By Sophia Goodwin-Rice
If you’ve been keeping up with the 2018 Winter Olympics over the last few weeks, you might have noticed several athletes competing under the name “OAR”, a team that sports the Olympic flag rather than the flag of any nationality and wears neutral gray colors rather than patriotic hues. It isn’t that another country sprouted up out of nowhere and suddenly become an important competitor at the games: these athletes are Russian citizens barred from competing under their own flag, who have been designated “Olympic Athletes from Russia,” and can only compete for individual rather than national team medals.
This new category of athletes is a direct result of Russia’s expulsion from this year’s games, following an investigation that uncovered a state-run doping scheme utilized in the past two Olympics. In 2016, it was discovered that the nation had employed doping experts to tamper with athletes’ urine samples, all the while supplying athletes with a cocktail of banned substances to enhance their performances. This discovery was met with shock and outrage from international sports community, as well as regular citizens and viewers, especially since none of the athletes had been caught at the time, and Russia’s medal count had soared. The International Olympic Committee decided to ban the nation from the Pyeongchang Olympics altogether — except for, of course, Russian athletes who had no evidence of doping against them, hence the OARs.
There’s no doubt that Russia’s actions are unacceptable at any level. To use illegal, performancing-enhancing substances to compete in the most important sporting event in the world, against athletes who have spent their whole lives building up natural strength and skill is inexcusable; and it makes sense for the country to have been banned for the time being. In my opinion, however, it doesn’t end there. The question still remains as to why Russia felt it necessary to nationally endorse a doping scheme in the first place — perhaps on a global scale, the Olympics is much more than just bragging rights and shiny medals. It’s a competition of strength, power and money that goes far beyond ski runs and ice skating routines.
Hosting countries have always used the Olympics to their economic advantage as much as possible. For a few weeks every two years, the whole world’s eyes are on one city in one nation, and it’s up to that nation to make themselves seem as interesting, beautiful and exciting as possible, even if it means showing only the most attractive parts and leaving out the truth. In Rio de Janeiro, for example, where more than 1,500,000 people live in slums, enormous stadiums and flashy displays of Brazilian culture smothered the realities of a corrupt government whose money would have been much more welcomed by the millions of citizens living below the poverty line.
Hosting the Olympics means showing the world what you as a nation are capable of, and when Russia hosted the Winter Games in 2014, they set out to do just that. Given Russia’s history with nations like the United States (a competitive tendency dating back to the Cold War), it almost isn’t surprising that the government would try to match its rivals on the playing field, to assert international dominance and pride.
Yet why must the Olympics be this way, a corrupt and crazed competition to show national strength rather than individual achievement in a sport? All over the word, young athletes train obsessively, prioritizing their sport above everything else in hopes that they can one day be competing at the most elite competition in the world. It’s true that many of them want to stand on the podium looking up at their flag, listening to the national anthem play, and thinking about how they’ve represented their home country. Yet that shouldn’t be all of it. When nationalism starts to take over everything that the Games stand for, it makes one wonder whose interests are really taking into consideration: the people and the athletes, or the governments?