January 3, 2020
Russia Pushing Back Hard Against Olympic Ban
The Olympic Games are coming in 2020, and the soccer World Cup follows two years later. If a World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) sanction holds up, Russian athletes will not be allowed to compete under their country’s flag or wear their nation’s colors, a penalty Russian President Vladimir Putin has called “unfair.”
Russia has announced plans to file an appeal challenging the four-year ban that came as a result of sanctions, stemming from a WADA decision finding that representatives “manipulated doping laboratory data” in an effort to hide previous infractions.
Putin said the sanctions defied common sense and law, calling out the agency for the wholesale ban and suggesting WADA should impose individual sanctions, rather than blanket bans. Russian advisors called their argument a strong one, and expressed optimism that the outcome could be in their favor.
Putin added that Russian athletes would be ready to compete, whatever the outcome, saying: “(They) have been training and will keep training… We need to wait calmly for the relevant rulings, including the arbitration court ruling…”
The statement strikes a positive and reasonable tone, a good stance to take in what is a difficult political and PR position. Sports fans in many nations have proven to be quick to assume Russian athletes might have an unfair competitive edge, and they’re not shy about saying so. Rising to that challenge and responding to the assumptions directly only gives them more perceived validity.
Meanwhile, not everyone is happy about the apparent appeal, or WADA’s decision to allow athletes to compete as “neutral” competitors, not under any flag. The US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), for example, has called for a “blanket ban” on Russian athletes, according to media reports. Travis Tygart, USADA chief executive, said: “They deny accountability and continue to waste resources in an effort to weasel out of the consequences, all while leaving clean athletes of the world without justice or clarity… Let’s hope CAS has the courage to see through these machinations and stand firm and take decisive action that puts in place a complete ban, which is allowed for and proportional to the intentional fraud, deception, and destruction of clean athletes and the Olympic values seen here.
That’s a strong statement and a direct challenge telegraphing where many in the US stands on this issue. The message tone offers interesting, compelling point and counterpoint, the patient reason versus the righteous indignation.
While the verdict will not be in soon, this will continue to be an interesting situation to watch. The messages coming from all camps carry with them sharp lessons in the art of controlling narratives and pushing messaging when there are multiple voices all vying to be heard above the clamor.