In Good Conscience

There's real East-West corruption in doping

If Ng Ser Miang had won the International Olympic Committee (IOC) presidency in 2013, would he have been forced to make the same dance of denial and deception over Russian doping at the Games?

I suspect he would have gone down fighting.

Ser Miang's crusade for that vote was based on turning a page, on investing in youth, on trying to purify the Olympic Movement rather than prosecute each and every cheat. He was never going to win, the friends of Thomas Bach had the election sewn up.

And, though the 68-year-old has a seat on the IOC executive board, it is Bach who had no option on Tuesday other than to pronounce: "The systemic manipulation of the anti-doping system in Russia was an unprecedented attack on the integrity of the Olympic Games and Sport."

Unprecedented? In scale, perhaps, but the East German state imposed drug abuse on its athletes, from kindergarten upwards, through the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s.

It took a Wall to fall, a regime to crumble, for that terrible generational crime against its own youth, and the Olympic values, to be flushed out.

A small irony is that, while Bach was cosying up to Vladimir Putin, it was a German television station who did the heavy leg work on bringing proof of Russian state corruption of sport.

I have looked Olympians in the eye and asked if they suspect that all their years of sweat, toil and training is doomed to failure unless they do what it takes to even the playing field, would they dope? The answer is in the eyes, if not always out of the mouths.

Bach even says he met months ago with Yulia Stepanova and Vitaly Stepanov, the original whistle-blowers on German TV. Yulia, the runner, and Vitaly, a former employee at the Russian anti-doping laboratory, are in hiding in North America in fear for their lives.

A third defector, former Moscow laboratory director Grigory Rodchenkov, is in the United States under the protection of federal authorities.

It was Rodchenkov's empirical evidence to the New York Times and Netflix that became a 52-page affidavit to which even the IOC could no longer turn a blind eye.

Several things stand out as more chilling even than the old East-West spy network bumping off of material witnesses.

If Bach can secretly meet with protected witnesses, who can possibly say that they are beyond the reach of Russian agents?

As the Olympic president himself said last year: "We are not responsible for dangers to which Ms Stepanova may be exposed."

Another concern is the presumption that any kind of line has been drawn under Russia's medal gathering. Neither Putin, nor Vitaly Mutko, the minister for sport during the years of alleged state doping, even acknowledge that cheating took place.

They say it is all a western fabrication.

So is the Great Bear going to stand by meekly while Russian athletes are stripped of their gold, silver and bronze? Is the Kremlin going to cough up the US$15 million (S$20.3 million) to reimburse the IOC costs of prosecuting crimes they do not acknowledge took place?

And will it make a blind bit of difference to the forthcoming World Cup which Mutko persuaded Fifa to grant to Russia - and over which Mutko presides?

No chance. Fifa has too much vested interest, and too great a hole in their coffers as the dreadful years of Fifa corruption are dragged through American courts.

Hypocrisy abounds. There is real East-West corruption, and cheating on both sides. East Germany and Russia probably could not dope without state complicity.

But you don't believe that Marion Jones, the darling of the American Olympians until she got caught, was even remotely an isolated case of pharmaceutically enhanced track running, do you?

The truth is that, as long as competitors see, hear and believe that "the others" are cheating they will succumb to temptation to match that. I have looked Olympians in the eye and asked if they suspect that all their years of sweat, toil and training is doomed to failure unless they do what it takes to even the playing field, would they dope?

The answer is in the eyes, if not always out of the mouths. And the description of urine-swopping described by laboratory boss Rodchenkov in Russia is no different to the old joke concerning Norwegian biathletes way back in the Sixties:

"The good news, Jonas, is that your sample is clean.

"The bad news, is you are pregnant."

It is no laughing matter.

The Olympic flame is on its way from Sochi to Pyeongchang. The Fifa World Cup is destined for Russia, and thereafter for Qatar. The US, which supplies many of the sponsors and wishes to police the world's playgrounds, can claim it is whiter than white in terms of government manipulation.

Lately, however, we have to wonder if there are lengths that Putin would go to that President Donald Trump would not?

Putin, in fact, reacted with restraint to Tuesday's IOC announcement that Russians can compete in Pyeongchang only if they prove they are clean.

Some in Moscow call for a boycott. No Russia, no Games.

But former Olympic ice dance champion Tatiana Navka, whose husband is a spokesman for Putin, used Instagram to say: "Athletes should decide. Many have already proved they are the best on the planet, and not to give them the opportunity to win an Olympic medal, to get what they have sought their entire lives, is tantamount to murder."

Others called it war, even genocide. And others, like Yelena Isinbayeva, the 2004 and 2008 Olympic pole vault champion, point out that even without the flag or anthem, "they will still be identified as Russian".

Indeed, they will. Putin knows that, and will exploit it. "We will not declare any blockades," he said. "We will not prevent our Olympic athletes from participating."

Putin is preparing for his own race, seeking a fourth term as Russian President. "What concerns me?" he said last month. "When will the Olympics take place? February, isn't it?

"And when is the presidential election? March. I suspect all of this is done to create conditions on someone's behalf to provoke sports fans and athletes' anger that the state supposedly had something to do with it."

Putin is above all of that, obviously. I'm willing to bet that when the Russians come home with their medals, they will get all the fanfare and flag-waving they desire.

Homecoming heroes of state - three weeks before their head of state wins his own extended seal of approval.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 09, 2017, with the headline 'There's real East-West corruption in doping'. Print Edition | Subscribe