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How the Russian government helped its Olympians cheat

Credit: Andy Wong via AP

The Olympic Games, which start in Brazil roughly three weeks from now, are supposed to be a time where athletes compete to win honor and glory for themselves and, more importantly, for the nations they represent. Unfortunately, the competition has been the last thing on people's minds with Zika concerns and a litany of other problems dominating the headlines in recent months. However, Rio is likely to get a bit of a break for a few days as a new scandal has recently surfaced. An independent report commissioned by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) found that Russia's "Ministry of Sport directed, controlled and oversaw the manipulation of athlete's analytical results or sample swapping, with the active participation and assistance of the FSB, CSP, and both Moscow and Sochi Laboratories."

Essentially, the Russian government used the FSB—who evolved from the KGB after the fall of the Soviet Union—in conjunction with the national athletic commission to swap tainted, yet supposedly tamper-proof, samples from its athletes with clean ones before, during, and following the Winter Games it hosted in 2014. The FSB was also implicated in claims of intimidation and obstruction of the report's investigators as they attempted to discern the truth regarding allegations brought against Russia by its former anti-doping lab director, Grigory Rodchenkov.

Even prior to the report's conclusion, however, Russia's track and field team had been barred from participating in the upcoming Games because of separate reports of cheating. Now, in the wake of these new revelations, other nations have petitioned the IOC to ban all Russian athletes from this summer's Olympics.

Yet, as Richard McLaren, the report's author, noted, that Russian athletes were cheating was not particularly shocking news. Doping allegations have been levied against the country's performers for years and competitors from around the globe use performance enhancing drugs. At the 2011 World Track and Field Championships, for example, "an estimated twenty-nine percent of athletes . . . said in anonymous surveys that they had doped in the past year." No, the "surprise result of the Sochi investigation was the revelation of the extent of State oversight and directed control of the Moscow laboratory" in fabricating the results.

Athletes were reportedly told that they were essentially not good enough to win a medal without doping and officials went so far as to instruct the competitors to take the performance enhancing drugs with alcohol to "shorten the detection period." And while it would be presumptive to say that all of Russia's athletes cheated in this manner, the evidence against the country's various athletic programs is quite damning.

Again, though, it would be a mistake to conclude that Russia was the only country with athletes who attempted to gain an unfair advantage over their fellow competitors. While the state-sponsored nature of their cheating raises several new concerns, the sad truth is that even if the IOC bans all Russian athletes from participating, there will still be some who approach the medal stand in a few weeks' time to receive a prize they did not fairly win.

As former WADA president Dick Pound recently argued, the real reason no amount of testing will prevent cheating is that "people don't want it to work." In a report on the lack of effectiveness in testing programs, Pound wrote that "There is no general appetite to undertake the effort and expense . . . to deliver doping-free sport." While clean sports sounds good in theory, the desire to win coupled with the unavoidable embarrassment to the nation whose athletes get caught doping means that we will always be relatively double-minded on the subject. The desire to respect those wearing our colors and to share in their victory is often enough for us to turn a blind eye to the larger environment in which that victory was won. As the old cliché goes, ignorance is bliss.

The problem with that cliché, of course, is that being ignorant of something in no way changes the reality of it. I can be willfully ignorant of the car driving down the road, but if I choose to walk out in front of it, I'm still going to get hit. We benefit no one by acting as though real problems don't exist. That's true of sports and it's true of our faith as well.

Scripture is clear that all people have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). That's simply part of the human condition. And while we are not so broken and morally bereft that we are incapable of accomplishing anything good—a common misinterpretation of Hebrews 11:6—it does mean that we are fundamentally dead in our trespasses apart from the grace of God.

The only thing that differentiates Christians from the lost around us is that we have chosen not to be ignorant of that fact and to accept the only solution for our sin. As a result of that acceptance, however, we are called to help others come to the same realization. Again, we benefit no one by acting as though their sin does not exist or that they are going to be alright apart from the mercy and forgiveness our God longs to give. The price of that ignorance is too high for us to do otherwise.

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