A Tale of Two Worlds

August 8, 2016


A Tale of Two Worlds

The doping scandal, bad as it is, symbolises the wider, growing divide between Russia and the West.

Yulia Efimova gestures that she’s “No1.”
Yulia Efimova gestures that she’s “No1.”


These are the results of an ongoing poll by the (English-language …) website Russia Beyond the Headlines (part of Rossiyskaya Gazeta, the government daily newspaper of record). You can cast your vote here.

Those of you who read in both Russian and English, and who like to keep an open mind – not so easy in this febrile atmosphere – will be struck by the gulf between what is being said in the West, and in Russia, about the allegations of doping. Before we map the divide, however, let’s be clear that this is becoming a worldwide situation; the Australian gold-medal swimmer Mack Horton upset most of China when he called silver-medallist Sun Yang a “drug cheat.”

Similarly, US 100m breaststroke swimmer Lilly King did a Horton on Yulia Efimova, mockingly wagging her finger back at the Russian swimmer who, when she won her heat, waved her finger to signal that she was “No1.” King made her feelings known in words: “You wave your finger ‘No1’ and you’ve been caught drug cheating … I’m not a fan.”

Efimova was greeted with boos and klaxons before her swim, which suggests that the mud is starting to stick in people’s minds.

A few quotations illustrate the chasm between the two sides.

In the Western corner we have Sir Philip Craven, president of the International Paralympic Committee.
“I believe the Russian government has catastrophically failed its Para athletes. Their medals over morals mentality disgusts me. Their thirst for glory at all costs has severely damaged the integrity and image of all sports, and has certainly resulted in a devastating outcome for the Russian Paralympic Committee and Para athletes. Russia is a great sporting nation. It has lost its greatness and it needs to get it back.”

But in the Russian corner, it looks pretty crowded with outrage of a different sort.

“Dissolve WADA the hell outta existence! Get representatives from every country in. Let them do independent sample monitoring.”
Heavyweight world boxing champion Nikolai Valuev

“There’s been a lot of talk of late about political interference in sport. And when it comes to Paralympians – people for whom sport is, without any exaggeration, their very raison d’être – [political interference] is just completely immoral.”
Duma deputy Vasily Shestakov

“This is a body blow to a most vulnerable group of people – people whose only guiding light in life is sport. But the too-soft stance of the IOC wasn’t enough for our enemies (and there’s no other word for them now), so they’ve decided to try another tack. It’s as clear as day that this is the filth of politics, transferred to the sports arena.”

The decision to bar the entire Russian Paralympic team from the Paralympic Games is astounding in its vileness and inhumanity. It’s a betrayal of the high human rights standards that serve as the cornerstone of the modern world.”
Maria Zakharova, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman

“The decision is a political one. Our Paralympians gave a great account of themselves in Sochi, and we continue to develop further. Perhaps this isn’t to everybody’s liking.”
Irina Gromova, head coach, cross-country skiing and biathlon national team

“The athletes caught using performance-enhancing drugs have been punished, the VFLA (All-Russia Athletics Federation) has been completely shaken up, those who needed to be removed from their posts have been removed. But the pressure has only increased: new documentaries, new publications, new revelations. The question arises – if all is so bad in Russia, as foreign colleagues write, so bad that independent commissions are convened, why, then, we do not see any real investigation?
Vasily Konov, editor-in-chief of R-Sport sports news website

There is one lone Russian voice, strikingly out of tune with his compatriots – a man who knows his sport.

“My attitude to the doping scandal? I have said more than once: there is no point in searching for an outside enemy in this story. We need to change the whole structure of sport: to train children’s coaches, to offer them competitive pay, to develop sports infrastructure in the regions, to improve practice conditions, to pay close attention to pharmacology… A lot needs to be changed. I hope that all the scandals we had before Rio will help us to give proper thought to all the above problems.” 
Marat Safin, tennis player (retired)

But this is a lone voice in the wilderness. At this moment, rightly or wrongly, it looks as if the rest of the world thinks that Russia is a nation of cheats, which only serves to reinforce the fortress Russia mentality inside the country.

So we have a question for Vasily Mutko, Sports Minister, and his boss: was it worth it?

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