Well, the 2016 Summer Olympics just got a little smaller.
The wildly corrupt and doping-mad Russian track-and-field team has been banned from the Games by the International Association of Athletics Federations.
The charge? “Orchestrated systematic doping and the covering up of adverse analytical findings.’’
Translated, that means the Russian track-and-field athletes not only have been cheating for years, but their governing body — the All-Russia Athletics Federation — has been behind the cheating and has bribed, lied, fabricated and stonewalled to keep the doping going.
Is this ban fair?
Of course, it isn’t fair.
There are no doubt Russian athletes who are fair and ethical and get their excellence from talent, hard work, good diets and maybe a shot of Stolichnaya now and then.
But the brush of cheating, when it becomes as wide as a street sweeper, tars all. It’s clear cheating Russians have won medals in many recent global competitions, including the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, and the very notion of fair competition is in jeopardy when a whole country says it means absolutely nothing.
“This is an unfair decision,” Russian triple jumper Yekaterina Koneva told Tass, the state-owned news agency. “The big question is why they are doing this to Russia.”
Well, if you don’t understand, then nobody can explain it to you. In fact, some individual Russian athletes might be allowed into the Games, if they can prove their purity and are willing to compete without a country.
But the dirtiness is so widespread that it covers all those track-and-field athletes like a latter-day cloud from Chernobyl.
In truth, there’s nothing unusual about this scandal. It’s just an updated version of the performance-enhancing drug-cheating that keeps repeating like a metronome — and has almost since the beginning of the modern Games in 1896.
Founder Pierre de Coubertin — the dreamy, idealistic French nobleman who famously stated, “The important thing in the Olympic Games is not winning but taking part. Just as in life, the aim is not to conquer but to struggle well” — should have had a chance to talk personally to every Olympic jock who would do anything and everything to win a gold medal.
Maybe he could have gotten them to believe in his fair-play ideals. But I doubt it. Humans are devious, and they want to win so badly.
For various reasons de Coubertin died a spiritually broken man in 1937. If he knew how debased his Games would become after that with politics, big money and cheaters’ gold, he might have never restarted the ancient Greek athletic events at all.
Consider that in the 1904 Olympics, the first two finishers in the marathon cheated magnificently. One took a ride in a car for 11 miles with his manager; the other, winner Thomas Hicks from the United States, guzzled brandy and strychnine —guess that stuff can help if you doesn’t kill you — at multiple stops en route.
It goes on from there, of course, featuring the infamous state-mandated doping of the East German teams from the late-1960s until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the Eastern Bloc weightlifters in the 1970s, the Chinese swimmers and runners who set world records in the 1990s because they ate stews of “turtle blood and caterpillar fungus’’ —hoo-ha! — the BALCO mess in the late-1990s and early-2000s (hello, Marion Jones, Tim Montgomery, et al.), the cycling morass headed by Lance Armstrong and Co., and now the new “micro-dosing,’’ reliance on quick expulsion of PEDs from the system, and, likely, new drugs we haven’t even documented yet.
Rogue science is always ahead of the legal, ethics-driven testing process. Drug tests are actually, as the saying goes in elite sports, IQ tests. You flunk, you’re an idiot. You got too cocky; you got bad stuff from your supplier; you pushed the envelope a wee bit too far.
That’s what makes the Russian cheating all the more deserving of censorship and the banning it is undergoing. This is not about nations. Lord knows, North American countries have a massive list of cheaters that goes back to Canadian Ben Johnson and includes such former icons as Mary Decker Slaney, C.J. Hunter, Tyler Hamilton, Tyson Gay, Justin Gatlin and so on.
The Russian track team is the cheating flavor du jour, but these Rio de Janeiro Games will spit out all kinds of new dopers. It always happens.
I’m reminded here of what former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres once said about a very different issue, peace in the Middle East.
“If a problem has no solution,’’ he said, “it may not be a problem but a fact — not to be solved but to be coped with over time.’’
That’s doping in the Olympics.
We fight it, but it will never end.
Follow me on Twitter@ricktelander.