John Gleaves, the associate professor of kinesiology at Cal State Fullerton (CSUF) and co-director of the CSUF Center for Sociocultural Sport and Olympic Research, expressed concern that Russia may not be the only country with an official or unofficial policy of state-sanctioned doping for its elite athletes. While Russia has seemingly been proven guilty of systematically doping its athletes, Russian athletes are by no means dominating international sports competition. Other countries may be doing the same thing but just haven’t been caught.
“When you have a relatively closed state like Russia, and you have people with political power and finances who think it’s more important to win medals than to have clean sport, it’s incredibly difficult for the rest of the world to regulate that,” said Gleaves. “Russia’s really taken doping to a whole new level with government officials being involved…
“The big fear is that Russia’s not a lone wolf, but, in fact, other countries are doing it and they haven’t been caught. One thing that I keep reminding people of is that it’s not like Russia was cleaning up on the medals table. A lot of athletes from a lot of other countries were beating those athletes from Russia. It leaves me to wonder how much is Russia an isolated case.“
Acting on the recommendations of a World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) independent commission, the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) suspended the entire Russian track and field team. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) affirmed the suspension thereby creating the unprecedented move of blocking the entire Russian athletics team from competing at the 2016 Rio de Janiero Summer Olympics.
WADA, IAAF and IOC all want to make Russia the scapegoat for all of the steroid and doping problems plaguing sports. By targeting Russia and suggesting that widespread and/or state-sanctioned doping is limited to one country, anti-doping crusaders hope to create the perception that it has taken a major step towards eliminating the use of performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) in the Olympics.
The ethically-challenged decision unfairly penalizes the “clean athletes” that WADA so self-righteously claims to protect. Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko pointed out the inherent unfairness of such a politically-expedient action.
“We are extremely disappointed by the IAAF’s decision to uphold the ban on all of our track and field athletes, creating the unprecedented situation of a whole nation’s track and field athletes being banned from the Olympics,” Mutko said. “Clean athletes’ dreams are being destroyed because of the reprehensible behavior of other athletes and officials. They have sacrificed years of their lives striving to compete at the Olympics and now that sacrifice looks likely to be wasted.”
Gleaves discussed professional ethics but neglected to address the ethics of banning entire countries from Olympic competition. To ban athletes who have never tested positive for the use of prohibited PEDs seems inherently unfair. And to shift the burden of proof from requiring anti-doping organizations to prove the guilt of an athlete to requiring an athlete to prove their innocence is offensive to modern concepts of justice.
In addition, if Gleaves suspects that Russia isn’t the only country guilty of such widespread doping then the singling out of Russia while giving athletes from other countries a pass is problematic. But Gleaves didn’t address that issue either.
Gleaves hopes the recent doping scandals can help prepare his students for the ethical quandaries that arise in their professional lives.
“A lot of times, it’s athletic trainers, coaches, doctors and medical professionals who are helping to facilitate doping,” Gleaves said. “I want students to have their moral compass developed before they’re in the field. It’s always easier to stop these problems, and figure out the right solutions, before you find yourself in a difficult situation.”
It would be even better if Gleaves could offer advice to WADA, USADA and other anti-doping agencies about the most ethical approach to regulating doping.