Doping scandals have always plagued the Olympics, but the issue has become more prevalent than ever during Rio 2016, as anti-doping concerns, particularly surrounding Russia, grow increasingly louder.
Russia’s doping programme
The Huffington Post 1 reports that over the course of Olympic history, Russia has seen more of its athletes stripped of medals (12) than any other nation. Earlier this year, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) released a report 2 which suggested that Russia operated a state-sponsored doping programme from late 2011 to 2015 within the “vast-majority” of Summer and Winter Olympic sports.
Initially, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) responded by suggesting that it may impose a blanket ban on Russian athletes competing in Rio. Eventually, the Guardian notes 3, the Committee left this decision to the governing bodies of each individual sport. The IOC stipulated that Russians who had served doping bans could not take part in Rio, but this was overturned just before the games.
In the end, 278 Russian athletes (70% of the national team) were allowed to compete in the 2016 games. Furthermore, a variety of athletes who previously served doping bans, such as Chinese swimmer Sun Yang, were allowed to take part in the 2016 Olympics. The Week notes 4 that the IOC’s decision not to ban the Russian team, or athletes who have previously served doping bans, from Rio 2016 was met with anger and derision by athletes, commentators and fans worldwide.
Focusing on Efimova
Fans and athletes have not been shy about expressing this anger in Rio. Yulia Efimova, a Russian swimmer who has served a doping ban, is the perfect example. She was given clearance to take part in Rio 2016 last minute, going on to compete against American Lilly King in the 100m breaststroke.
Many people were not happy about this decision; Efimova was booed at the pool by spectators and criticised outside of it by rivals, especially King. The American signalled her displeasure with Efimova’s inclusion in the 100m breaststroke publicly during the event’s semi-final, going on to win gold.
At a press conference following her victory, King did not mince her words. She said that her win was “a victory for clean sport” Going further, she argued: “I basically said what everybody’s thinking… They were glad I spoke out and I had the guts to say that and I appreciate their support. Standing up for what I believe is right, I felt like I had to perform even better tonight than I have in the past.”
King is not the only athlete who has had enough; anti-doping fever has hit Rio 5. Explaining this phenomenon Travis Tygart, the CEO of the US Anti-Doping Agency said that “the level of frustration among athletes is at an all-time high.” Due to the scale of the corruption of the Russian government, he added, “athletes are finding their voice to say enough is enough” and fans are following their lead.
Expressing similar sentiments, celebrated US swimmer Michael Phelps commented: “It’s kind of sad that today in sports in general, not just swimming, there are people who are testing positive and are allowed back in the sport—and multiple times… I think it just breaks what the sport is meant to be and that pisses me off.” Many athletes and fans have made it clear that they feel the same way.
Opening the floodgates
WADA’s report on Russia’s state-sponsored doping programme has opened the floodgates. Typically, clean athletes have kept their thoughts on this issue to themselves, however many have decided to raise their voices in Rio. With fans increasingly engaging with the Olympics via social media, according to TIME Magazine 6, doping-related content is now more prevalent online than ever before.
Doping has hurt the Olympic brand. The BBC writes7 that according to a recent study, 57% of consumers said that doping has had at least “some” negative effect on their perception of the games. It is clear that the IOC needs to deal with doping more effectively, if it wants to protect the Olympics. Traditionally, the Olympics have brought the world together. But if its reputation is further-tarnished by doping scandals, it could become better known for driving people apart in future.
3. https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2016/aug/09/iocs-response-to-russia-doping-scandal-nothing-more-than-a-confused-mess ↩
4. http://www.theweek.co.uk/olympics-2016/66594/doping-scandal-why-has-russia-been-kicked-out-of-rio-paralympics ↩
5. http://www.nbcnews.com/news/olympics/olympics-cold-war-anti-doping-fever-grips-rio-n626861 ↩
6. http://time.com/4438840/rio-olympics-social-media-success/ ↩
7. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-36897266 ↩