Opinion: The IOC and Russia need to be held accountable

Libby Hughes

In February 2014, Russia concluded the Olympics in their host city, Sochi, after racking up an astounding 33 medals, surpassing all other countries in the winter games. Less than two years later, in November 2015, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) accused Russia of running a systematic, state-sponsored doping program. This alleged program included destroying and faking urine samples by passing them through a hole drilled into the wall of the anti-doping lab. According to the former head of Russia’s Anti-Doping Center, Grigory Rodchenkov, at least 15 medalists from Sochi were part of the doping program. In the midst of this doping investigation against Russia, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) then allowed Russia to compete in the 2016 Rio De Janeiro Games, stating “individual sporting federations can make their own decisions regarding sanctions.” Russia ended up winning 19 medals that summer, which was unfair to the other countries that competed cleanly. It also showed that the IOC needed to reform their policies surrounding drug policies and ethics as an international organization.  

Even after Olympic officials and Russian intelligence were found to be part of the Sochi widespread doping, individual Russian athletes were still allowed to compete in the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Games. Under orders from the IOC, Russia’s flag and anthem were absent from the games as a penalty for doping. Instead of taking the opportunity to completely ban Russia for a full Olympic cycle (one winter game and summer game), the IOC permitted Russia to participate, completely belittling other athletes who had competed clean.

In the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, Russia was involved in yet another doping scandal, yet, this time no one was surprised. After leading Russia to victory in the 2022 European figure skating championships, 15-year-old star figure skater Kamila Valieva was found with trace amounts of trimetazidine in her system, a banned stimulant that is used in heart medicine, right after becoming the first woman to land a quad at the Olympics.

Even though Valieva produced her test in late December, the laboratory did not send and test them to Stockholm at the WADA lab until Feb. 7, in the midst of her competing in Beijing. Despite figure skating being the premier event in the Olympics, the IOC and WADA failed to expedite the results which, for some inexplicable reason, were not reported until after Valieva had completed. 

After her test results became public, the Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA) provisionally suspended Valieva. However a day later, the suspension was canceled by the Disciplinary Anti-Doping Committee and the Court of Arbitration of Sport, which facilitates the settlement of sport related disputes, allowing Valieva to continue competition. The IOC then announced that if Valieva, who was favored to win gold, placed the highest overall, they would cancel the medal ceremony. Canceling this event for all athletes would completely detract from their accomplishments. However, it is important not to blame Valieva, but rather the system that allows this: Russia and the IOC. The IOC has continually let Russia get away with doping and the fact that they were surprised when yet another incident occured is completely nonsensical.   

The IOC should also seriously reassess its stance on recreational drugs. After Sha’Carri Richardson was banned from competing in the 2021 Tokyo Games when submitting a positive marijuana test, many questioned why a practically harmless and non-performance enhancing drug is on a list with masking agents and anabolic steroids. The IOC should consider amending their banned substance list because there is no evidence that marijuana is performance enhancing and it seems unfair to punish athletes based on a test that is irrelevant to athletic ability. 

After years of putting athletes second to politicization and greed, it is no doubt that the Olympics needs to implement serious improvements. IOC members have even been convicted of accepting bribes in the form of cash, gifts, entertainment, business favors and subsidized travel costs. Most of the blame has been put on IOC president Thomas Bach, and rightfully so. Bach has continually put the revenues from TV broadcasts and corporate sponsorships above the safety and integrity of the athletes. Bach has also openly disregarded the Russian state-sponsored doping scandal and publicly failed to condemn the numerous human rights violations by multiple countries, including China towards the Uyghur Muslim population. Instead, he awarded China as the 2022 Winter Games host. 

Valieva is an extremely talented skater, but letting her compete creates a double standard between countries regarding the involvement of recreational and performance enhancement drugs. Additionally, this brings to light the outdated and irrelevant drug rules enforced by the IOC and WADA, demonstrating the alarming extent to which these groups continue to undervalue the integrity of athletes.