Russia Awaits Potential Rio Olympics Ban Decision, After Widespread Doping Practices

Originally published on July 24, 2016 12:18 am
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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

And it's time for sports.

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SIMON: Not a good week for Russian athletes. A ban against Russia's track and field team competing in the Rio Olympic Games was upheld. This after reports last year exposed a state-sponsored doping conspiracy. And on Monday, anti-doping officials called for Russia to be banned from this year's Olympics altogether. They said that the cheating extended way beyond track and field. Tomorrow, the International Olympic Committee will meet and decide what to do or not. NPR's Tom Goldman joins us. Morning, Tom.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Hi, Scott.

SIMON: What are the options here for the IOC?

GOLDMAN: Well, the one everyone is talking about, the one you mentioned - the nuclear option, if you will - ban the entire Russian team. That's never been done before due to doping. Another option is the IOC tells individual sports federations to figure out on a case-by-case basis whether their athletes are clean and can compete.

Now, time is tight to do that though. The opening ceremony is two weeks from last night. Too bad, Scott, the IOC and anti-doping officials didn't address the Russian problem back in 2010 when they reportedly first learned about it.

But whatever the IOC does, it'll be criticized. If it bans them all, some say - and not just the Russians are saying this - there will be clean athletes kept out of the games, and that doesn't seem fair. And if the IOC falls short of a total ban, critics will say the committee's constant tough talk against doping is just that - talk.

SIMON: What about the argument when there's a state-sponsored doping program going on there - honestly, there is no such thing as an innocent athlete unless they happen to be, you know, training in Monaco or something.

GOLDMAN: (Laughter) Or in the U.S., like a couple of Russian athletes are, and they've apparently been cleared to be in - at Rio. You know, 68 Russian track and field athletes say, yes, that you can be clean, even in a state-sponsored system. They're the ones who appealed last week's ban, and they lost that appeal this week.

SIMON: Now usually, of course, it's Ben Johnson, it's Marion Jones, Lance Armstrong - big names get involved in doping scandals. But this is - this is - this is a big country name, isn't it?

GOLDMAN: It sure is. This involves state-sponsored doping. And we haven't dealt with that kind of thing - at least, we don't think we have - since the East German doping system started in the 1960s. It's notable, Scott, that after all the people you mentioned and the scandals they caused and the creation of active anti-doping organizations, we now have one of the worst doping crises ever. And it makes you wonder whether this system of catch and punish, which everyone still clings to, is ultimately going to work.

SIMON: Yeah. Well, either way, what's the prospect for the Rio Olympics?

GOLDMAN: If the Russians aren't there, some believe it'll devalue the competitions. If the Russians are there in any numbers, it'll probably prompt protests and, even worse, make everyone from athletes to fans wonder if what they're seeing on the fields of play is real.

I will say coincidentally, yesterday, the IOC released results of samples that were retested from the 2008 Olympics and the 2012 Olympics. There were 45 failed tests in this new batch, including 23 medal winners from Beijing. Total number of positive tests now 98 from those two games. It means some of what we watched in those two recent Olympics wasn't real. And as we get ready to watch the Rio Games, you can't help but wonder what will we find out in a few years about these Olympics?

SIMON: Yeah. Briefly, another issue totally. WNBA players are being fined for wearing black warmup shirts at games to protest recent shootings in Baton Rouge, Minneapolis and Dallas. Now, this is in contrast to what happened in the NBA over the past couple years, isn't it?

GOLDMAN: It is. You know, male NBA players, including LeBron James, were not fined when they wore I Can't Breathe protest T-shirts a couple of years ago. And also, Scott, this week the NBA announced it'll move next year's All-Star Game out of North Carolina as a statement against the controversial laws there limiting anti-discrimination protections of the LGBT community. Some say this is hypocrisy to take this action, but at the same time fine the women for their political stand.

SIMON: And WNBA players make a lot less than the NBA stars, don't they?

GOLDMAN: That fine means a lot more to them. Exactly right.

SIMON: NPR's Tom Goldman. Thanks so much.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.