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Sport as an international geopolitical challenge
17/10/2016 - 10h57

Marcelo Rech              

Decades have passed since sport stopped being only an entertainment and became a highly profitable business. However, it also keeps on being a huge international geopolitical challenge, even though the general public does not pay attention to that aspect.

It’s been almost two months since the closing of the Olympic Games of Rio de Janeiro, but there is a sports issue, that is also political, still bothering. Russia was very near of being banished of the Games because of the denunciations of doping of its athletes. At the last minute, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) decided to release the country and to punish the athletes only.

This Thursday, 13, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) decided to punish four Russian athletes of the race walking for four years. In the same day, the president of the Russian Olympic Committee, Alexander Zhukov, resigned the post. Apparently, the international community seems willing to put a definitive end to the use of illicit drugs by athletes, but things are not quite so.

Famous names of the international sport, caught doping, did not have the same treatment. The group of hackers self-styled Fancy Bears, for example, filtered a series of documents that reveal the use of prohibited medicines by medalists in several competitions with the consent of the controversial World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).

According to the Fancy Bears, at least 127 athletes received authorization of the WADA for the use of illicit substances. Examples are the tennis players Rafael Nadal, from Spain; Petra Kvitova, from the Czech Republic, and the sisters Venus and Serena Williams, from the United States.

What is in question is not the punishment for the Russians, but the absence of punishment for all others. The denunciations reveal a deep crisis in the world system of doping control and reinforce the already existent appeals of the international sporting community on behalf of the substitution of the WADA for a new anti-doping structure.

The agency stands up for itself. The athletes authorized by WADA to use prohibited drugs would have been benefited because of medical reasons. They would have presented certificates of serious diseases to obtain the license that for most of the athletes is denied.

Between the medicines authorized for the quoted athletes and others, there are very powerful medicines, stated by specialists as illicit drugs. The problem is that the denunciations brought up did not produce any reverberation, not even in the United States, where the controls are extremely rigorous.

One must still question the reasons by which the names of athletes from other countries were not revealed before the beginning of the Olympic Games and why WADA kept the secret. Just as it happens in the political world, those involved simply went on disqualifying the denunciations.

The attacks were against the messengers, not against the message. About the denunciations, obsequious silence. While the media was massacring Russia and its athletes, not a single line about the others was written. Double standards, undoubtedly.

In short, the denunciations against the Russian athletes were based on a documentary of a German channel. There was no preoccupation in deepening the investigations nor in punishing with justice those implicated. Less still, in widening these investigations into something more complete.

The role of the WADA is being questioned for years. Presidents of international sports federations, as of hockey and swimming, for example, already publicly declared the falsification of reports by the agency. The United States would have been decisive in the pressures to the agency so that Russia was exemplarily punished, but also would have prevented its athletes from being questioned.

Since the U.S. is the country that more provides resources for the WADA, it decided to turn the denunciation into a geopolitical argument. It is still important to point out that the president of the agency is elected by the governments that finance it, reason why it is reckless to imagine any possibility of structural changes in the international system of doping, and even more the dissolution of a completely discredited entity.

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