Opinion: Punishing Russia over doping isn’t enough

Story highlights

  • Clark Power: Allegations that Russia did state-sponsored doping raises questions about meaning of the Olympic Games
  • He says after Rio Games, IOC should establish forceful anti-doping initiative, and athletes should be educated from early age
The World Anti-Doping Agency has concluded that Russia’s corruption was an “unprecedented attack on sport and the Olympic Games.” If the accusations hold up, then the International Olympic Committee should ban Russia from not only the Olympic Games but also from international competition altogether.
Yet the IOC would be remiss if it only punished Russia. Doping has tainted sports in all countries and at all levels. It is time for a radical reappraisal of the Olympic Games themselves. After the Rio Games, either the IOC should establish a credible, forceful anti-doping initiative, or a new international organization should be formed not only to reform testing and enforcement but also to ensure the education of athletes from the earliest ages.
We should not underestimate the magnitude of the problem at both the individual and national level. The international sports community has created a monster it can no longer ignore. There is simply too much money and too much media attention for athletes and their sponsors (and even governments) to resist the temptation to cheat. We have known this for over two decades now, but we have done nothing.
In a well-known study conducted in the mid-1990s, Bob Goldman, who founded the National Academy of Sports Medicine in Chicago, presented 198 Olympic or near Olympic level athletes two scenarios:
1) You are offered a banned performance-enhancing substance, with two guarantees: a) You will not be caught; b) You will win. Would you take the substance?
2) You are offered a banned performance-enhancing substance with the same guarantees as above but with the added guarantee that you will die from the side-effects of the substance. Would you take the substance?
Goldman found that 193 of the athletes reported that they would cheat in the first scenario and over half would cheat in the second (Bamberger & Yaeger, 1997). Goldman noted that these responses have been consistent since he began his investigation in 1982. At the time of his study, rigorous testing for the use of performance enhancing drugs had been going on for over 20 years.
Will Rio Games really be a catastrophe?

Will Rio Games really be a catastrophe?

Goldman’s study illustrates the futility of responding to the problem of doping through the threat of detection and punishment or even the threat of death itself. Young athletes learn early on that integrity is just another price to be paid for winning (See Shields, Bredemeier, LaVoi & Power, 2005). Compare the resources athletic organizations invest in tournaments and trophies with the money invested in building character through sports.
We know from the example of professional golf that it is possible to develop a sport culture based on fairness and self-enforcement. Punishing Russia will amount to nothing more than scapegoating if it is not accompanied by a radical commitment from the international sports community to invest in the moral education of young athletes and their coaches.

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