The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) has again botched the penalties against Russia stemming from doping.
Late last year, WADA handed down a ruling preventing Russia from taking part in the Olympics for four years, a ban that includes hosting high-profile international sporting events. WADA determined there was state-supported cheating by Russia that included doctoring drug samples so that athletes passed their screenings.
However, and this is where the proverbial slippery slope kicks in, Russian athletes compliant with WADA’s standards will be allowed to compete at this year’s Summer Games in Tokyo.
That seems fair: If those athletes don’t have tainted drug samples, then they ought not be banned from the Olympics.
However, should they win a medal, the Russian flag will not fly while they are on the medal stand; WADA’s penalties include not allowing the Russian flag to be seen anywhere at the Olympics. Instead, a Russian athlete on the medal stand will see the IOC’s flag where Russia’s ought to be.
This gets even more bizarre. Should that Olympic medal be gold, the Russian national anthem will not echo through the arena; rather, celebratory music, perhaps Beethoven’s Ode to Joy, will be played as that athlete stands at the apex of the medal stand.
This is nonsense, and you might recall WADA has made similar rulings in the past.
If the Russian athlete — deemed clean by WADA (and therefore by the International Olympic Committee, the IOC) — is there, then his or her flag and anthem ought to be as well.
In wanting to be fair (at least I think that’s what WADA wants), it has extended a surreal arrangement in which it permits clean athletes to enter the sporting venue but doesn’t allow them to in any way demonstrate their affinity for their home nation.
In effect, WADA is creating a kind-of stateless athlete, one who doesn’t come from a country but is akin to an independent actor. This concept runs counter to the historical structure of the Games, where allegiance to and celebration of country is clear.
WADA has succeeded in banning the Russian state, but its ham fisted approach to not banning all Russian athletes again ensures those athletes may not see and hear symbolic and important elements of their country while at the Olympics.
The message: Come to the party, but come as something less than your competitors. Or perhaps worse: Come to the party but don’t dare honor your homeland.