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Russian Doping

Opinion: The world of sports is looking away

Recognizing that you have a problem is the first step towards recovery. It's time for the sporting world to impose sanctions on Russia for its doping system but it lacks the will to do so, writes DW's Joscha Weber.

This particular piece of theater is almost enough to make you smirk.  Earlier this week, Anna Antseliovich admitted for the first time that an "institutional conspiracy" had made the nationwide system of doping in Russian sport possible. The head of Russia's anti-doping agency, RUSADA, also told the "New York Times" that the government had known nothing about it.

Nevertheless, international reactions to her comments were strong, so Antseliovich was apparently reigned back in by the Kremlin and the Russian sports ministry. She then denied her own words, and the Russian media reported that they had been "taken out of context." The idea that this political scientist from Moscow had gone it alone with her partial admission is questionable. Instead, it is obvious that she was playing the test balloon.

Doping and denials

Antseliovich's words and subsequent denial are seamlessly integrated into the Russian strategy: First they doped and covered it up, and then they denied it and skirted the issue. The RUSADA boss played her part by noting that there are also doping problems in other countries.

Weber Joscha Kommentarbild

DW sports editor Joscha Weber

There certainly are, but this does nothing to make the mass doping in Russia, the detailed evidence of which has been presented by WADA chief investigator Richard McLaren, any better.

And her reference to doped athletes as "traitors" is easy to see through: We're expected to believe these are all the transgressions of individuals.  The problem is that, in light of the evidence that more than 1,000 Russian athletes used performance-enhancing drugs, nobody believes that can be true.

Even if Antseliovich's admission-turned-denial was mean to signal to critics abroad that, at least at a lower level, there is a sort of softening of stance in Russia, the result remains the same: Russia is simply not interested in a true reform of its gigantic doping system. Serious reform would also mean having to investigate the roles of the intelligence service and the sports ministry, and thus the very probable knowledge of higher government circles. President Vladimir Putin is probably about as interested in that as he would be in the disclosure of Russian hacker activities surrounding the US presidential campaign.

What about the IOC and FIFA?

Given the fact that the offender continues to refuse to admit guilt and refuses to credibly reform their anti-doping program, the pressure coming from the rest of the sporting world must be stepped up. If equal opportunity and fair competition remain universal goals in sports, Russia's systematic sporting fraud simply cannot be accepted. The problem is: Apart from in a few winter sports, nothing is being done about it.

The International Olympic Committee is biding its time and looking into things. And what about FIFA, which due to the loaction of the 2018 World Cup, may have the most leverage? It refuses to act. FIFA President Gianni Infantino claims that Russia's doping problem has nothing to do with the World Cup. The fact that the McLaren Report also deals with football seems to be of no interest to him.

The world of sports is looking away, not daring to get into an open fight for its most important values, because the opponent is influential and also an important financial force in international sports. The Russian theater of conceding only facts, which can no longer be disputed, is set to continue in 2017. And nobody can expect any real reforms in Russian sports.

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