Though sporting success is among the most trivial of man’s achievements, rooting for one’s national team is relatively innocent. People want their teams to do well at the Olympics, and even a fossil like me, who doesn’t really care one way or the other, would rather see a British athlete winning than, say, a German one.
However, when fascist dictators crave Olympic success, it’s neither innocent nor trivial: for them every medal won is an affirmation of ideological superiority. Leni Riefenstahl conveyed this in her masterly, if morally evil, film Olympia, showing the grinning Führer presiding over the pagan pageant of the Berlin Olympics.
The Germans got more medals than the Untermenschen of other nations and especially other races. The Aryan superman powers were thus confirmed, and young Germans were ready to charge into the slaughterhouse of a great war.
Putin is another fascist dictator, if in a state of flux. He hasn’t quite graduated to murdering his enemies openly and en masse. Poor Vlad still has to rely on Al Capone’s, rather than Hitler’s or Stalin’s, methods of dealing with dissent, such as the odd surreptitious bullet or a car bomb, such as the one that killed the journalist Pavel Sheremet in the centre of Kiev yesterday.
Yet Vlad needs his sporting success too, mainly to keep the natives from getting restless. He can’t put food into their bellies, but fire can work even better, if expertly stoked. When Vlad’s role model Stalin told his starving, enslaved people that “Life has become better, life has become merrier”, many felt a surge of exhilaration – they were prepared to believe the leader rather than their own eyes looking at their hungry children.
Vlad doesn’t have much in the way of a mind, but his fascist instincts are of sterling acuity. Russia’s declining sporting powers just weren’t on: Vlad wanted success, and he wanted it at any price. The price he has paid is the greatest doping scandal in history.
It wasn’t about winning fairly; it was about taking drugs. That was one event in which Russia had no rivals, not with her entire resources focused on stealing Olympic medals. The project had two major parts: first, coming up with drugs that worked; second, covering up their universal use.
The first part was easy: Grigori Rodchenkov (who later blew the whistle on the scheme), director of Russia’s anti-doping laboratory during the 2014 Winter Olympics at Sochi, developed a steroid cocktail of metenolone, turinabol and oxandrolone, mixed with whisky for men and vermouth for women. This heady mixture turned the fiasco at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics into a glorious victory in 2014, with hundreds of athletes having enjoyed the Putin cocktail hour.
Concealment was harder, but that’s where the expertise of Putin’s alma mater the KGB came in handy. Those boys can break into vaults, never mind a few supposedly tamper-proof bottles of urine samples.
At first they succeeded famously: between 2012 and 2015, at least 312 positive tests were covered up across 28 sports. Overall there were 577 positive samples, including 139 in athletics, 117 in weightlifting, 26 in cycling, and 11 in football and rowing.
And a ‘mouse hole’ in the Sochi testing laboratory enabled FSB agents to break into ‘tamper-proof’ bottles and replace steroid-laced samples with pristine ones.
However, whistles were blown, bottles were analysed by independent experts, and the conspiracy was uncovered. What little was left of Russia’s reputation was drowned in a sea of dodgy urine.
As a result, the Anti-Doping Agency recommended that Russia be banned from this year’s Rio Olympics for “mind-blowing levels of corruption”. Russia’s subsequent appeal was turned down, but Putin’s response was refreshing in its impudence.
Like a thief screaming “Stop thief!” louder than his pursuers, Vlad described the impending ban as a “dangerous relapse into the interference of politics in sport”. In fact he ought to be proud: Russia has maintained her leadership as one of the world’s most corrupt countries, sharing the pedestal with the likes of Nigeria and Uganda.
To put it plainly, Putin’s kleptofascist junta is stealing the country blind, with 111 people owning 19 per cent of all household wealth. Back in 2001 INDEM (Information Science for Democracy) estimated the volume of corruption in Russia at $30 billion. By 2005, that figure grew by an order of magnitude, to $300 billion.
More recent INDEM data are unavailable but, judging by the billions laundered through Panama by just one modest cellist, there’s no reason to believe that the Olympic-calibre speed of growth has slowed down.
If Leni Riefenstahl came back, her creative genius would be severely tested. Leni was ready to glorify mass murderers, but she’d be stymied by the task of glorifying mass thieves. Say what you will about the Nazis, but they thought bigger than doctoring urine samples and laundering cash.
One only hopes that FIFA will take the 2018 World Cup away from Russia. Let Putin’s lads compete in drug-pushing tournaments, they’d be odds-on.