Russian Doping Scandal: Should all Russian Track Athletes be banned?

By Taylor Tubbs

Cheating has been prevalent throughout the recent history of track and field. Accusations against Russia and the former USSR for involvement in state sponsored doping programs have previously existed.

However, a new 323-page report released on November 9, 2015 found that “the situation (in Russia) is worse than we thought,” according to founding president of the World Anti-Doping Association Dick Pound. As a result of the recent findings in the report, the IAAF, or International Association of Athletics Federation, suspended all Russian track athletes from international competitions until they can prove that they have cleaned up their sport.

Many critics cite that it is unfair to suspend an entire federation from competition when not all track athletes in Russia are taking banned substances. However, due to the prolonged history of Russian athletes doping and the severity of what was found in the new report, suspending the Russians is a necessary step to clean up the image of international track and field.

Russia has a long history of doping allegations that date back to the years of the USSR and the Cold War. In the 1950s, the USSR began pushing athletes to use biomedical aids due to pressures from the government to “meet or exceed all world records” at the time. Russian athletes were the first to systematically use creatine, which is a legal, organic acid that increases muscular capacity. At the time it gave Russians an estimated 1% advantage over their non-creatine using competitors, but today creatine is one of the world’s most used dietary supplements. This shows how early Russian research into sports performance has impacted how athletes around the world continue to train today.

However, Russia did not stop at creatine. Russian scientists conducted state-sponsored research to prefect blood doping, which improves athletic performance by increasing the number of red blood cells. According to head Russian scientist Nikolai Volkov, “swimmers, cyclists, rowers, biathletes, and skaters systematically blood doped for the 1976 and 1980 Olympic Games.”

Doping was illegal at the time, and is still illegal today. Perhaps doping persisted because the Communist Party in Russia put huge pressure on scientists and coaches to produce medal winners at the time.

Doping is more than a government run program in Russia; it is engrained into the sports culture of athletes and coaches alike. For example, in 1991 at an anti-doping conference in Norway, Soviet presenters said that, “44 percent of the Soviet Union’s 240 top athletes considered doping essential and even inevitable to winning.” The mentality that Russia developed during the past few decades about doping needs to be adjusted to the global perceptions of fairness.

By suspending Russia from upcoming international competitions, including the 2016 Rio Olympics unless certain standards are met, the Russian athletes and government must realize how unfair the rest of the world finds their practices.

Although organizations have banned individual Russian athletes for illegal doping in the past, banning all Russian track athletes from international competition is the first ban of its kind. Russia and other national federations have been suspended from international competitions in the past for political issues, but not for doping. Governmental disagreements such as these have kept athletes from competing in the past, and these bans have played a role in relations between the U.S. and Russia outside the realm of sports.

However, a ban on Russian track athletes specifically for doping in sports should be a strong enough sanction to force change in Russia. The blatant state sponsored doping and efforts to conceal doping in Russia have tainted the image of international track and field and robbed athletes of medals that were won through doping.

Just as governmental protests and bans of international sport competitions have driven change in the past, a ban on Russian athletes for doping should be a large enough repercussion to force Russia to reevaluate their drug policy. It would be an international embarrassment for Russia to go from dominating track and field in the 1990s to being banned from all international competition. This ban removes the opportunity for Russia to showcase their athletic superiority to the world.

The findings in the November report show that Russian doping is not something that was limited to the Soviet time period; this is an ongoing problem. The allegations in WADA’s (World Anti-Doping Agency’s) report are numerous and far reaching. Some of the allegations include: athletes adopting false identities and paying bribes to avoid violations, powerful sports officials submitting fake urine samples for athletes, and members of the Russian secret service impersonating engineers in labs during the Sochi Winter Olympics. These are just a few of the hundreds of allegations found in the report.

Russian officials dispute many of them, but they have provided no specific counter evidence to this date. The head of Moscow’s drug testing lab, Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov said, “There are fools sitting there who don’t understand the laboratory.” A problem with testing for drugs is that countries are largely responsible for testing their own athletes, which leaves the system open to the kind of ongoing corruption that is present in Russia.

No country has as many corrupt allegations as Russia. According to statistics released by WADA in June 2015, Russia is the violations leader with 225 accusations spanning across 30 sports. 42 of those accusations are against track and field athletes. As a result of WADA’s report, five Russian athletes and five Russian coaches are banned indefinitely from international track competitions. WADA also recommended that Russia as a whole be banned from international track, which the IAAF approved in a 22-1 vote in late November. The overwhelming support to temporarily ban Russia from international track competitions shows that officials worldwide think it is time for Russia to be reprimanded for their actions.

Although this is an extreme measure, and the first of its kind, many track and field athletes think it is a necessary step to clean up the sport. America’s top 1500 runner Jenny Simpson said that the IAAF has “failed me personally and they’ve failed every athlete in the sport by allowing doping to go on for this long.” Athletes and countries around the world are frustrated with Russia’s unchecked drug use up to this point.

During the Cold War, the Soviet Union turned to illegal doping to assist their athletes in winning international competitions to showcase Russian superiority. This practice has impacted international sport through the emergence of widespread use of creatine, other countries dabbling in blood doping, and a general distrust of track and field due to the revocation of previously awarded medals. Although banning all Russian track athletes from international competition is an extreme measure, it is necessary to start the cleanup of track and field.

The Problems of Sports Stadiums

By Peter Starr

Sports stadiums designed specifically for events like The Olympics or The World Cup have significant social repercussions on the communities that they are built around. World class stadiums built for single events are perhaps one of the most harmful institutions that can possibly be introduced into an impoverished area, especially in countries like Brazil or Kuwait.

Additionally, these stadiums typically involve treacherous labor in which natives are subjected to extreme work conditions. While they work in these conditions, they are essentially slaves to the company “employing” them, and often become injured or even killed because of the labor they are subject to. Stadiums are also a problem in urban areas across the United States as they almost always gentrify poor areas, in turn causing mass displacement problems for former inhabitants. Nationally and internationally, stadiums harm innocent individuals, cost immense amounts of tax payer’s money, and ultimately lead to the severe mistreatment of foreign peoples.

Public subsidies perpetuate a vicious cycle of extortion in which team owners can threaten to relocate their teams in order to extract greater subsidies from local politicians who operate under the flawed assumption that stadiums are beneficial. Jonah C. Chodosh of Claremont Mckenna University explains the circular nature of subsidies, ““Leagues and teams receive governmental legislative and financial support to segment the market, and drive up prices. By achieving this scarcity, professional sports are apt to receive further subsidies, tax exemptions, and fan interest.” Peter Callaghan of The News Tribune furthers that “each new deal negotiated at gunpoint creates the new high-water mark that the next city in line will have to meet in order to keep its team in town or at least keep it “competitive.” Bast explains that buying into the flawed logic of teams’ claiming they need more subsidization results in a world in which “There is no limit to the amount of money that can be demanded using this logic, with each team owner ratcheting up his or her demands in round-robin fashion without end.”

The impact of this is clear: communities are perpetually forced to subsidize the building of new harmful stadiums with the old stadiums still left standing. Bast explains, “No social value is produced when facilities that are still functional are torn down on the grounds that they are “economically obsolete.” Expensive investments in infrastructure are similarly being abandoned, only to be built anew across town or in some other city. This is not “economic development.”

It is make-work: no different in principle from digging and re-filling ditches.”  Joanna Cagan of the New York Times quantifies that “[A]t any given time one quarter of major league teams is playing in a new building, one quarter is awaiting the construction of one, [and the] other quarter is lobbying to get one built – and a final quarter is waiting in the wings for its turn at the plate.” Judith Grant Long quantifies that “the price of sports facilities could increase by 25 percent raising the average cost to $259 million per facility” as a result of bidding wars.

Sports leagues across the nation classify themselves as non-profit organizations to avoid having to pay taxes through a legal loophole, which then in turn have to be covered by public subsidies- straight out of the taxpayers’ pocket. Think Progress reports “The National Football League (NFL), the National Hockey League (NHL), and the Professional Golfers’ Association (PGA) classify themselves as non-profit organizations to exempt themselves from federal income taxes on earnings.”

Yet, there is an inherent contradiction within the action of these sports leagues declaring themselves as non-for profit. Senator Tom Coburn explains “In 2010, the registered NFL nonprofit alone received $184 million from its 32 member teams. It holds over $1 billion in assets. Together with its subsidiaries and teams – many of which are for-profit, taxed entities – the NFL generates an estimated $9 billion annually.” And although the NFL generates $9 billion annually, which the owners, players, and everyone involved in the organization lavishes in, taxpayer dollars are spent on subsidizing their tax exemption through the non profit loophole.

Think Progress clarifies the cost “Taxpayers may be losing at least $91 million subsidizing these tax loopholes for professional sports leagues that generate billions of dollars annually in profits.” These are millions of dollars that can be spent otherwise building needed infrastructure, fighting poverty, creating jobs, and adding educational opportunities to any local community. This perpetuates the growing gap between income between classes in the United States.

When public subsidies are used to create stadiums, the local economy suffers tremendously. This is a result of two primary reasons. First, new stadiums cause local citizens to substitute where they spend their money. The University of Maryland explains “Sports competes with other entertainment goods and services in the local economy. Each dollar spent at the ballpark is a dollar not spent on a meal in a local restaurant, bowling alley, etc. [For example,] Reduced consumer spending at local bars and restaurants [as a result of spending the money at the stadium instead] could lower earnings of employees at these establishments.” Second, there is an apparent harm in the poor allocation of public subsidization and tax payer money. CATO furthers “These public funds [used for stadium building] have alternative uses, such as maintaining local infrastructure; increasing the quality or provision of public health, safety, or education; and attracting new businesses to the area. The deterioration of local public capital or services could diminish the ability of the local economy to produce other non- sports-related goods and services, which in turn would reduce local income.”

CATO actually quantifies the reduction in per capita income as a result of public subsidizes used for stadium building. They find that on average, the local income of a typical person is reduced $73 as a result of building a new stadium. Although this may seem like only a small reduction in income, it confirms the fact that there is no economic benefit of stadium building; and overall, actually a harm.

Sports and Domestic Violence

By Wensley McFarlane

One of the biggest debates that has been longstanding and prevalent in the cross section between the world of sports and greater society is the idea that athletes by virtue of the media and popularity surrounding them have become more than just athletes but are representations of something greater. This mindset has both good and bad aspects to it.

It is good for the youth in America to be able to have positive role models that they not only identify with, but can also view and gleam motivation from that’ll help them push and strive to their goals. However, while putting our athletes on such a high pedestal are we not also giving these individuals the ammunition to make them feel that they are above everything?

It is no secret that athletes everywhere receive “special treatment” in someway shape or form, whether it be favors, gifts, perks, the list continues. This fact is not limited to just the professional realm of athleticism. Even high school athletes benefit from their status and are able to reap the benefits of being known as an athlete. In my opinion, this conditioning makes these individuals feel as if they are larger than life—as if they are the exclusion to rules, and gives them a feeling of entitlement. As long as their performance does not waver, they aren’t subject to the same treatments of the average American citizen. 

Time and time again, in the media we see athletes that break the law or do crazy things and receive nothing but a slap on the wrist while if an average citizen did the same exact things they would be facing serious jail time. This brings me to one of the biggest issues seen in sports, Sports and Domestic abuse.  

Studies show that domestic abuse/domestic violence is one of the most common crimes among male athletes, with most of these cases found among athletes within the NFL. A 2010 Harvard Law Review article, written by Bethany Withers, supports this statement. According to Withers, “conviction rates for athletes are astonishingly low compared to the arrest statistics. Though there is evidence that the responsiveness of police and prosecution to sexual assault complaints involving athletes is favorable, there is an off-setting pro-athlete bias on the part of juries.” There is clearly some truth to my opinion that athletes are not always subject to the same treatment as the average American citizen, and as a result this bias allows them to at times be above the law.  

Domestic violence among athletes is not a new occurrence or brand new issue by no means. However, there has been relatively recent rumblings that have pushed the issue of domestic violence into the spotlight of media for today’s generation.

Take, for example, the Ray Rice domestic violence incident. On February 15, 2014 in an Atlantic City hotel, elevator cameras caught Ray Rice and his now wife, Janay Palmer, in what started out as a heated discussion. Cameras then proceed to catch Rice hitting Palmer first, she then hits him in response, and then lastly he delivers a knockout blow, which leaves Palmer unconscious after hitting her head on the elevator rail. To make all of this worse, Rice then drags an unconscious Palmer out the elevator once the doors open.  

Now while situations like this occur on an everyday basis, this incident not only shocked the world and was the focus of the media for days due to the status and position of Ray Rice. What also made this incident the big media frenzy it became was due to the fact that there was video footage to go along with the claims and the footage that was available was incredibly graphic and gruesome. Whether Palmer or Rice initiated the altercation is not the focus of my commentary. The fact it was available for the world to see is what is completely important to the point that I am trying to get across.  

Due to the fact that the video made Rice out to be the aggressor, despite his status among the people or skill on the field, many people judged him, many people began to express their dissatisfaction with him, and many people waited to see how he would be punished, only for him to be arrested and then released on “simple assault charges.”  

What was the NFL’s verdict and consequence for Rice on the whole incident? Prior to the release of the video footage, Rice walked away with a simple slap on the wrist, which was a two game suspension.

It became incredibly clear after the suspension imposed on Rice that although the NFL speaks out and seems to take a stance against domestic abuse they clearly did not actually have a policy to handle the severity of a case with this type of media pull. In the aftermath of his suspension verdict, the world was completely stunned. It was after this suspension that the actual hotel footage was released, although there were rumors that the head executives of the NFL saw the video before imposing the suspension verdict. People including myself were all confused about how could the NFL think that a two-game suspension was the feasible answer to what was made available in the video. After the rumblings of the people and push on their part to see a change in the handling of Rice’s incident, the Baltimore Ravens released Ray Rice while the commissioner of the NFL, Roger Goodell, increased the NFL’s domestic abuse policy outlining a six-game suspension without pay for the first offenses, and a lifetime ban for second offenses. This new policy went further to apply to all NFL personnel, including executives and owners.

All of this was described to prove the statements I discussed earlier. It is obvious with the way Rice’s situation was dealt with there was special treatment or bias which curtailed the severity of the consequences he was imposed with. It is also my opinion that if it were not due to the video footage being released and the public backlash as a result of the video, Rice would have been left with his two game suspension. Domestic violence is the biggest issue and special treatment and entitlement on the part of athletes is also a great issue.

The FIFA Election and its Effect on the Soccer Community

By Corey Reddy

This past week, the Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), voted on who their new president would be after their disgraced former president Sepp Blatter stepped down from position amongst a corruption scandal that resulted in his 6-year ban from participating in any FIFA related activities.

After two rounds of voting, Gianni Infantino beat out Sheikh Salman bin Ibrahim al-Khalifa, Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein, and Jerome Champagne and was officially named FIFA’s ninth president. When you look at Infantino as a candidate, many concerns were raised about his similarities to Blatter and that he would do more of the same corruption that had been entwined in FIFA for years. Not only do Infantino and Blatter share Swiss nationality, but they have both been heavily involved with the evolution of European soccer over the course of the careers.

Before he was elected president, Infantino was the general secretary of the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA), whose last elected president, Michel Platini, is currently suspended from any governing body of soccer for 6 years due to being a part of the corruption scandal that Blatter is currently suspended. When you look at the commonalities between Blatter and Infantino, the question has to be raised that if FIFA wants to remove this level of corruption from its sport, did they make the right decision to move soccer forward in the future.  While concerns may be raised, Infantino explained to the general assembly of nations well enough for them to recognize that he is a step in the right direction for the sport and that he will bring the change to soccer that it needs to have going forward.

Of the proposed changes that Infantino proposed, many of them would be effective in curtailing the problems that FIFA currently faces. The first and probably most interesting one raised is introducing term limits on senior FIFA officials. Before this vote, any FIFA official could hold a position as long as they won their respected election. For example, Sepp Blatter was first elected in 1998 and won every single election up until he was forced out of his position.

With this proposal, I think it brings up an interesting point in our own government here in the United States. When you have senators and congressmen who can serve in our government as long as they win their elections, you have to bring into question their effectiveness to lead. We have a government that is made for the people by the people, and when someone is in the same position for 20 or 30 years, they start to lose the vision that made them want to get into politics in the first.

The decision of the Citizens United court case, which now allows corporations to spend money from their general treasury in order to support political candidate,s makes it very easy for candidates to be manipulated by the amount of money these companies can spend on them in order to promote their own views and ideas. When you compare the Citizens United decision to that of the FIFA corruption scandal, it is clear that if term limits are being put into place to curb corruption in an international organization, there is some merit to having them put into place here in the United States. The same day that Infantino was elected, an ethics reform package that included term limits of up to 12 years for the president and other executive members and it passed with an 89% of the countries voted to implement it. If 89% of any group of people think that this will work to help curtail a corruption problem in a large organization, it should definitely be considered to help curtail the corruption problem we have here in the United States.

One of the issues that Infantino also wants to address as president is how to increase the wealth generated from international soccer to underperforming nations and how to increase the popularity of soccer in these nations. His predecessor, Sepp Blatter, helped address this issue by giving each nation across the world an equal share of the profits made from international tournaments such as the World Cup. To put this into perspective, this means that nations with large populations and large soccer communities such as the United States or Brazil would receive the exact same amount of money as small, soccer-lacking nations like Andorra or Liechtenstein.

While Infantino plans on keeping that rule in place, he also plans on expanding the amount of teams that compete in the World Cup from 32 teams to 40 teams. While I do think expanding the pool of teams that will compete in the World Cup will help these developing nations, I disagree with the idea that every nation should get an equal share of international tournament. Rewarding nations for not competing does not encourage them to increase their involvement with soccer, but rewards them for their lack of participation. If you increase the number of teams that are able to compete in international or regional tournaments, you will reward people for actually putting out a team to compete and encourage them to keep up the effort for future international appearances.

With the current system in place, you allow teams to benefit from the efforts of other nations and there really is no place in any sport for that kind of behavior.  Sports is supposed to be about the best players competing against one another for the best titles and by keeping Blatter’s system in place, you keep rewarding mediocrity and give nobody any incentive to improve.

If you look at the state of soccer right now, the only countries that have a drive and desire to do well are the ones that have soccer as an engrained part of their culture. If you want that mentality to transform itself in these smaller or developing nations, you need to stop treating every nation the same and put in a system of responsibility in place in order to help the betterment of the game everywhere.