24 July, 2016

Isinbayeva blues

It's final: the Court of Arbitration for Sport has rejected the appeal of 68 Russian athletes against the IAAF ban from the Rio Olympics competition. This means that (with the exception of D. Klishina who lives and trains abroad) no russian athlete will be allowed to participate in the olympic athletics competition.

Y. Isinbayeva, multiple olympic and world champion and current pole vault world record holder was most vocal in her critiques concerning the CAS decision. She slammed the ruling as a funeral for athletics and as one of blatant political order.

For Isinbayeva, who turned 34 in June, the Rio Olympics were meant to be the "adieu" to her competitive career. The way things look now I am not sure we are going to see Isinbayeva talking to her pole at the end of the runway ever again. (On the other hand Isinbayeva's absence does increase the chances of Stefanidi and Kyriakopoulou for a medal, but this is a meagre consolation).

The decision of CAS and Isinbayeva's reaction, in particular the "political order" thing got me thinking. And the more I was thinking about the matter, the more the "political order" argument was looking convincing. 

There is no doubt whatsoever that there is a doping problem in russian athletics and that the federation is implicated in this. However is Russia the only country where large-scale doping is practiced? I seriously doubt this. First we have several countries of the ex-Soviet Union athletes of which have been regularly sanctioned for doping offenses. I still remember the cheaters in the Olympia ancient stadium in the 2004 Olympics shot put (and I bristle at Ostapchuk receiving the bronze medal after the disqualification of the two russian athletes). But closer to us we have the jamaican machinations where there were no out of competition tests in the run up of the 2012 Olympics. We have the revelations concerning the kenyan federation where there were allegations that bribes were claimed in order to make positive tests go away. And what can we say about the US dream team with J. Gatlin, T. Gay, L. Merritt, all of them doping offenders (and in fact the first one a double offender, something that should have entailed a life ban)?

When one looks at the general doping situation world-wide it looks like Russia in this affair was the scapegoat. I agree that they had more than six months to take action and they did close to nothing. Should they have been sanctioned for this? Logic would say "yes". But then, to paraphrase the scriptures, "let only those who are without sin cast stones". In which case all of us would be deeply embarrassed.

Doping is a serious matter and the way the sport leadership is trying to deal with it is perfectly inefficient. Rather than fighting a losing battle wouldn't it have been simpler if it were decided that senior athletes (athletic seniority to be defined precisely and put down in an official way as a law in all countries practicing sport) could use any performance enhancing substance they like? I would draw the line concerning juniors and there my position would be simple: no doping whatsoever, strict systematic tests and first offense leading to lifetime ban. 

Perhaps my proposal is no more realistic than the current practices. But one thing is clear I totally disagree with the IAAF statement that the "... judgement has created a level playing field for athletes". To me the playing field looks more like a pockmarked battlefield and the judgement, while changing little concerning the overall situation, is totally unfair for those russian athletes who are clean. And, moreover, it is depriving us of Isinbayeva's carmen cygni (κύκνειον άσμα in greek).

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