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Workers Vanguard No. 1125

12 January 2018

Nyet to Winter Olympics Ban of Russia!

For the first time in the history of the Olympics, a whole country has been banned from competition for doping. In early December, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) suspended Russia, a core IOC member, and barred it from sending a team to the 2018 Winter Games, which begin on February 8 in Pyeongchang, South Korea. Although some individual athletes may be invited to participate in neutral uniforms if deemed “clean” by a special anti-doping panel, a cloud of suspicion nevertheless hangs over all Russian competitors. The whole business drips with hypocrisy. Doping—the use of performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs)—is a common practice among competitive athletes worldwide, as is its systematic cover-up.

The sweeping new sanctions are based on World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and IOC reports claiming that Moscow turned the WADA-accredited anti-doping lab at the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi into a machine for covering up doping by Russian athletes. In reality, for three years the U.S. and its allies have put the IOC under relentless pressure to single out and punish this Olympic powerhouse. The pressure via the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) and other such bodies was so great that in November, IOC president Thomas Bach told them to stand down lest they jeopardize the appearance of “the right to a fair procedure.”

The Winter Olympics ban is an extension of the vindictive exclusion of the Russian track and field team from the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. The sanctions go so far as to permanently ban Vitaly Mutko, formerly Russia’s minister of sport, now its deputy prime minister, from involvement in all future Olympics. These moves parallel attempts by the U.S. imperialists to isolate Russia, a regional capitalist power and potential rival—one, moreover, with sizable nuclear capability. They are of a piece with economic sanctions against Russia, including over Crimea’s reunification with Russia in 2014, and the more recent howls by Democratic Party politicians and others that the Russians allegedly hacked the 2016 presidential elections.

We say: Let the Russians compete! We oppose the ban on PEDs in sports. Whether an individual uses drugs—for fun or perceived enhancement of athletic ability—is a personal choice. So long as there has been athletic competition, sportsmen, aided by coaches, have experimented with everything conceivable, from altering training regimens and diet to ingesting any substance perceived to give them competitive advantage. In large part, the current frenzy over PEDs has been stoked by the decades-long “war on drugs,” which in racist capitalist America has filled the prisons with generations of overwhelmingly black and Latino youth. We demand the decriminalization of drugs as part of our opposition to all laws against so-called “crimes without victims.”

As we wrote at the time of the Rio Games:

“The witchhunt against PEDs contradicts the Olympic motto ‘Faster, Higher, Stronger.’ A rational society would embrace the potentialities of improving human athletic performance, including through performance-enhancing drugs, while at the same time conducting an objective scientific study of the potential benefits and medical dangers. Dropping the ban on PEDs would also allow users to come out of the shadows and take the drugs under medical supervision. But capitalist society is not rational.”

—“Let the Russians Play!” WV No. 1093, 29 July 2016

The Pyeongchang Games without Russia, as British sociologist Ellis Cashmore put it, “will be like a Terminator movie without Arnold Schwarzenegger.” With the Russians out of the way, the American team and other top contenders, themselves no strangers to PED use, better their chances of cleaning up. Here’s the kind of “level playing field” promised by sports officials who punished the Russians in 2016. Now, in the context of the new Russia ban, there is a sharper focus on star athletes from countries not rich enough to fund robust anti-doping apparatuses, with the presumption that they must be cheating. Five such countries, including distance-running powers Kenya and Ethiopia, have been placed on a doping watch list. Jamaica, with its top-notch sprinters, is also under increased scrutiny.

Thomas Bach, who proudly announced in 2015 that half a billion dollars was spent annually worldwide on anti-doping tests, has himself been accused of cheating—for allegedly trying to defeat electronic sensors in fencing competitions in the 1970s. Nonetheless, he has risen to the top of the IOC, which is dominated by rich reactionaries and includes princes, princesses and sheiks. Like many other current IOC members, Bach was elevated to the body by its former president Juan Antonio Samaranch, a supporter of Spain’s bloody Franco dictatorship. These are the kinds of men and women who claim the moral authority to decide what constitutes “clean” sport.

Their case against Russia rests largely on allegations by Grigory Rodchenkov, former head of Moscow’s anti-doping laboratory. Having earlier certified that Russian athletes had not used PEDs, he is today singing a different tune, testifying that he “spent years helping Russia’s athletes gain an edge by using banned substances” (New York Times, 28 November 2017). Having fled to the U.S., Rodchenkov is currently enrolled in a witness protection program. The reports commissioned by WADA and the IOC that hinge on the testimony of this proven liar are reminiscent of the January 2017 joint report by the CIA, FBI and NSA that supposedly proved Russian interference in the 2016 elections, but which, by the admission of its authors, offered not one shred of evidence.

Not surprisingly, USADA, which fought tooth-and-nail for banning Russia from Pyeongchang, is much more likely to make allowances when it comes to alleged doping by U.S. athletes. For example, USADA data obtained by the Fancy Bears hacker group and published by the German news magazine Der Spiegel document routine approvals of last-minute “Therapeutic Use Exemptions” (TUEs)—1,330 were granted in 2015. Approved TUEs allowed cyclists to use asthma medications that improve oxygen intake and gymnasts to use Ritalin to sharpen concentration on balance beams and parallel bars. The real question, however, is why such substances should be banned in the first place.

Each year, WADA publishes a list of banned substances and treatments. Some are prohibited at all times and others in competition, while still others are banned for particular sports. The 2018 list contains some 300 prohibited substances. More are added all the time. These include substances that show up more often than others in testing, and are hence presumed to be PEDs. Caffeine, although not prohibited (as it was for 20 years until 2004), is on the monitoring program list, so it could be added back. A drug that may have still been allowed at the beginning of the year could result in a doping ban a few months later. The athletes themselves are responsible for keeping track of what is allowed and what is not, a significant challenge given the volatility of the banned substance list.

The myth peddled by the IOC that the Olympic Games “contribute to building a peaceful and better world” is utterly belied by the regular outpourings of chauvinist pageantry and ideology that suffuse the Games, which are organized along nation-state lines and are subordinated to politics. At the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, Nazi Germany intended to showcase the superiority of the “Aryan master race,” but Hitler’s parade was smashed by black U.S. track star Jesse Owens when he won four gold medals. Even so, the U.S. Olympic Committee under Avery Brundage did its best to appease Hitler by removing Jewish sprinters Marty Glickman and Sam Stoller from the 400-meter relay, sparing the führer the sight of Jews on the medal stand.

The hysteria over performance enhancers began in response to the international successes of athletes from the Soviet Union and East Europe in the 1970s and ’80s. The campaign against athletes from those bureaucratically ruled workers states intensified with the renewed Cold War led by U.S. imperialism in the late 1970s under Democratic president Jimmy Carter. Following the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan against the murderous, U.S.-backed mujahedin—the precursors of the Taliban, Al Qaeda and ISIS—Carter ordered the U.S. boycott of the 1980 Moscow Olympics, with the aim of whipping up an anti-Soviet frenzy.

With the destruction of the Soviet Union in 1991-92 and the restoration of brutal capitalist rule, now under strongman Vladimir Putin, the U.S. rulers’ hostility to Russia is no longer about overthrowing the collectivized property forms that were established by the 1917 October Revolution. What they want now is to keep capitalist Russia out of the club of imperialist powers. In line with its efforts to isolate Russia, the U.S. has once again made the Olympics a pawn in its game.


Workers Vanguard No. 1125

WV 1125

12 January 2018


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