Winter cheer: on politics around the 2018 Winter Olympics

The Russian doping scandal continues to cast a long shadow over international sport as the 2018 Winter Olympics begin in PyeongChang, South Korea, on February 9. In December, the International Olympic Committee banned Russia from competing in the Games following investigation into an alleged state-sponsored doping programme at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. The decision to ban Russia came after the IOC’s Disciplinary Commission, headed by former president of the Swiss Confederation Samuel Schmid, confirmed “systemic manipulation of the anti-doping rules and system in Russia”. The IOC had stated, however, that clean Russian athletes would be allowed to compete as neutrals and last month invited 169 of them — each to be known as Olympic Athlete from Russia (OAR) — to participate in the PyeongChang Games. The announcement did not go down well outside Russia, even though the IOC declared that “more than 80%” of those athletes had not competed in Sochi and had been carefully vetted. That the OAR will form one of the largest contingents at the Games, although there will be no place for the Russian flag and anthem, makes the ‘ban’ seem a bit of a farce. Further, Russian athletes could be allowed to march under their own flag at the closing ceremony if they comply with the IOC’s conditions during the Games. There is a sense that the IOC is not able to punish a sporting superpower like Russia.

Last week, there was more outrage after the Court of Arbitration for Sport overturned lifetime bans on 28 Russian athletes sanctioned by the IOC following the investigation into Sochi 2014. The IOC expressed its own frustration at the decision, noting that it “may have a serious impact on the future fight against doping”. Proceedings in PyeongChang over the next fortnight will be watched keenly also for other reasons. The little-known host city, which sits some 80 km from the border with North Korea, will bear witness to on-field displays of bonhomie between the neighbours. The two nations will march together at the opening ceremony under a flag representing a unified Korea, and will field a combined women’s ice hockey team. The joint team lost to Sweden in a practice game this week and there are questions over how the two sets of players will get along, but with supporters of both countries cheering their side on together in a time of escalating political tensions, scorecards seem immaterial. North Korea has agreed to field 22 athletes in three sports and five disciplines and is expected to send hundreds of delegates and cheerleaders across the border. India, meanwhile, will be represented by luger Shiva Keshavan, competing in his sixth and probably last Olympics, and skier Jagdish Singh, taking part in his first. Keshavan has been the torch-bearer for winter sports in India for a long time; he will hope for a happy Olympic swansong.

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Printable version | Dec 1, 2021 6:26:24 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/winter-cheer/article22670999.ece

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