It is rare for us to publish non-rugby content here at Fifteen Rugby, but with the Olympic Games just a week away I simply could not help myself.
Unfortunately, though, it is not through joy or anticipation that this article comes about. It is through sheer despair and anger. Who could have predicted that after London 2012?
The summer of 2012 was truly one of the most magnificent times not just in British sport, but simply to be in Britain, to be in London and to experience the sheer joy and collective jubilation and enjoyment. It was most ‘un-British’, really, but that was what made it special. The Olympics came to town and we all loved it.
How could we go from there to were we are now, an almost apathetic feeling about the 2016 Games in Rio? Russia, and the IOC, have tainted these games, tainted the memory of the last ones, too. Tainted that joyous feeling that we all shared and hoped to share again, even if at a distance this time.
They have tainted our Olympics, your Olympics. My Olympics.
How dare they.
Russia’s state sponsored doping is unacceptable, morally repugnant, and potentially could have been very harmful to its athletes. That same sentence could be applied to their IOC in the gutless decision not to ban Russia from these Olympics.
Yes, to do so would have punished some (though some could amount to a mere handful for all we know) clean athletes, but it was not specific athletes that cheated – the state cheated, so the state should be punished. If Mo Farah, for instance, were to test positive tomorrow, he should be banned, he would have cheated. If it turned out that the Department of Culture, Media, and Sport had effectively been supplying the drugs and helping to hide positive tests for him and others then the entire of Team GB should be banned, because it would not just be the specific athletes cheating, it would be the team and the state cheating.
The IOC have done so badly on this that suddenly the IAAF appear overwhelmingly morally superior. That is the same IAAF that we have seen spend much of the last few years getting dragged through the mud.
Doping in sport is an emotive issue, but it is one that people have many differing solutions to. There is only one true solution though, to be strong in the fight against it. Being strong means constant education and support, heavy bans for those caught, and an end to the excuse culture. “It was a dodgy steak” may or may not be true, but if we adopt a serious zero tolerance stance, we will soon find far fewer dodgy steaks, one suspects.
There are some who take the view that if everyone is at it then it does not really matter if the rest follow suit, or even some who go so far as to say ‘why not lift all doping regulations’, claiming that that would level the playing field and we would see people do some incredible things.
That some have come to that view only serves to show just how bad a turn things have taken, and also why education is such an important factor in the fight against doping. Give everyone free reign to dope and sport becomes not a test of who is the best, but of who has the best drugs, it becomes a case of who is prepared to put their body at most risk in order to win.
But forget the sport for a minute; let us just think about this morally. We would not think it is ok to steal just because everyone else is, so why would it be ok to dope?
Furthermore, and in some ways most importantly, doping is dangerous. Not always, but sometimes. Plenty of banned items are banned precisely because they are harmful, and even amongst the others, it is a dangerous world to open out to the amateur side of any sport, where cheaper or more dangerous products could be taken simply through a lack of knowledge or understanding.
What too of our children? Right now sport is something that parents and schools rightly encourage because it has so many positive impacts from both a personal and social development point of view. But if we allow doping in sport to continue to creep further in and to fail to punish those countries that aid it, would you really want to expose your children to that kind of sport, a sport where if they were to become good, to have a chance of true international success that they would have to risk their health, their morals, their reputation, and even the sport itself?
The IOC and Russia have sent us heading into these Games filled with bitterness and a lack of faith. The IOC, in my view, needs to take a particularly long look at themselves. They are supposed to be the guardians of the Olympics, but they seem to have forgotten exactly what they are guardians of, they are neither guardians of the IOC, nor guardians of the Olympics the business. They are the guardians of the Olympics the movement. Without that the business and the sponsorship does not exist.
What does that mean? It means not just protecting the sports, the athletes in them, and the Games themselves, it also means protecting us, the spectators. Without us the whole thing blows up in their faces, without fans in the stadia, and viewers on the TV screens, the Olympics dies a tragic death.
They have not lost us yet; the Olympics will almost certainly still be the most viewed event on television this year. It is not the same though, that spirit of 2012 is gone, for this writer and many others around the world. I would love to be able to say that I will not watch the Games in protest, but I know better than that, I love sport too much. At some point a heroic performance will come through, or a Briton will win a gold, and that will be that, I will be hooked.
Hooked, but sceptical. That is the tragedy right now, and that is the rot that the Russia has started again and that the IOC seems unwilling to fix. Scepticism is the death of competitive sport, if you no longer believe what you see then it ceases to entertain, ceases to amaze, ceases to inspire.
When that happens, just what is the point?
So thanks for that, Russia, and you too, IOC.
How dare you.