Olympic games to the athletes: an anthem for all

Those who compete in the Olympics are supposed to increase fame and are tempted to cheat. How nice it would be to end the competition of nations.

Can it stay like this? Does it have to go away now? Models present the collection of the Russian Olympic team at the end of November Photo: Ivan Sekretarev / ap

The Russians have cheated. A doping system was installed on behalf of the state that is without precedent in the modern sports world. It has been exposed. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has pronounced a penalty. For the time being, Russia is no longer part of the Olympic family. Vitaly Mutko, the former sports minister, who was also promoted to deputy prime minister because of his questionable services to Russian sports, may never again appear at the Olympic Games.

Only Russian athletes who can prove they have behaved in accordance with anti-doping regulations will be allowed to compete at the Pyeongchang Winter Games in February – under a neutral flag, mind you.

It’s a harsh verdict. One that is unparalleled in the sports world, which is not usually overly critical of itself. And yet it is sharply criticized. The Russians got off too lightly, they say. The wildest punishment fantasies circulate.

The desire for a final victory over Putin’s criminal sports army through a green table decision is expressed relatively openly. The argument is then often based on the integrity of the sport, on the clean sport that needs to be protected. This can only be achieved without Russians.

Clean sport? Integrity? Fairness? Wait a minute. Even the biggest sports junkies, those who would set the alarm just so they wouldn’t miss Felix Loch doing well on his racing sled in the Pyeongchang ice canal, have long since stopped believing in the ideals conjured up around the IOC’s ruling on Russia.

Just an illusion of fairness

Yes, there is this anti-doping fight that the sports world joined together to fight when the World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada) was founded in 1999. And yes, quite a few athletes have been convicted of taking banned substances since then.

And yet it’s clear: Wada has never been able to create more than an illusion of fairness. Motto: Look here, we are doing something! The agency has never been able to cleanse sport of any kind of doping. In the year Wada was founded, Lance Armstrong doped his way to the first of his seven Tour de France victories. For years, he blithely cycled past the doping hunters. Any questions?

Sports officials of all countries, who have always preferred to celebrate medals rather than make sure their athletes don’t pop a banned pill, have never been credible fighters for fairness in sports. When an athlete is convicted, they point the finger at him. As long as he is not convicted, they don’t give a damn what he injects or takes via supplements. A coach is only really recognized when his base is hailed as a medal hotbed.

In the year Wada was founded, Lance Armstrong doped his way to the first of his seven Tour de France victories.

Head of State Vladimir Putin has given Russia’s athletes an exemption to compete at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang. The president made the announcement in Nizhny Novgorod on Wednesday, a day after the IOC decision on the Russian doping scandal. "We will undoubtedly not block those who want to participate," the Kremlin leader said, according to Tass agency. (dpa)

There are certainly the so-called clean athletes who are trying to hold their own in this system without any aids, those who rightly feel screwed when competitors doped up to the hilt run away from them. To formulate a general suspicion is all too cheap. What there is, however, is a general suspicion. Anyone who competes in the Olympics is expected to increase the nation’s fame. The Federal Republic of Germany also invests millions in the promotion of top-level sports; the Federal Police and the Federal Armed Forces employ athletes whose only task is to bring home successes for Germany in the sense of national marketing.

Those who are too slow, don’t throw far enough, or can’t keep their end of the bargain after an injury are thrown out of the promotion system. The athlete who is eliminated in an intermediate race at a world athletics championship is considered a failure. She is systematically tempted.

Not just a Russian problem

This will remain so – even after the IOC’s decision in the Russia case. And it would have remained even more so if the Olympians had decided to impose a total ban on the country. The Russians would have been banished to the underworld of sport and all the others would have been elevated to the sporting heaven of the righteous. They would have made the issue of doping a Russian problem, filed it away and stamped it "Done."

Something else will now happen in Pyeongchang. At every competition where Russian athletes appear, the absence of the Russian flag will be conspicuous. When the Olympic anthem is played instead of the Russian anthem at an award ceremony, reporters and spectators are reminded that something has gone terribly wrong in world sports. It is perhaps the most astonishing thing about the IOC’s decision. The fact that sport has a doping problem is no longer denied. The issue of doping will be omnipresent at the Winter Games, precisely because Russian athletes will be allowed to participate.

This is another reason why the IOC’s decision in the Russian case is remarkable. This otherwise so immobile tanker of world sport, in which oligarchs, sheikhs and sinister string-pullers come and go, is not capable of more. Sports fans will have to continue to endure the embarrassing talk of Olympic peace and the values of the Olympic movement, even though they know full well that many officials care more about their positions than about the sport. And even though the IOC has decreed itself not to allow the Games to proliferate any further, the cities that have been awarded the contract to host the Olympics will continue to be gagged and, in case of doubt, driven into insolvency. There are many reasons for a fundamental rethinking of Olympic sports.

Away with the sports nations!

The case of Russia, for example, shows that it is high time to put an end to the competition between nations for medals. How nice it would be if the Olympic anthem could be heard at every victory ceremony! Away with the sports nations! Why shouldn’t a table tennis doubles team consist of a Chinese and a German? Why can’t a figure skating pair be made up of a Ukrainian and a Frenchman?

Sport needs athletes, not fighters for the glory of their homeland. The stories of their origins, their first club, their first successes somewhere and their first major appearances, you can also tell them without always thinking about the respective national flag. And the sports world would also be spared unspeakable discussions about whether an Olympic champion has behaved appropriately while his national anthem is being played, as happened after Christoph Harting’s discus gold in Rio.

So there are good reasons to look forward to the appearances of athletes and neutral flags. Perhaps they will lead to further thinking in sports. That would be just as nice as it is unlikely. A pity, actually.