The Olympics are just as much about national pride as they are about competition. In the Parade of Nations, the athletes parade around the stadium, holding the flags of their respective countries, as fans across the globe cheer them on. At this year’s Opening Ceremony, Pyeongchang colorfully told South Korea’s history through the perspective of five Korean children, as doves were released and John Lennon’s “Imagine” was sung, signifying a celebration of peace. The Games bring countries together in one place, where athletes from around the world set aside their differences and unite through the passion of sport. Unification is especially important when the politics of sport attempts to pulls things apart.
At the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, more than a dozen Russian athletes were caught in a state-run doping scandal, and Russia was stripped of its medals. While the IOC has banned Russia from competing in this year’s games, forbidding any government officials to attend, the committee has cleared more than 400 Russians to compete, each under the title “Olympic Athlete from Russia” (OAR). The athletes will compete under a neutral flag and none of their wins will contribute to Russia’s medal count. Most of the OAR members didn’t compete in Sochi and none of them have violated doping rules in the past. The IOC has received significant criticisms for not taking a more aggressive stance against doping and failing to bar all Russian athletes, regardless of their past, from the games. While the easy answer seems to be to punish the entire country, there is still room for discussion concerning the clean athletes who have trained their whole lives to compete at the Olympic Games, and yet are associated with those who have chosen to break the rules.
While I understand the backlash against the athletes competing in this year’s Olympics, I believe stripping athletes — who followed the rules to begin with — of their nationality and preventing them from making their country proud is sufficient punishment. As an athlete, playing for your country is the dream, because then you can play for something bigger than yourself. Even on my team now, we always talk about playing for our teammates and those who came before us, not just ourselves.
The Olympic Athletes from Russia walked in the parade without a Russian flag, leaving them nationless in a national event, to play only for themselves. And perhaps it is best that they keep the glory at an individual level, because the Russian government doesn’t deserve any of the rewards.
In the Netflix documentary Icarus about the Russian doping scandal, Grigory Rodchenkov, former director of Russia's national anti-doping laboratory, explains how in Sochi, Russian officials assisted in swapping out dirty samples for clean ones through a small hole in the wall. The government and its institutions were running the whole operation; the poison is not in the competitors, it is in the authorities. According to Rodenchov, Putin’s mandate was to win at all costs, and if that meant creating a system to cheat, then his athletes would participate.
However, in these 2018 Olympics, the clean Russian competitors, most of whom were not a part of the Sochi scandal, shouldn’t be punished for the choices their government made. After all, I don’t want to be represented by what Trump chooses to write on Twitter on any given day. The IOC should take serious measures to cleanse Russia’s committee of corruption, as well as to check thoroughly the systems of other countries, but banning Russian athletes completely would be unfair. The results of their commitments shouldn’t depend on the results of others’ crimes.
Winnie Brandfield-Harvey is a sophomore from Houston, Texas. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.