During the Winter Olympics of 2018, held in PyeonChang, a Russian curler was expelled from the competition because he was found to have meldonium in his system. Meldonium is a drug that increases blood flow, which is thought to improve athletic performance. Although other curlers have admitted there could be performance benefits by taking the drug, it seems remarkable that one would risk their career in a sport, and more than that, their reputation, by taking performance enhancing drugs (PEDs), especially in curling, a sport where athleticism is not at the fore. I don’t want to focus specifically on the athlete who is accused of doping, but upon the culture that seems to exist in Russia regarding this banned practice.
Much of the world is aware that over the past several years, it has been discovered that a large percentage of the Russian Olympic team, in some cases sponsored by the state, has been caught using PEDs. As a result of this, large numbers of Russian athletes were banned from competing in the 2016 and 2018 Olympic games. Many sports are known to have problems with doping but curling was not one of these sports. This idea appears valid because curling does not seem to be a particularly strenuous activity given its emphasis on skill rather than strength or conditioning.
To be fair to all concerned, doping occurs to varying degrees in all sports, because there will always be individuals who are willing to do anything, regardless of legality, to attain the highest level. However, at the highest levels of government within Russia, there is clearly an acceptance, and possibly encouragement, of athletes using PEDs to increase their chances of achieving international success within a sport. Now, even if this single Russian curler unintentionally used PEDs as he claims, Russia still has a problem with the practice. This is not a problem that Russia sees with itself but a problem the world sees with Russia. If I had to give one simple reason that Russia’s state-backed doping is a problem, it would be because Russia seems willing to do anything to achieve success or even domination in sports. And this desire, as will be explored in other blogs, extends outside the realm of sports. Russia wants to be a respected world power – and doping is just a manifestation of the deeper underlying problem.