What happens when politicians meddle with sport? A Russian’s perspective
The first time I saw a white flag with Olympic rings representing a country, I was sitting on my sister’s couch watching the Moscow 1980 Olympic Games opening ceremony.
She lived in the same apartment building and had a color TV. We didn’t. Ours was a tiny black and white unit with unpredictable reception.
I was 14. A rabid cyclist. I counted days until the road race broadcast and watched Sergey Sukhoruchenkov destroy the peloton. That pure red jersey with the Soviet state emblem on the left where the heart is, the red Colnago and the red and yellow cap on top of the helmet. The face — anger. Good anger I guess. And tenacity. This race is mine. Don’t touch me. I’ll do it myself.
Sukhoi in action.
This is how they make you loyal, proud. This is how they make you love your country.
This is how they make you a Russian. And I am.
That race defined my cycling career. It made me dream. It made me dream about that red jersey. It made me dream to wear it in an Olympic road race one day.
Sport and politics are linked in one yoke. It’s how it is. US and its allies boycotted the Moscow Games because we invaded Afghanistan and we paid back the favor and refused to go to Los Angeles in 1984.
Eye for an eye.
The result — some cycling connoisseurs insist Sukho’s win was empty because Americans did not race in Moscow.
This is 1980, remember? The only American who could have finished that race was the 19-year-old Greg Lemond. Never mind that everyone who was anyone in 1980 raced that epic race: Gianni Giacomini (1979 road world champion), Steven Roche, Adri van der Poel, Marc Madiot, Gilbert Glaus (1978 road world champion), Peter Winnen, Olaf Ludwig and his gang, Czeslaw Lang and his gang. Sukho and Yuri Barinov with a Peace Race win each.
It works both ways — behind the Iron Curtain, no one took LA Games’ road race and TTT results seriously. An American and a Canadian going head to head for a gold medal? You can not be serious, we thought.
This is what happens when politicians mess with sport. You never stop wondering what would have happened if…
The worst part — athletes who invest years of training to have once in a life time shot at an Olympic medal stay home because men and women in suits have their own games to play on the world stage.
Take the recent move by WADA to ban Russia from international sporting competition. The reason — the Russian Anti-Doping Agency is non-compliant with the World Anti-Doping Code.
The words the WADA’s President Sir Craig Reedie spoke to announce the ban strike a familiar chord to my ears used to Kremlin’s 1980s rhetoric about evil Americans: “…in the face of the Russian doping crisis” or “…Russian doping”.
I’m not a diplomat and I don’t even speak English properly but perhaps “…in the face of doping crisis in Russia” would have been more refined considering many athletes in Russia are not even Russian?
Tellingly, Sir Craig Reedie wants to protect the “rights of Russian athletes” as long as they “can prove that they were not involved and did not benefit from these fraudulent [RUSADA’s, ed] acts”.
We talk about rights a lot lately. In Western democracies, mind you. The freedom I longed for since I was a kid, the freedom I hoped for to enjoy by going West and never to return to that jail parading itself as the bastion of freedom, that freedom is under threat today. Men and women in suits talk about rights pointing surveillance cameras at us monitoring our every move and saving every word we write online or say over the phone or at home into hard drives around the world.
Rights. What happened to presumption of innocence? I know it’s a criminal law doctrine and I only know it because I studied law. Outside of that, who knows how technical this doctrine is? We all believe we should be afforded the right to be assumed innocent until proven guilty, correct?
Have you ever been asked to prove your innocence for an offence you did not do? No? Because I have. I’ve been interrogated by the KGB and the officer asked me to prove if I had no intention to defect next time I go abroad.
It’s frightening. Especially if you know these bastards can ruin your career if you don’t give them correct answers.
This is what WADA demands today from athletes whose national anti-doping agency doesn’t do its job properly — show us you don’t dope. No? Kiss goodbye to the Olympic Games.
And by the way, even you’re clean, you won’t see your country’s flag above all flags up in the air if you win.
And by the way, neither will you hear your country’s national anthem if you win.
It hurts. I know how exactly because I’ve seen my country’s flag once up above all flags in the air and I heard my national anthem played in my and my teammates’ honour because we were the best in the world that day.
It hurts twice as much because standing on a podium without your country’s flag and the anthem, you know this bullshit you’re in right now happened because you’re paying for someone else’s sins, sins you did not commit.
Sins of other athletes and sins of corrupt bureaucrats you’ve never met.
It’s that Kafkian world of absurd all over again with a different window dressing.
If the goal of anti-doping regulations is to punish the dopers and ensure the clean ones enjoy a fair play, what are we doing punishing the clean with Russian passports? What are we saying?
Actually, the correct question is: What does WADA say to clean athletes with Russian passports? Good boy. Good girl. Now, stand under a white flag for the world to see where you were born. We don’t trust your government. They’re corrupt. Your bureaucrats have been “afforded every opportunity to get its house in order and re-join the global anti-doping community for the good of its athletes and of the integrity of sport, but [they] chose instead to continue in its stance of deception and denial.”
The “stance of deception” they say. Others talk about doping culture in Russia. It goes all the way back to the 1960s they say.
Stories about 6-year-old kids hand picked by coaches in a daycare and then what? Brought up with daily dose of dope?
I remember that. I was on testosterone 3 days after my birth. They said to my mom, we’ll make a champion from your boy, relax, he’ll be fine.
I remember that. I remember my mom paying for my first real racing bike 5 times’ her monthly salary. For my tires the cost of 20 bread loafs. My dad crying on the phone when I called home from Moscow’s airport to tell him we won the freaking world championship and everything he did for me was not wasted.
That red flag in the air and the anthem, it played for him and for mom. For their patience, tears and money, yes money, they paid for that medal. It made them proud. Proud for their son and their country. They didn’t give a damn about Kremlin’s douchebags. That pride goes deeper than the government. In fact, it has nothing to do with the government. It has to do with who they are by birth, culture, religion. Sport. It’s part of it. And the bureaucrats love to mess with it when they get the chance.
Deal with it.
About the Author
Nikolai Razouvaev was part of the Soviet national team between 1984 and 1990. He won a gold medal in a team time trial at the UCI junior world championships in 1984. Read Nikolai’s memoir about living and racing in the USSR on his blog. Nikolai now lives in Brisbane, Australia with his wife and children.