Every time there’s a wave of cheating in sports, there’s a reaction to it framed from the perspective that things used to be a bit fairer. However, from baseball players popping “greenies” to pitch better to Olympic athletes engaging in low-tech doping schemes, performance-enhancing substance (PED) abuse is a sports mainstay.
And yet, one sports scandal unfolding over the last five years still feels new. The sheer scale of Russia’s systemic PED-based cheating is astounding, affecting international sports. In a culture of corruption defining the current Russian elite, the nation’s sports culture has been entirely upended.
In the age of standardized checks for PEDs, cheating in modern sports by definition requires a conspiracy. Barry Bonds was just the tip of the iceberg in baseball, leading to congressional hearings, for example. But the Russian doping scandal uncovered in 2015 and investigated in 2016 was the first directly tied to the highest levels of a government.
Several whistleblowers brought the conspiracy to the attention of the International Olympic Committee (IOC). Incidentally, ESPN reports that the publicly-named individuals have suffered anonymous death threats for their trouble. Their evidence proved that several high-profile Russian track and field athletes were surreptitiously doping.
That scandal led to banned athletes, and some small fines. But it never ended, from Russia’s side. Instead, they continued doping, and expanded their program to other sports. Their response to being caught the first time? To create a system for providing false negative results for most of their athletes in international competition.
Why Russia owes $1.27 million in fees to the International Olympic Committee
The IOC investigation against Russian sports rapidly expanded. According to Insider, the initial penalties were fairly slim. Russian athletes who tested negative for PEDs could compete in Olympic qualifiers as Russian-affiliated, but not as part of an official team. But once the costs of the investigation expanded, the penalties became far more serious all at once.
When the investigation wrapped earlier this month, total costs were up to $1.27 million. The Russian government is on the hook for these costs. They are also banned from international competition for at least the upcoming Olympics, as well as the World Cup.
For the next two years, Russia is barred from hosting any Olympic or World Cup events. They are also ineligible to engage in any bidding for future contracts during that time, a potentially harsh blow in a space where events are planned many years in advance.
This is the worst example of a high-level, government-involved PED scandal yet uncovered. It’s also one in a series of doping scandals that have emerged from the region over the years. One of the most famous doping scandals was centered on what was then known as the Soviet Union, in 1980. The National Post reports that track athletes were encouraged by their trainers to partake in oral steroids at the time.
Doping among the Russian track and field set came up again at the 2008 Summer Olympics. Seven Russian female athletes suspended from the 2008 Olympics after a doping ring was uncovered, the Guardian reports. Unlike the current scandal, this conspiracy was limited to an isolated corner of the Russian sports world. Since then, clearly, the prerogative has changed. The Russian sports community at large either became involved with or at the very least were aware of a country-wide conspiracy. Now, the bill is due.