Editor’s note: The International Olympic Committee is set to rule Tuesday on whether to ban Russia from February’s Winter Games. Here, former Canadian Olympian Deidra Dionne, a bronze medallist in aerials in 2002, presents an open letter to IOC president Thomas Bach in which she argues Russia must receive the strongest possible punishment for its doping violations.
Dear Mr. Bach,
You probably don’t remember, but I wrote an open letter to you a few years back, voicing my concern about the Olympic movement. Here I am again, trying to persuade you to listen.
Last week, Dick Pound — my fellow Canadian and a man I deeply respect for his commitment to clean sport — encouraged athletes to voice their thoughts on whether Russia should be allowed to compete in the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in the wake of the country’s doping scandal.
As a former athlete who competed in two Winter Olympics in the sport of aerials, let me be as blunt as possible: You can’t claim to be athlete-centred, as you have, and then not disqualify Russia from the Games in South Korea this February. The hypocrisy would be laughable if the issue wasn’t so close to my heart.
It’s true that athletes bear tremendous responsibility when it comes to what goes in their bodies. You should know this because, as a former Olympic fencer, you were once one of us. But isn’t it time we ask some tough questions about the merits of only punishing individual athletes when an entire system around them is cheating?
If you don’t take a stand against the entire Russian system, you’ll be setting the wrong kind of global precedent. You’ll be solidifying the belief that the only risk in running a dirty system is the potential consequences that will fall on individual athletes. That doesn’t sound very athlete-centred to me.
Moreover, I don’t understand how disqualifying results four years after the fact — as the IOC has been doing lately with Russian athletes connected to doping at the 2014 Sochi Olympics — acts as a deterrent to future state-sponsored doping. The way I see it, the upside of winning in the moment is far greater than the risk of being disgraced years later, when no one is really paying attention.
I’d like to share the story of my friend Sam Edney. Sam is a luge athlete and a three-time Olympian. In Sochi, Sam and his Canadian teammates — Alex Gough, Tristan Walker and Justin Snith — finished fourth in the team relay behind Germany, Russia and Latvia.