Views expressed in opinion columns are the author’s own.
Every two years, the world turns its attention to one of the world’s largest athletic events: the Olympic Games.
This past week, athletes from nearly 100 countries gathered in Beijing, China, to compete in the 2022 Winter Olympics with the hope of winning a medal for their nation. Fans around the world revel in the spectacle and between the timeless displays of athleticism and feelings of national pride, it’s easy to understand why the Olympics are a beloved event for many.
Unfortunately, as exciting as the Olympics are, controversies frequently surround the games. These Beijing Olympics have been no exception, as they have had their fair share of economic and political controversies typically associated with the Olympics. However, these controversies tend to hover around the spectacle of the games themselves, and rarely interfere with athletic competition, which is what the Olympics are truly about. Yet, recent issues with doping have begun to affect the athletic events themselves.
Doping, or the use of performance-enhancing drugs, is an issue that has grown in both occurrence and concern for the International Olympic Committee. Through the use of performance-enhancing drugs, these athletes erode the games’ competition, which strips it of the fairness that makes it so special. With each new instance of state-sponsored doping that occurs, it becomes clear the IOC has been weak and inefficient in its punishments, allowing these instances to continuously occur. In order to deter further instances of state-sponsored doping, the IOC needs to be stronger in its punishments to countries that violate doping protocol.
One does not have to look far to find a prime example of a lax and ineffective punishment for offenders of doping guidelines. If you’ve watched any of the events at the 2022 Beijing Olympics so far, you might have noticed that Russia is not competing under its name, but rather as the Russian Olympic Committee. This is part of the World Anti-Doping Agency’s 2019 ban on Russia after discovering a multi-year doping scheme sponsored by its government involving Russian Olympic athletes. This ban will last through the end of 2022.
Yet, this “ban” is ineffective for one major reason: Russian athletes are still competing at the Olympics like any other athlete would. The loophole allowing Russian athletes to compete without imagery of the Russian nation does very little to deter future violators from doping, as the precedent proves that connected athletes will still be able to compete for medals at the Olympic Games.
Further, the additional components of the ban are artificial and performative at best. Should a Russian athlete win a medal, the Russian national anthem will not play, but rather Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 — arguably one of the most famous works from one of Russia’s most well-known composers. In that, the pride in Russian identity is not lost, but rather funneled to a new medium, effectively depleting the purpose of the restriction.
Foreign dignitaries should also be banned from attending the Olympics, per the guidelines of the ban, but this stipulation is circumvented through personal invitations to Russian officials by the host nation. Naturally, given the diplomatic relationship between Russia and China, President Vladimir Putin not only attended the Olympic Opening Ceremony in Beijing, but also held a meeting with President Xi Jinping that has contributed to the growing diplomatic tensions with many Western nations.
In order to strengthen future bans for violators of doping protocol, the first place to start would be not allowing the violating nation to compete in the games at all. While this is rather strict, it should considerably deter the national athletic organizations from sponsoring cheating at the national level. Further, athletes are allowed to compete independently of a country at the Olympics, which would allow innocent athletes to still earn a medal despite the illegal actions of their nation. Therefore, ardent and restrictive bans are likely the key to reducing state-sponsored doping at the Olympic Games.
As a fan of the Olympics and Team USA, it is upsetting to see Russian athletes get no more than a slap on the wrist for clear and obvious attempts at cheating. However, my mom would always remind me that “a winner never cheats, and a cheater never wins.” So when the competition is over and the Olympic cauldron is extinguished, hopefully the final medal count delivers the necessary karma to any country that has attempted to erode the fair spirit of the Olympic Games.
Anthony Liberatori is a junior environmental science and economics major. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.