Skip to main content

The Olympic Games inevitably produce moments of jaw-dropping disbelief, where competitors pull off feats seemingly beyond the limits of the possible. Too bad many of those moments at the Winter Games in Beijing are the work of the International Olympic Committee and the autocrats who rule China and Russia.

From the ability of Russia’s utterly discredited anti-doping agency, RUSADA, to continue to play a role in the Olympics, to the IOC’s psychic powers that allow it to bend its eligibility rules without lifting a finger, there is little an actual athlete could do that would be more breathtaking.

RUSADA, you will recall from the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, is the agency that allegedly exists to stop doping by Russia’s athletes, but which in fact assisted them in avoiding detection in a state-sanctioned scheme that involved passing tainted urine samples through a hole in a wall and replacing them with clean ones.

The World Anti-Doping Agency put RUSADA in the penalty box for four years. The Russian Olympic Committee and the country’s flag and anthem were banned from the 2018 Winter Games – but Russian athletes deemed to have not been part of the doping scheme were allowed to compete, as “Olympic Athletes from Russia.”

But when WADA asked RUSADA for computer data from its main lab as a condition of reinstatement, what did RUSADA do? It tampered with the data. So, in 2019, WADA banned Russia for another four years.

RUSADA appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), an international body that settles disputes of this kind, and the punishment was reduced to two years, until next December.

But for reasons that defy logic the same way that the unnatural double cork 1260 jump in Olympic half-pipe competitions defies the laws of physics, CAS also ruled that Russia – sorry, “the Russian Olympic Committee” – could take part in the 2020 Tokyo Games and the Beijing Games.

Weirder still, CAS allowed RUSADA – utterly disgraced, completely untrustworthy and having been caught running a doping scheme – to continue as the anti-doping agency of record for Russian athletes.

And so there was RUSADA last week lifting a provisional suspension on Russia’s star 15-year-old figure skater, Kamila Valieva, three days after it came to light that she had tested positive for a banned substance at an event in December.

RUSADA claims it didn’t learn of the failed test until Feb. 6, after Ms. Valieva led Russia to a gold medal in team skating.

The IOC, the International Skating Union and WADA challenged RUSADA’s decision to reinstate the Russian superstar. But CAS once again ruled in the Russian agency’s favour – partly on the grounds that, as a minor, banning Ms. Valieva from the games could cause her “irreparable harm.”

RUSADA, having altered urine samples and fudged its own data, is now seeing its self-serving decision regarding the doping of a child athlete being upheld at the highest levels of international sport.

Ms. Valieva will compete in the women’s finals on Thursday. If she wins as expected, the IOC will postpone the medal ceremony until a hearing into her failed doping test is held.

These are the kind of contortions the IOC, and the autocratic countries it courts, excel at. You could see these same gymnastics at play in the way China was able to ice a men’s hockey team at the Beijing Games, where its status as host gave it an automatic ticket to the competition. China has no high-level players, so it came up with a novel solution: It imported a crew of foreign skaters.

The IOC allows dual nationals to compete for the country of their choice, but China doesn’t officially allow dual citizenship. And yet somehow the Chinese women’s team is chockablock with Canadians, while the Chinese men’s team is composed mainly of Canadians, plus a handful of Americans and Russians.

The players, clearly under instructions from above, have avoided answering questions about what is going on, and whether they renounced their Canadian or American citizenship. But the IOC obviously approved whatever novel arrangements were made – which it can do because its charter allows it to ignore or adapt the rules on eligibility at will.

In sports, you have to play by the rules. But when organizers of the world’s biggest sports event get into bed with autocrats, the rules are whatever they say they are.

Keep your Opinions sharp and informed. Get the Opinion newsletter. Sign up today.