Russian Olympic athletes confront world of hypocrisy, geopolitical intrigue & fig leaves

© Geoff Burke
The WADA-IOC mess was never about reducing doping in sport, but making sure both stayed in business at the sake of a scapegoat. With each passing review and leak, the powers that govern international sport lose respect, and the chance to protect athletes.

I was preparing to shower when two people approached me. They wanted to take a urine sample. A newbie to all this I agreed and was taken to the toilets. For 45 minutes not a drop came. I will only speak on behalf of the average man and say, it’s hard enough standing at a urinal next to someone. Performing when there’s a man sitting on a stool watching your penis work is agony. I drank water, juice and finally, shivering and feeling violated, I did the deed. I often wonder if my 20-year old self has recovered.

Drug testing has in many ways moved on. It is more scientific, more organized and easier to beat. The Therapeutic Use Exemption (TUE) mess was damaging, yet has vanished. On December 19, Dave Brailsford (formerly of Team GB/British Cycling, now Team Sky) will appear in the House of Commons to explain “marginal gains”.

Streets ahead of nations famed for their “advances” in cycling – the USA and the Netherlands, the turnaround in Team GB’s cycling fortunes is nearly miraculous. They lord it over known dopers and have rescued the sport, despite the occasional missed test (Deignan) and intelligent use of TUEs. They succeed despite naysayers like former Olympic and World Champion rower Zac Purchase, who asked the question many thought, “Imagine what we would be saying if she (Armitage) were Russian….."

This year we were treated to the Meldonium mayhem, followed by Olympic and Paralympic posturing. All to make sport free from a "doped up Russian." We had athletes finish their final training camp only to be told, “Wait, we might not be going,” one day before their flight to Rio.

Apart from geopolitical interference in the whole process, it was hugely unfair on athletes. However, we listened to the International Olympic Committee (IOC), International Paralympic Committee (IPC) and World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). We listened to their decrees that sport should be fair, clean, safe and that in Rio it would all be different and better. They lied.

Whatever about the shambolic International Amateur Athletics Federation (IAAF) and non-transparent McLaren Report? Leave aside the damaged WADA processes and the compromised IOC/IPC governance. The Rio Olympics went ahead without the Russian Athletics Team (bar one) and many others who had failed drugs tests previously. We were led to believe the games would be as clean as London 2012, despite 51 failed tests. We were led to believe that cheats would not prosper. We were led down the garden path and given a hiding behind the tool shed. It was all a badly told lie. The Rio Games failed in the most basic of all standards when it comes to protecting the health and well-being of athletes, and ensuring fair competition. They lied.

As the World debated should Russian competitors be banned en masse, more than 4,000 athletes had NO testing in 2016 before arriving in Rio! That is 36 percent of athletes on the competitor list were not checked; 1,913 were involved in the ten 'high risk' sports. So almost half of those not tested prior to Rio were high risk. However let’s not dwell on this minor oversight. There were far more important geopolitical scores to settle in the Rio run-up.

Then we have the fig leaf, as it is known in tennis, or 'in competition testing'. In the majority of sports, doping normally happens in the off- or pre-season. When you’re building muscle or stamina. When you’re hopping into the ring, striding down the track or cycling up a mountain, common-or-garden doping is not needed. Then you need specialist substances to ensure your stamina stays high, your power output is strong and your lung capacity increased. For this, you get a TUE. So even when you’re caught with something in your system, you can explain it away, even if it is backdated. Caught puffing an inhaler on camera, sure you’ve always been asthmatic. If you’ve previously stated an aversion to needles and that needles are not used in your team, you can always backtrack and be sure a compliant media helps. But back to the fig leaf.

A former tennis client of mine, who was clean and achieved good results, objected when walking off court to be collared for testing, while her conqueror was waved through. We knew the other girl was “on something”, yet nobody wanted to know. The fig leaf is good. The fig leaf allows the authorities to say: “We’re testing loads of people and sure, we might catch someone.” It’s good for PR but not effective. But that fig leaf was largely absent in Rio.

In the Brazilian madness UP TO 50 percent of planned tests on some days were aborted for a wide range of reasons, most of which were from failing to locate competitors. A lack of qualified workforce hampered matters further and protocols were not always followed. WADA were forthcoming with the Independent Observer Report, the IOC welcomed it and no heads will roll. They lied and got away with it.

And now we wait for McLaren Part 2 in early December, when we discover just how bad Russia is. Just how dirty, corrupt and brazen the government-directed doping program was/is. We can consider this an early Christmas/New Year’s present. Something to find in our stockings and romp through after dinner. We will read it and nothing will change. Nothing will improve and those who wish to put their physical and mental well-being at stake will do so by doping. They will do so in Russia, Great Britain, United States of America, Jamaica and Fiji. Those with more money and knowledge will continue to evade the testers, whether through TUE’s, panic rooms, missed tests or simply better products/systems. There is too much at stake to make any meaningful efforts to get to the heart of the matter. Each country has to get on the juice to get some medals.

Or we could learn how to do the right thing from a winning system. How to eat better, sleep better, rest better, train better. How to use the system of “marginal gains” to build a dynasty of champions who never fail tests (when they take them) and have TUE back-ups. We can learn how to improve our results the right way. From six medals (no Golds) in three decades and three medals (one Gold, two Bronze) in the 90’s. We can copy a system to gain eight medals (three Golds) in two games leaping to 14 medals (eight Golds) in 2008. We can keep beating those dirty doping countries by winning 24 medals (14 Golds) in the next two Olympic Games. And it’s all legal, natural and gets the blood flowing better than a dose of EPO. On December 19, we can hear Dave Brailsford say how we can do it the right way.

Then again, we could look inside ourselves and ask, does it matter? Do we really care if some lightly tested Caribbean sprinter takes home Gold after Gold. Or that a middle-distance runner doesn’t seem to hear doorbells. Does this report on farcical doping controls in Rio surprise us? Will the final McLaren Report keep us from enjoying our festivities? Does it matter if more athletes damage themselves for the next medal, paycheck or sponsor’s gift?

Punishing Russia, this summer was supposed to be a win for the clean athlete. It was supposed to force a “rogue regime” to clean up at home and protect its sportspeople. A dawning of fair and even competition, with sport at its best and most beautiful. Nobody believed a word, especially those speaking and tasked with cleaning up sport. Sport is business. This WADA report will disappear and Tokyo in 2020 will have the same number of doped competitors on show. And we will tune in and endure it.

Twenty years ago doping was not on my radar. I regaled people with my dope test trauma, while cringing inside at the memory. It wasn’t a deterrent to dope then, and it isn’t now. Each new WADA-IOC comedy drives the fight to protect athlete’s health and well-being back even further. Ground was lost when Russia became the convenient whipping boy this summer. By singling out Russia, we lost five years in the fight against doping. Next month we’ll have the McLaren Report in full and whatever chance there was to rid Russia, alone, of these unhealthy practices will be long gone. If WADA and the IOC can’t apply the fig leaf correctly and regulate TUE's, any new initiative will be nothing more than a used tissue trying to staunch the gaping Global wound that is doping.

By Alan Moore, for RT

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.