On August 9, Russia’s state-owned TASS news agency published an article quoting Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who congratulated athletes of the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) on their performance in the Tokyo Olympic games.
Russia’s athletes came in third in overall medals, with 71 total and 20 golds.
"You have displayed your professionalism, dedication and your utmost drive for the victories," Lavrov was quoted as telling the just-returned medalists.
"You have proved once again, that [the] recent words of our President [Vladimir Putin] about attempts to politicize sports, to politicize [the] Olympics, are senseless, when such people as you stand firm protecting the honor of their country."
The accusation that the Tokyo games were somehow politicized is false. Lavrov was referring to the fact that Russia was forbidden from competing under its national flag. But politics weren't to blame. Russia's cheating with a massive state-run doping program was.
Let’s walk through the record.
In 2014, the German broadcaster ARD aired a documentary that alleged the Russian state was involved in systematic doping in sports. The allegations came from a whistleblower inside the Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA) who had repeatedly tried to tip off the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) but was ignored for years.
After the ARD story, WADA investigated, confirmed the Russian doping scheme in a 2015 report and called for Russia’s track and field team to be banned from international competitions, including the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
The International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) also banned Russia’s track and field team from international competitions.
In 2016, Grigory Rodchenkov, who had headed Russia’s WADA-accredited anti-doping testing lab, revealed how he had organized and run an operation to provide athletes with performance-enhancing drug cocktails while simultaneously swapping out athletes’ tainted urine samples for clean ones they had provided earlier.
Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) facilitated this urine-sample exchange scheme and even developed a way to secretly open and re-seal the tamper-proof sampling bottles. Russia put the system into practice during the 2014 Winter Olympic games, held in Sochi, Russia, and came in first place, winning 33 medals, including 13 gold.
Before publication of WADA’s 2015 report, Rodchenkov fled Russia for the United States, where he lives under witness protection. Since then, he has cooperated with other investigations, including the WADA investigation known as the McLaren Report, which confirmed the information Rodchenkov had provided about Russia’s doping program. The second part of the McLaren Report, released in December 2016, concluded that more than 1,000 Russian athletes had participated in the doping program since 2011.
Rodchenkov appeared in “Icarus,” a 2017 Netflix documentary about the Russian doping scandal that won an Academy Award for best documentary film.
Anyone reading Lavrov’s remarks to the ROC medalists would barely get a whiff of all that.
The TASS article covers the “what” by explaining that Russia had to compete under the Russian Olympic Committee name and flag, as opposed to the name “Russia” and the national flag, and that the Russian national anthem at medal ceremonies was replaced by Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto.
But the “why”? That got the shortest of shrifts and a woe-is-us spin.
“On December 17, 2020, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in Switzerland’s Lausanne partially upheld WADA’s (the World Anti-Doping Agency) previous ruling on a number of sanctions against Russian sports,” TASS wrote.
“Following the CAS decision, Russian athletes were deprived of their right to participate in all World Championships, Olympic and Paralympic Games under the national flag of Russia for a two-year period.”
Actually, they were allowed the right to participate – as long as Russia didn’t cheat.
On August 13, TASS reported that another Russian athlete, Igor Polyanskiy, had tested positive for doping in a sample collected in late July. Polyanskiy, a Russian triathlete who, according to TASS, competed in four Olympic competitions in his career, came in 43rd place at the Tokyo games.