Analysis: Russian Perspectives on the Olympic Doping Scandal

The Olympics, summer or winter, is one of the greatest sporting events in the world. Not only are most countries of the world participating, but there are multitudes of sports displayed in grand fashion.

The games allow for unity between countries, many of which, in the international political arena, would rarely be united.

However, the Olympics are not without controversy – before, during or even after. The Rio Summer Olympics were no different, with controversies including the quality and color of the water, the Ryan Lochte scandal, and the abundance of Russian doping.

The most scandalous and talked-about controversy – during the Olympics and now the Paralympics – has pertained to the possibility of a ban on Russian athletes during the Games.

With the Rio Summer Olympics now at a close, and the Paralympics around the corner, there has still been quite a bit of controversy regarding doping at the international level.

Even before the Opening Ceremony, critical debate surrounded troves of athletes and their substance abuse. But, media attention really centered on the doping habits of the Russian delegation.

After this news came to light, the International Olympic Committee, or IOC, chose to ban 67 Russian athletes out of the 150 eligible to participate. This left Russia with 83 total athletes in competition.

The IOC seriously considered a more severe blanket ban on Russia for this year’s Rio Olympics, and received external pressure from both fans and athletes alike. While the IOC ultimately chose against banning the entire Russian team from the Olympics, they have since decided to ban the country’s entire Paralympic team.

According to Danielle Ryan, an Irish freelance reporter for Russia Today and an independent blogger for her own website, Journalitico, a place dedicated to “Russia and the West,” the credit for this immense pressure on the IOC goes to the western media.

In her “op-edge,” as RT playfully calls it, Ryan cited the Times of London’s letter to the International Olympic Committee as well as the Guardian’s article by a writer in Moscow, addressing Russia’s doping scandal and the need for a blanket ban on the nation’s Olympic team.

The two articles embody the constant media push to restrict Russia from the international games without providing context that fully took into consideration similar doping crimes committed by athletes from other countries. Not only was it the Times of London or the Guardian pushing against Russia, but several other media outlets such as CNN.

“I pointed out what I regard as fairly clear cases of bias against Russian athletes and argued that a blanket ban would have been unfair,” said Ryan in an interview with MediaFile.

Given that Ryan reports for Russia Today, a state-run media outlet, paired with her pro-Russian rhetoric that can be seen on her blog and on Twitter, it is not surprising that she naturally defends Russian athletes. Furthermore, Ryan discusses other instances of doping which caught no wind within the media or the IOC, but were rather simply left alone and dropped as stories.

Ryan argues that the media persistently created headlines for an across the board ban on Russian athletes are mainly western nations, like Germany and England, nations who did not say anything against the Kenyans or Americans who were similarly caught doping. However, Ryan fails to include the details of the meticulousness and longevity regarding Russia’s state implemented doping institution, even though a Russia Today article does mention the long-term doping involved within the Russian Olympic team.

Ryan maintains that the actions of a few should not penalize the repercussions for all. “I think it’s incredibly unfair to have a situation where athletes that have never been associated with doping and have been training most of their life could be put in this position through no fault of their own,” she said.

Ryan is supported in another RT article which discussed the possible ban with Ellis Cashmore, a visiting professor at the Aston University.

It isn’t fair. It is as simple as that. It would be like banning all motorists in Birmingham for a year because half dozen motorists were caught drinking on Saturday night,” Cashmore remarked.

According to both Ryan and Cashmore, it all boils down to uselessly punishing the innocent for a crime they did not commit, which seems to be fair. Yet, Russia is a nation that sponsored doping methodically and purposefully with more than just selective players.

Ryan’s opinion is further supported by multitudes of articles, such as one written by James Nixey for the Chatham House, however, many of these articles are from smaller media sources unlike the Times or the Guardian. This seems to stand true with Ryan’s claim in her article that opposing viewpoints on the Russian blanket ban are very much under the radar.

“I think it’s pretty hard to deny there’s a current of anti-Russian feeling running through Western media that is not exactly well-disguised,” Ryan said. However, Ryan, again, seems to ignore the reasons behind the current of anti-Russian feelings such as state-planned doping, bribery and pampering of drug tests.  

Ryan’s article covers a great deal of information, which seems to be swept under the rug or not mentioned by major outlets such as Times and the Guardian, such as doping in other countries or the treatment of losing athletes in certain countries.  However, RT is known to be heavily biased against Western media, though Ryan’s piece is an op-ed, the tone is consistent with the same partiality as seen through her Twitter presence.

When asked about the bias within RT, Ryan said, “RT presents the Russian perspective on world events in the same way that the publicly-funded BBC presents the Western perspective on world affairs.”

Ryan’s analysis in her comments regarding how biased Russia Today is in relation to other media outlets, shows that media, in general, cannot avoid all biases even with journalistic objectivity. Overall, Ryan believes nono media should not be trying to push a particular agenda, but rather afford all perspectives on a situation, even if their country’s athletes are playing for gold on opposing teams.

When looking to include other sources or articles to this piece, MediaFile found that many straight news articles in Russian government sponsored outlets, whether they be in Russia Today, Sputnik International, or TASS Russian News Agency, the author’s name was left out, making further comment about this debate more difficult to come across.

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