The politicization of Russia’s road to Rio

The upcoming Olympic Games in Rio are increasingly turning away from the concept of fair competition, where the strongest and best athletes win, and are increasingly becoming politicized, in my opinion.

The politicization of the Olympic Games is not new; the Games of 1936 in Hitler’s Germany were seen by the Fuhrer as a triumph for the Aryan nation. Soviet Union teams had been missing from the Olympics due to political reasons until 1952. In 1964, the South African Olympic team was banned from taking part in the Games for practically three decades because of its apartheid policy. The 1980 Games that took place in the USSR were ignored by delegations of dozens of countries protesting the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. In 1984, the USSR did not participate in the Olympic Games in response.

After the Soviet Union collapsed, politicization of the Olympics had more or less stopped, but it has reappeared with Russia’s rise as a global power.

The evident politicization of the Olympics started since the Sochi Games. And in Rio it's becoming tougher. The mess started with Meldonium, a drug that was included in a list of forbidden doping drugs in December 2015. The drug is used to treat coronary artery diseases, affecting a person’s cardio system and expanding the arteries to increase blood and oxygen flow throughout the body.

Developed in the 70s in the USSR, the drug had commonly been used by sportsmen in Soviet countries, and so continued to be used thereafter. Hence, the ban on Meldonium mostly targeted athletes from the Commonwealth of Independent States, primarily Russia.

Russia has lost a major part of its Olympics team with blanket bans that affect athletes that are even in the clear. Was it all an attempt to make Russia protest and refuse to participate in the Olympics altogether?

Maria Dubovikova

Taking into account the fact that Meldonium leaves the body within several months after stopping its usage, the decision to disqualify Russian athletes who had used the drug, but stopped, seems unfair to me.

The fact that drug stays in blood for several months was not just taken into consideration. And one of the first victims of this drug ban was Russian tennis star Maria Sharapova when she tested positive during the Australian Open in January and received a two-year ban in June. And that was just the beginning.


The doping scandal is surging. Following several positive tests for the drug, the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) banned Russian track and field athletes from taking part in Rio. The decision was respected by the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

The IAAF has kept an opportunity open for the athletes to take part if they manage to convince the organization that they have stayed away from the drug, however they would be deprived of performing under their national flag and take part on an individual basis. Nevertheless, IOC president Thomas Bach said that any athletes approved by the IAAF would come under the control of the Russian Olympic Committee and compete under the national flag, contradicting the general anti-Russian trend. Bach has rejected the appeal to disqualify the whole Russian team from the Rio Olympics, prompting accusations that he was being "bought" by the Kremlin.

The scandal took a new turn with leaks about a doping cheating scandal during the Sochi Olympics in 2014 which resulted in the disqualification of even more Russian athletes.

Drug usage is not an example of sportsmanship and contradicts the general principles of a fair game. But I believe there was something fishy in the quick way in which these leaks reached the World Anti-Doping Agency.

Russia has lost a major part of its Olympics team with blanket bans that affect athletes that are even in the clear. Was it all an attempt to make Russia protest and refuse to participate in the Olympics altogether? Does the whole episode have anything to do with sport organizations being bogged down in corruption and political games? No matter what the answers are, I believe world sporting bodies are becoming more and more influenced by politics. The decisions being taken are totally unfair for athletes in the clear, such as pole vaulter Yelena Isinbaeva. She is a two- time Olympic champion, world record holder and has not failed a drugs test. Yet she failed to escape blanket ban on the Russian track and field team. Her appeal not to punish the whole team for individual cheating was ignored. And for any fair athlete, this amounts to a personal tragedy. And if such a decision was dictated by political motives, it's also a global tragedy.

Maria Dubovikova is a President of IMESClub and CEO of MEPFoundation. Alumni of MGIMO (Moscow State Institute of International Relations [University] of Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia), now she is a PhD Candidate there. Her research fields are in Russian foreign policy in the Middle East, Euro-Arab dialogue, policy in France and the U.S. towards the Mediterranean, France-Russia bilateral relations, humanitarian cooperation and open diplomacy. She can be followed on Twitter: @politblogme

Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 13:58 - GMT 10:58
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