission reported that Grigory Rodchenkov, director of the Moscow lab, admitted to intentionally destroying 1,417 samples before the World Anti-Doping Agency had a chance to audit them, despite (or because of) having received written notification that the agency wanted to scrutinize them.
Little wonder that in 2013, ahead of Russia’s 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, the World Anti-Doping Agency noted that Russia was the world’s leader in athletic doping violations, with 225 reported infractions across 30 sports, the largest number of them in track and field. That accounted for nearly 12 percent of world violations, and twice the number of any other country’s infractions except for the runner-up, Turkey.
Given the prevalence of Russia’s cheating, the commission said, “it would be naive in the extreme to conclude that activities on the scale discovered could have occurred without the explicit or tacit approval of Russian governmental authorities.”
As the commission report describes it, Russia’s mentality, seemingly a throwback to the notorious Soviet and East German sporting past, is that cheating is justified — and patriotically obligatory — on the assumption that every other country must be cheating too.
That perverse view — that every country’s institutions are as corrupted as Russia’s — is a familiar facet of the Kremlin’s worldview. It was President Vladimir Putin who, challenged by President George W. Bush to explain Russia’s disappearing free press a decade ago, preposterously asked Mr. Bush why he’d fired CBS News’s Dan Rather.
Doping has many victims beyond the athletes whose health may be harmed. Events on the field are corrupted. “Clean” athletes are disadvantaged, winners are tainted and competition itself becomes suspect.
That’s why, in addition to urging that various Russian athletes and sports officials be banned (and the Moscow anti-doping lab director dismissed), the commission recommended that the International Olympic Committee consider disqualifying Russia completely from the Rio de Janeiro Summer Olympics next year until Russian authorities start complying with anti-doping rules. That’s a harsh sanction but one justified by the nauseating extent of Russia’s contempt for international norms.