Complicit, the word of 2017, lends itself equally despairingly to Russian sport and its doping scandal from four years ago. Hosting the Winter Olympics at Sochi, Russia exploited its home advantage to pierce a literal hole through the World Anti Doping Agency’s defences. A well-hidden gap in the wall was used to swap hundreds of urine samples concealing the steroid use of some of its top competitors. That the government allegedly helped carry out this cheating, wherein a third of Russia’s 33 medals went to athletes whose names appeared on a spreadsheet with details of the country’s doping plans, meant the complicity was complete.
The International Olympic Committee has now imposed a complete ban on Russia from competing in the 2018 Pyeongchang Games. The country’s officials are forbidden to attend, its flag will not flutter at the opening ceremony and its anthem will not play. It is a desperate signal from sporting authorities to Russia which brazenly abused its hosting rights, enlisting the help of Grigory Rodchenkov, the antidoping laboratory director, who has since turned whistleblower. While a strong message needed to go out to Russia, this will also serve as a warning to every nation attempting to prop up its flagging self-worth by artificially boosting its medal count at the Olympics.
While punishing the guilty, the IOC is also undertaking the difficult task of sifting through the tainted results and rescinding medals and has planned a special medal ceremony to reassign medals to retroactive winners from Sochi. This is as much a denouement for those cheated of their moments of acclaim at Sochi, as it is for the rotten Russian edifice that the country rationalised under the garb of bringing glory to the nation.