IOC’s record over past eight years smells worse than old urine

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Originally published by Chicago Tribune on May 18, 2016

After retesting urine that’s older than wine from the 2008 Beijing Games, theInternational Olympic Committee has announced 31 new positive doping results, using “the very latest scientific analysis methods.” I’m so glad the IOC brought this up. Because it gives me a chance to retest the IOC on its own performance since 2008, using the very latest scientific analysis methods for detecting fraud, bribery, and indifference.

The IOC has had eight years to reform and address the shady human rights abuses for which it has been directly responsible, from Beijing to Sochi to Rio de Janeiro, yet the issue it chooses to highlight is whether some swimmers might’ve used some juice to get to the wall. Now, sports doping is an ethical morass, but that’s not the IOC’s real concern. It’s just using athletes as human shields, making them do a perp walk so you won’t notice the larger misdeeds, the rake-offs, and the fate of people such as Ji Sizun, crouched in a dark cell.

Ji Sizun’s crime? He believed the IOC when it promised that the Beijing Games would not be an agent of oppression, but instead would bring a new era of human rights to China. The Chinese authorities set up supposedly free-assembly “protest zones” during the 2008 Summer Games and said that any citizen could apply to protest. Ji Sizun applied. On the day of the Opening Ceremonies, he was arrested and hustled off to prison for three years.

Since the ’08 Games, China has launched its worst crackdown since Tiananmen Square. Post-Olympic conditions “degenerated rapidly,” according to the group  Chinese Human Rights Defenders, with at least a dozen lawyers detained, activist Cao Shunli tortured, journalist Gao Yu jailed for seven years, Nobel Peace prize winner Liu Xiaobo and his wife arrested. Oh, and also, the Chinese government banned Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.’

The IOC’s response? It called the Beijing Games “an indisputable success,” and it awarded Beijing another Olympics, the 2022 Winter Games. Even though the city gets no snow.

Meantime, French prosecutors are investigating apparent bribery in the bidding process that sent the Games to Rio in 2016 and Tokyo in 2020. The Guardian newspaper has found that track and field official Papa Massata Diack arranged for “parcels” to be delivered to six IOC officials. Oh, and also, Tokyo’s bid representatives delivered about $1.5 million to a shadowy bank account in Singapore named “Black Tidings.”

You can tell a lot from the IOC’s emphasis and placement of its energies. Graft, brutal conditions for workers, environmental catastrophes, beatings and jailings, these are the real Olympic values. Human rights activists have begged the IOC to recognize its part in abuses, the land acquisition for stadiums that means forcible displacement of residents and brown water, the pressure to meet construction deadlines that puts migrant workers at risk of human trafficking. The outcry was so intense that in 2013 newly elected IOC President Thomas Bach promised to institute provisions against discrimination and labor exploitation. But when the Host City contract for the 2024 Summer Olympics was released in September, there was no explicit reference to human rights, an omission an Amnesty International official called “astonishing” given Bach’s lip service.

Presumably the IOC officials in their crested blazers were too busy lighting their cigars with the leftover rubles and yuan from another collapsed economy that’s trying to dig its way out of the Olympic debt chasm.

Just before the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, an activist for gay rights named Anastasia Smirnova met with Bach to explain that Russia’s antigay laws were creating a climate of violence. By the day of the Opening Ceremonies, she was jailed. Her crime? She held up a banner on which was written Principle 6 of the Olympic Charter: “Discrimination is incompatible with belonging to the Olympic movement.”

Russia went on to use the Sochi Games as tool for building prestige – and a front for a couple of massive cheating schemes that reached to the highest levels of the government. The cost of Sochi was $50 billion or so, with allegedly a third of that going to embezzlement and kickbacks from the IOC-mandated massive infrastructure projects. Oh, and also, the Russian government was using its version of the FBI, the FSB, to make positive drug tests disappear, according to reports from CBS and the New York Times.

So if the IOC is determined to correct the ills from the last eight years, if it’s going to wade into the murky business of retesting urine samples, perhaps it should revisit these other issues that smell even worse.

Along with retroactive testing, the IOC should explore how the Games ended up in Beijing and Sochi in the first place – and how their drug labs were circumvented by a scheme about as sophisticated as a small town bank heist. For that matter, if the IOC cares so much about “clean” competition, how come it awarded the Games to nations long suspected of state-sponsored doping?

Instead of answering those questions, the IOC aristocracy prefers to blame and shame athletes whose choices were to either participate in a doping program, or face state punishment, maybe even a gulag. Punishing athletes loudly is strictly an effort to divert attention from the IOC’s own misdeeds, the offenses they either committed themselves or enabled and ignored, while they dined from ice sculpture buffet and sipped their aperitifs.

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