Rio Olympics: Illegal Doping Scandals Cast Shadow Over Games
The German journalist who first exposed Russia's state-sponsored doping system says the Olympics faces one of "the greatest crises it has seen in years."
The specter of illegal doping continues to cast a shadow over the Rio Olympics.
U.S. swimmer Lilly King put the issue of doping at the center of the debate again when she called out her main competitor for gold in Monday's 100 meter breaststroke final, Russian swimmer Yulia Efimova, as a cheat.
After placing first in her heat and the semifinals as a whole on Sunday, King watched Efimova celebrate her first-place finish in the other semifinal heat. King's response to Efimova holding up the "No. 1" sign in the pool? A "shame on you" finger wag.
"You're shaking your finger No. 1, and you've been caught for drug cheating. I'm just not a fan," King told NBC.
That public smackdown came after the audience at the Olympic Aquatics Stadium booed Efimova ahead of the race, a rude greeting that has become common for Russian athletes at this year's Games.
The swimmer was initially among the more than 100 Russians banned from competing in Rio for either having failed doping tests or for being named in the World Anti-Doping Agency’s investigation into Moscow's state-sponsored doping. After the International Olympic Committee (IOC) chose not to implement a blanket ban on Russian athletes, several, including Efimova, were quietly reinstated.
But amid the hope and glory of this year's Olympic coverage, the issue of doping refuses to die.
"There's a much greater sensibility towards the topic [of doping] now; more and more journalists can see that the official doping fighting system is a farce," says Hajo Seppelt, the German journalist who initially broke the Russian doping scandal in a series of documentaries for German broadcaster ARD. "Organized sport is facing one of the greatest crises it has seen in years."
Seppelt, however, is sharply critical of the coverage in Rio, claiming broadcasters worldwide are only paying lip service to the issue of doping at the 2016 Games.
"The big commercial media companies are only interested in ratings — it's hypocritical and absolutely contradicts the so-called 'spirit of the Games,'" he told The Hollywood Reporter. "Look at NBC, with their machinery of idiocy. They are playing their audience for morons, trying to squeeze out the tears with their emotional 'home stories' of athletes while ignoring the other [criminal] activity underway."
Seppelt lays much of blame at the feet of the army of sports reporters in Rio, who he calls "embedded journalists" lacking objectivity.
"I am not a sports fan," Seppelt notes proudly. "I only watch sports when I have to for professional reasons."
But the dark side of the Games is becoming harder for even the most gung-ho sports cheerleader to ignore. The first few days of the Rio Olympics have been marred by a series of doping scandals. On Sunday, the International Paralympic Committee did what the IOC wouldn't, confirming a blanket ban on all Russian paralympians from the 2016 Paralympics, which kicks off Sept. 7 in Rio.
"The anti-doping system in Russia is broken, corrupted and entirely compromised," IPC president Sir Philip Craven said Sunday at a news conference. Russia has said it will appeal the decision.
Russia is far from the only doping culprit at this year's Games. CNN on Monday revealed that the Olympic team of host nation Brazil submitted just a third of expected drug-test samples in the crucial month before the Games began, something the World Anti-Doping Agency called "an unacceptable practice."
And ahead of the Olympics' official opening ceremony on Friday, the head of Kenya's track and field team, Major Michael Rotich, was recalled from Rio after he was caught in a sting operation — carried out by Seppelt's team at ARD together with The Sunday Times — in which Rotich told undercover reporters he could give athletes a 12-hour advance warning of when they would be tested in exchange for a bribe of around $13,000.
According to reporters in the joint investigation, Rotich also was filmed boasting that Kenya is a safe place for athletes to take banned performance-enhancing drugs without being caught.
Seppelt is hopeful that the steady drumbeat of scandals will slowly force change at the IOC, which he sees as the root of the problem.
"It's wrong to always blame the athletes. What we are seeing is a systematic failure of always pursuing higher ratings, and more sponsorships, at the cost of the athletes and the integrity of the sports themselves," he says. "[Because] doping is different than what has happened at [disgraced world soccer body] FIFA, which was about activities outside the sport itself. But doping strikes directly at the integrity of sport itself."