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Human Rights


Geopolitics and the Olympic Spirit

Marcelo Rech

The Olympic Games of the modern age have already been marked by great overcoming of men and women who challenged themselves and the human limits, but have also been stages for political disputes and exercise of power. It has been no different in Rio de Janeiro, which is hosting the first Olympic Games in a Latin-American country.

Recently, a controversy had to be adjudicated by the Justice regarding the political demonstrations in the arenas and stadiums that host the events, for the freedom of expression, after all, is part of a Democratic State.

However, it was believed that the disputes of the time of the Cold War, for example, had been surpassed. Boycotts to the Olympic Games for ideological reasons would be things of the past. But it is not quite so. The political crisis in Brazil fed in some political leaders the wish of not sending their delegations. Chiefs of State and of Government preferred not to attend the opening of the Games for merely political reasons.

Widening a little more the focus, we realize that entities responsible for the high performance sports also adopt double standards when it is time to apply sanctions to those who infringe the rules of the sport.

Since 2014, the German public TV channel ARD shows news on how Russia  had become an Olympic power with state support. According to the series, the Russian government had introduced a system copied from the former East Germany. From the reports, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) decided to investigate the denunciations. US$ 1.5 million were spent and the report of the special commission confirmed the story. A significant part of the Russian delegation was excluded from the Olympic Games of Rio de Janeiro, despite the pressure from several Western countries for the total exclusion of Russia from the event.

Apparently, the measures adopted are exemplary and have an important pedagogic feature, even more so because the athletes of nowadays are not amateurs. Those who reach the levels to play in the biggest sports event of the planet are among the more well paid and sponsored professionals out there.

On the other hand, it is interesting to notice that this measure was adopted at the very moment that the tensions between Russia and the member states of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) grow. Evidently, Moscow reacted. Would only be the Russian athletes who benefit of doping to win?

Just as it has been in the past, it has been in the present. By bringing into question the performance of the Russian athletes, the real attempt is to discredit the government led by Vladimir Putin. The political reasons are not very distant from all of that. The resurgence of Russia as a protagonist on the international scenario annoys.

For Russia, it is inadmissible that individual behaviors lead to collective punishments. The teams of athletics and weightlifting of the country were banished from the Games, despite the fact that there are no evidence that the entirety of their members have been involved with doping.

In this very January, the same WADA spread a report that pointed cases of doping in countries like Spain, Turkey, Kenya, Morocco and Ukraine, but no investigation regarding that matter is known and no debate about the exclusion of these countries or of their athletes from the Games has been conducted.

The United States records more than a dozen cases of doping among its athletes, but nothing was even discussed. The same WADA that was scandalized with the news on the German TV ignored an article of Al Jazeera on doping in the United States.

What is in question is not the appropriate punishment for the Russian athletes caught doping, but the different treatment for similar cases, as if that guarded any relation with the isonomy with which all the countries, big or small, must be treated under the rules.

Pressed, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) decided, on the verge of the beginning of the Olympic Games, to allow the participation of Russia. The exclusion of the country from the Games would contaminate completely the credibility of the international Olympic movement, more and more influenced by geopolitical matters.

Marcelo Rech is a journalist, editor and analyst in the Institute InfoRel of International Relations and Defense and is specialized in International Relations. E-mail:

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