Sports’ equivalents of 007s, the righteous athletes from the UK and US, must’ve celebrated, oh so briefly, the banning of their favourite whipping boys, the Russians. Such has been the frenzied outrage at the dope taint on the sporting superpower of the erstwhile eastern bloc, that World Anti Doping Agency’s ruling to purge the 2020 FIFA World Cup and Olympics of Russian presence started a small hurrah across Twitter.
Only for the fine print to collapse the Mexican wave of cheer before it crossed the Atlantic and it became apparent that the Russians could fetch up anyway if they could prove they were clean to their federations. Which ought to have been exactly what happened at all previous Olympic editions, but WADA can’t quite be sure. That, in a nutshell, means that the Olympics, World Cup and other events might not have Russia but they certainly will have Russians.
WADA, with the ever generous and hospitable Americans, managed to whisk away a whistleblower and get the lid off the Russian doping programme five years ago. But the Russians brazenly tampered readings in computer files, muddying waters. For the sake of fairness, WADA has allowed the “clean” Russian athletes to compete. So, expect the glorious Olgas, Marias, Alexeys, Antons, Tatianas, Yulias and Aleksanders to match the 56 medals that athletes from the Country That Must Not Be Named (CTMNBN) won last time. And don’t be surprised if Vova Putin keeps count of those CTMNBN medals and chuckles away, cackling about the unfairness of the west with a wink.
Like Babushka dolls, Russia is stuck with the reputation of compulsive doping ever since the days of Cold War intrigue, and the 2020 ban is considered the denouement, though it feels like a token rap on mittened knuckles. For the Russians who’ll be there in Tokyo, but not quite, it’s slipping into yet another script, this time Roald Dahl channelling Ian Fleming in “You Only Live Twice.”