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Russia has betrayed the sporting world in an unprecedented manner, refusing to admit guilt for a state-sponsored doping system. Now it has been pardoned by the IOC all the same. It's a sordid affair, writes Joscha Weber.
Anyone who had been paying attention couldn't have been surprised by this decision. Within three days of the closing ceremony at the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) was brought back into the Olympic family.
There had been no shortage of hints that pointed to this: During the Games, Russia's efforts to improve in the anti-doping fight were lauded. Repeatedly, officials pointed out that no other country was subject to more tests at the moment. And of course it was always planned for Russia's athletes to take part in the closing ceremony using their national colors and flag once again.
What didn't fit into the Intenational Olympic Committee's (IOC) plans was that two of the "Olympic Athletes of Russia," as they were officially known in Pyeongchang, tested positive during the Games: Curling bronze medal winner Alexander Krushelnitsky and bobsledder Nadezhda Sergeeva. So just more of the same, then? No, even during the Games, the IOC mooted the idea of welcoming Russia back into the fold, provided the remaining doping tests were negative.
And that's what's happened now.
"The rights of the Russian Olympic Committee have been completely restored," ROC boss Alexander Zhukov trumpeted. It's worth noting that he's one of the people doggedly refusing to acknowledge the existence of a state-sponsored doping system in Russia.
So there's no admittance of guilt, and after numerous doping cases in the run-up to the Games, another two were uncovered during them. But nevertheless, the sanctions against Russia have been lifted. It's a setup.
Terms as unflinching as gelatin
Even the conditions set out for a potential Russian return to the fold had suggested that this was the IOC's ultimate end goal. They stated that athletes, coaches, functionaries and spectators should once again honor the "letter and spirit" of the IOC's rulings.
You'd find tougher and more unyielding conditions in a bowl of gelatin. Even the official Pyeongchang name for the Russian team, the "Olympic Athletes of Russia," must have been met with a shrug of the shoulders from several athletes. Especially, for instance, for the ice hockey players who were still able to compete in their traditional red and white.
And you can confidently write off Russia's $15 million (€12.3 million) "reparations" fine paid to the IOC as a sale of indulgence to pardon their sins. It's all too clear that the IOC was looking for ways to punish the mighty Russian committee just a little bit, in a symbolic move meant for public consumption. They seemingly hoped that normality would soon be restored thereafter — and now we seem to have returned to Olympic business as usual.
This shows how little the IOC truly expected from Russia when you consider that the ROC, Russian sports politicians and almost all its athletes have refused to acknowledge a state-sponsored doping program's existence at Sochi in 2014, or even to draw lessons from that allegation for the future. Russia was dragged into the confessional, but was not forced to actually admit anything. All that mattered was that it put on its "Sunday Best" clothes and made the visit.
Most powerful weapon left in holster
What's more, the IOC is frittering away a massive opportunity here. The credibility of the anti-doping fight has been seriously damaged since the scandal in Sochi, many clean athletes have already lost faith in the testing and enforcement process. With prolonged sanctions against Russia, there would have been a chance to use perhaps the most powerful weapon in the IOC's arsenal: retests. After the 2008 Games in Beijing and 2012's in London, retests identified dozens of doping cases after the fact — some of them Russian — thanks to improved methods of analysis. Why not test the current samples again at a later date? iNADO, the Institute of National Anti-Doping Organizations, has described the IOC's sanctions against Russia as "another short-lived, negotiated deal," lamenting the fact that clean athletes had "no priority" in the process. Alas, they hit the nail on the head.