Sunday, February 4, 2018

Games About Frontiers

I look forward to the Winter Olympics every time they come around. I prefer the mix of sports, I appreciate how much better my nation tends to do at them compared to the summer games, and with the snow and the mountains, even the venues tend to look better than their warmer counterparts. This year, though, I'm starting out a bit discouraged.

This is primarily due to the Court of Arbitration for sport overturning the International Olympic Committee's lifetime bans on 28 athletes. The IOC's investigation had turned up evidence of a pervasive doping culture at the 2014 Sochi games, brazenly demonstrated by such things as a hole in the wall in which athletes could allegedly pass specimen containers.

In addition to opening the door to Pyeongchang for these formerly disgraced competitors, the CAS decision also allows many of them to regain medals from the Sochi games which had been stripped from them.

It's frustrating stuff; it took a tremendous amount of both effort and investigative skill, to say nothing of political will, to secure the lifetime bans. Anti-doping crusaders have to be feeling an enormous degree of discouragement at this point. Meanwhile, it is difficult to take Vladimir Putin's response seriously: "This, of course, cannot but give us joy. It confirms our position on the fact that the vast majority of our athletes are clean. We ourselves have things to work on in terms of perfecting our anti-doping programme and policy. We will do this in determined fashion with WADA.”

The CEO of the US Anti-Doping Agency has a different view, much more in keeping with my own:
”The IOC’s failure to swiftly and decisively deal with Russia’s unprecedented attack on fair play has eroded public trust in the values of the Olympic movement.

“Slamming dozens of cases through the process on the eve of the Olympic Games has not served justice and as such the integrity of the Games has been sabotaged. The whole mess truly stinks and the nightmare continues for clean athletes. This must change.”

Maybe I'm making too much of this, but when taken in tandem with the antics of that orange buffoon to the south of us, it feels sometimes like really are living in a world of "alternative facts", as delivered by the cast of Whose Line Is It Anyway? - welcome to 2018, where the narrative is made up and the truth doesn't matter anyways.,,,

In the military sphere last week, a Russian jet fighter flew within 5 feet of a a US Navy spy plane operating in international airspace.

The Russian response? Stop crying, we did nothing wrong.

Sure, they are free to run intercepts, but subjecting  the crew of a turboprop aircraft to a ride in your jet wash until they abandon their mission? Hardly cricket, old chap. But rather than say, 'yeah, our guy overdid it a bit, sorry', it's easier to dispute the facts, video evidence, and  international aviation principles - We did something wrong? Says who?

This is the manner in which they will establish the status quo of their new Crimea-inbclusive borders, and from a geopolitical standpoint, it's all a little unnerving. Having come of age during the Cold War, I honestly thought I was done being scared of Russia, but this does not appear to be the case.

In fact, how do you warn anyone heading to this year's World Cup to stay away from the extra-vicious Russian fans known as Ultras, when the Cup is being held in that country? And how the heck did that come to pass anyhow?!


On the plus side, the Pyeongchang games will see some unified Korean teams competing at a time when there is precious little dialogue between North and South... or precious little between North Korea and the rest of the world, for that matter. Who knows, maybe this is a chance, at last, for the Olympics to live up to one of their aspirations: bringing disparate parts of the world together through sport.

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