Russia’s Five-Ring Circus

olympicThere is a contemptuous saying in the Russian language which, loosely translated, sgoes something like this: ‘Piss in his eyes but he will still say it is a God’s dew’. Despite its crudity, this saying perfectly reflects the habitual pattern of deception by the Russian authorities, who lie, prevaricate and stonewall despite whatever weight of evidence condemns them.

Doping in sport? Never! Crimea? We had no Russian soldiers there! Ukraine? Nothing to do with us. Malaysian aircraft shot down with horrific civilian casualties? Someone else’s fault! And always, “You have no proof!”

The doping scandal and the near miss at the International Olympic Committee (IOC) is a humiliation for the entire country of incomparable magnitude. And, I regret to say, a wasted opportunity by the IOC to declare, clearly and strongly, ‘Enough is enough!’

The IOC did not have the guts to kick out the dope cheats and to send a message to the world that doping is unacceptable. Instead, it preferred to pass the buck and “leave it to the discretion of the individual sports bodies” to decide the fate of the Russian Olympic sports team. Judging by the delighted Russian reaction, this decision has confirmed their contemptuous opinion of the Western institutions, especially European ones, as corrupt, weak and easily controllable by discrete (or should I say – hybrid?) means.

The IOC has made a mockery of integrity. It let countries aspiring to the same level of corruption as in Russia know that all they have to do is respect the Eleventh Commandment: Thou shalt not get caught. And if they do get caught, the appropriate response is to deny and lie, despite all evidence. If that doesn’t work, get the IOC to refer the cheaters to individual sports bodies. Countries, like China, Nigeria, Kenya, Ethiopia, North Korea and their ilk will understand the message quite clearly.

The harm IOC inflicted by this decision goes much deeper than sports. It strengthens the Russian and similarly autocratic, corrupt and oppressive countries’ opinion that everyone is as corrupt as they are; that the rule of law is just a figment of the Western propaganda; that Europeans are weak and cowardly; that the niceties of international civilised behaviour and the primacy of individual freedom over the collective predominance is  nonsense; that a state can and should interfere wherever it wishes and is not answerable to anyone, least of all to the rule of law.

In effect, the IOC has colluded with the Russian government in blatantly breaching international decency. Declaring its decision as motivated by the desire to be inclusive, it has, by a simple exercise of intellectual dishonesty, approved of the Russian government’s behaviours. The meek and mild IOC decision, in effect, gave the Russian government, which committed a hanging offence, a slap on the wrist. In exchange for what?

From the Russian point of view, the logic behind such a decision is impeccable and eminently deserved. Russians regard their country as surrounded by the malevolent and predatory West, which dreams of subjugating Russia. (The possibility that, ultimately, nobody gives a damn about their country simply does not enter the collective Russian mind). Since the need to defend Mother Russia is perceived as real, the end justifies means. Because there are pitifully few things Russians can be proud of, the country’s preeminence  in sports is regarded as essential to the national dignity and an important part of the overall defence against a world that opposes it at every turn and in every field of human endeavour. This posture, a sacred domain of the Russian government, has to be maintained no matter what. Whatever it takes, including cheating. To approve, commit and finance a sports-doping offensive of such magnitude would require the level of resources only the Russian government have at the highest, political level.

In the sea of everyday corruption that is Russia, a country without an independent judiciary, the breach of the existing laws and rules is so commonplace that it is accepted by the population as an integral part of cultural reality and everyday life.

But what about ordinary Russian sportsmen and women? What about the starry eyed, eager, adventurous and peace loving boys and girls who trained their hearts out? After all, they worked hard and would be devastated at the possibility of being disqualified, losing the chance of migrating from their beloved country to the decadent, materialistic and non-spiritual West.

Frankly, I find it hard to believe the ‘ordinary Russian athletes’ who tell urbi et orbi  – “we did not know”! Really? If this is the case, then they should’ve been collectively deaf, mute, blind and stupid to the point of anencephaly. Of course they knew! Every single one of them.

Do you really want me to believe that they did not see (or partake in) the distribution of anabolic steroids to their comrades? Or had no opportunity to notice unusually wide shoulders of their female swimmers, like at the time of German Democratic Republic swimming triumphs? Or had never heard their team doctors instructing their colleagues in use of the erythrocyte oxygen enhancement? They were happy to pretend for many years, along with the IOC no less, that Soviet and post-Soviet sport is an amateur, non-professional manifestation of the Olympic ideal when it was nothing of the sort. Consider me an unusually suspicious type, but I cannot make myself so naïve as to believe an average Russian athlete is whiter then white.

The government of a country which invades its neighbours, shoots down passenger aircraft, cheats in international sports, has a long and a harrowing history of self-immolation, sincerely believesthe delusion that all its troubles are the result of international conspiracy; it lies continually to the rest of us cannot be trusted. The failure by the IOC to call a spade a spade for many years is a great disservice to the world. More than that, it is a great disservice to the Russians themselves, because it would have been one of those rare opportunities for them to learn how the world really feels and that the illegal actions have consequences.  Thanks to the IOC’s supine decision, this opportunity has been tragically missed.

  • en passant

    Even if you are right, then surely the cheats would be caught by post-medal testing? I have trouble banning a whole country – something about letting a thousand guilty sports cheats go free rather than condemn one innocent sportsman. I have no interest in the Olympics, and I know this is a form of deflection, but it seems to be selective condemnation when the USA, Canada, (the then existing East Germany), CHINESE swimmers (in spades), Bulgarian weightlifters, plus a couple of Australians, et al all proved positive at some stage to bottle, pill and syringe enhancements.

    So, when did you first have this revelation that the ‘normal’ world is actually Clintonesque in its level of corruption?

  • Solo

    C’mon comrade, have a vodka and cheer up.

    • Jody

      Wake me when it’s all over, please. I don’t know what’s worse; the Ringling Brothers, Barnum and Bailey opening or the super-kitsch closing ceremony. Oh, OK, they’re both equally bad.

  • [email protected]

    The Olympic Games has long since passed its Use By date. The corruption at all levels, both local and international is scandalous.

    • [email protected]

      It’s hard to argue with this comment. I can’t think of one city that held the Olympics who was better off for the experience. If you say Sydney then really? Can’t say I’ll be watching much of it. I can’t work out why so many people get on the bandwagon.

  • Salome

    When the Olympics were amateur (if they ever were), there was something to admire in the athletes’ achievements. Of course, it became hard when you couldn’t take part in the Olympics because you’d once won a cash prize at your sport, while if you were accepted as an amateur you were up against NCOs from the armed forces of totalitarian countries, whose entire ‘service’ appeared to consist of cultivating sporting prowess. But any magic that ever existed has long since taken wings and departed.

  • [email protected]

    We have already seen a case of collective punishment imposed on a sports team in Australia, based on evidence that was refused admission in the Australian tribunal and would not have been admissible in any court of common law (but was good enough for the kangaroo court that then tried the players in Switzerland).

    The evidence in that case, such as it was, implicated only some members of the team, but the Swiss-based “court” ruled that all accused members of the team were guilty. It was disgraceful that any players were found in breach on the evidence used in that case, but it was an outrage that players against whom no evidence was offered were also banned.

    Russian athletes deserve no less respect than those players enjoyed in the Australian tribunal: to be treated individually and in accordance with the rules. Each athlete who is proven to have broken the rules should suffer the consequences. But if not, he should be allowed to compete and to enjoy the plaudits of his victories.

    • PT

      I get that. The trouble is that Russian Olympic sport is so heavily concentrated. That’s why we belatedly set up the Australian Institute of Sport (they don’t train footballers and cricketers do they?). I don’t believe the West should try to challenge Russia, although as the author says, the problem is more that the West neglects Russia rather than tries to dominate it. Britain and America saw Russia as a potential threat. France (post Napoleon who tried to conquer it as part of his global conquest – he had plans to conquer New South Wales) saw Russia as a counterweight to Prussia/Germany. I think that was short sighted. It was only the Nazis who really wanted to conquer it.

  • [email protected]

    My thanks to the loyal Quadrant readers. In response to all – the difference between personal cases of cheating and the State -sponsored program as a State policy is profound. No country has ever developed a state policy of doping and cheating in sport. No country has ever used its spy services to implement such a policy.No country has ever involved its athletes in the policy of deception of the world sports as willing accomplices, except The USSR, its allies and now – Russian Federation.
    Yes, some world class sportspeople were involved in drug scandals. But was it a State policy? Have ASIO or CIA or SIS operatives been tasked to carry the urine phials of their respective countries’ sportspeople to conceal and deceive? One cannot compare incomparable.

    • PT

      You’re forgetting the Chinese.

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