Sabrina Maddeaux: If Russia is allowed to continue flouting the rules, it will have ramifications far beyond the Olympics

A week into the Games, the Russian Olympic Committee and its propensity to bend, defy and possibly break the rules is already derailing at least two events

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The Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) was an undeniable star of the Beijing 2022 Winter Games – and not in a good way. Every day seems to bring new drama, chaos and allegations, from COVID-19 concerns to positive doping tests.

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A week into the Games, the ROC and its propensity to bend, challenge and possibly break the rules is already derailing at least two events.

First, questions surrounding the COVID-19 status of the ROC women’s hockey team led to a game delay against Team Canada, with the Canadian athletes ultimately playing in masks (the Russians also started the game in masks, but lost them soon after). The Finnish women’s hockey team has also decided to hide against the ROC.

Then there was a positive doping test from a 15-year-old Russian figure skater, which delayed the medal ceremony for the figure skating team event. The Kremlin refuses to even acknowledge that there was a positive test. As for what will happen next, no one seems sure.

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While both situations continue to go unresolved, the consequences of international sporting bodies’ indulgence towards Russia are becoming clearer by the day. By refusing to meaningfully enforce even the most basic competition rules, they have given bad actors tacit permission to see just how well they can get away with it. If there is no accountability for even the most serious offences, there is little reason to think there will be for more minor offences.

The result: a sports culture that increasingly resembles the Wild West, where the fundamental concepts of fairness and sportsmanship no longer apply. It’s bad for the future of the sport, and it’s bad for the broader message it sends to world leaders and average viewers.

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As a reminder, the ROC exists because Russia is technically not allowed to participate in the Games. He received a ban from the World Anti-Doping Agency in 2019 for his state-sponsored doping program. Athletes are not allowed to represent Russia at major sporting events – including the Olympics, Paralympics and the World Cup – until December 17, 2022.

While the ban was originally supposed to last four years, the Court of Arbitration for Sport reduced it to a measly two years. The same court ruled that Russian athletes could continue to compete as neutral competitors.

Yet Russian athletes weren’t just caught doping: Russia went so far as to develop its own potent performance-enhancing cocktail, dubbed “the Duchess,” which allegedly consisted of several steroids dissolved in Chivas whiskey for the men and vermouth for the women (seriously, you can’t make that stuff up). They swapped dirty samples for clean ones that came out of a “mouse hole” in the wall of the Sochi Olympics testing lab.

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Of course, the so-called Russian ban is really only a ban in name. Although the Russian flag cannot technically be used on ROC uniforms, athletes are permitted to use Russian colors. Their uniforms may even say “Russia”, as long as they also say “neutral athlete” or something equivalent in the same font size. While Russia’s political leaders were barred from attending the recent Olympics, President Vladimir Putin decided to do the same for Beijing and was seen proudly watching the opening ceremony from the stands.

These concessions would have been made so as not to punish innocent athletes. The problem, of course, is that by refusing to dissuade cheating, all athletes are harmed. By allowing Russia and other authoritarian regimes to corrupt sport, the whole world is harmed.

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The International Olympic Committee (IOC) and other sporting bodies insist that international competition inspires unity and peace, but they in turn must accept that it can be twisted to sow division and undermine values democratic. This is the Olympic goal of countries like Russia and China, which seek to co-opt the Games for propaganda purposes.

Every time Russia gets away with flouting the rules, it sends the message that Putin and his fellow kleptocrats and oligarchs can do whatever they want, with governing bodies and democratic countries too timid to take a real stand.

Domestically, it allows Putin to tell the story of Russians being unfairly targeted and persecuted by the West. By refusing to enforce the rules, we are only giving Russia reasons to break them even more, both inside and outside the world of sport.

There is still time during the Beijing Olympics to turn the tide, to begin to reassert authority over those who break the rules and to insist on accountability for bad actors. If the IOC doesn’t stand up to them now, they risk missing out as the concept of fair competition fades into a distant memory.

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  1. Russian President Vladimir Putin attends the opening ceremony of the Beijing Winter Olympics on February 4, 2022.

    Kelly McParland: Why would Putin invade Ukraine when he’s already won?

  2. Torch bearers Dinigeer Yilamujiang and Jiawen Zhao of Team China hold the Olympic flame during the opening ceremony of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics at Beijing National Stadium on February 04, 2022 in Beijing, China .  (Photo by Alex Pantling/Getty Images)

    Sabrina Maddeaux: the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics barely covers the monster under the mask

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