Sportsmanship, Russian style

There I was, thinking that nothing the Russians do can possibly surprise me. How wrong I was, and I thank Putin’s sports establishment for reminding me of the dangers of complacency.

In this instance what surprised me wasn’t so much the revelation that Russian athletes cheat, but the scale of this activity – quantity rather than quality.

The fact itself is yesterday’s news, or even the day before yesterday’s. For example, one remembers the glory days of the Soviet Union and its satellites, when a dozen women athletes turned out to be something else.

Oh they were athletes all right, but they weren’t quite, well, women. Some were hermaphrodites, some practically men, and none really qualified for the women’s events they had been dominating.

When chromosome testing was first introduced at international events in 1966, many ‘female’ athletes from communist countries (the Soviets Tamara and Irina Press, Tatiana Shchelkanova, Klavdia Boyarskikh, the Rumanian Iolanda Balàzs, the Pole Ewa Klobukowska and many others) announced their retirement.

It wasn’t just sex, or rather trans-sex, games. Soviet fencers were caught rigging their foils to set off the touché lamp when no contact was made. Doping was rife. Soviet judges routinely cheated in gymnastics, figure skating and diving competitions.

The wartime slogan ‘Everything for victory!’ was naturally shifted into the sports arena, and nothing was off limits.

For example, when Soviet sports scientists established that a woman’s body is at its physical peak shortly after terminated pregnancy, this opened all sorts of exciting opportunities.

Shortly before the 1968 Olympics the gymnast Natalia Kuchinskaya was impregnated by her coach, and made to abort the baby, specifically to enhance her performance. She repaid the loving attentions of the Soviet state by winning four gold medals.

The East German swimming bosses found a better way: turning women into men. In general, East Germany was a true pioneer of doping on a massive scale, way ahead of her Soviet masters who had a lot of catching up to do.

Between 1964 and 1988, the GDR, a country of less than 17 million citizens, won 454 medals in the summer Olympics alone, and many of those went to their women swimmers.

Except that many noticed that the young ladies displayed none of the secondary sexual characteristics associated with women, while many of them spoke in the kind of basso profundo that would have made Shalyapin proud.

When this was pointed out to their coach, he responded with the kind of retort communist officials thought was the acme of wit. “My girls,” he said, “came here to swim, not to sing.”

True enough. Alas, when the GDR was no longer in business, many of those girls came out with harrowing stories of how their bodies were mutilated forever with massive doses of steroids. Most of them couldn’t function as women, some had to get trans-sex operations, some ended up in mental institutions, some killed themselves.

Here I have to compliment my friend Vlad Putin for his honesty. Speaking at last May’s military parade in Red Square, he proudly declared that “Continuity of generations is our chief asset.” It most certainly is.

Not to let the national leader down, the Russian sports establishment dutifully retained and built on the Soviet version of sportsmanship.

An extremely well-documented German documentary has just alleged that as many as 99% of Russian athletes are guilty of doping.

The International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) possibly, and the Russian Athletics Federation (RAF) definitely, have been accused of being in cahoots with the scheme.

The latent (extremely latent) Russian patriot in me desperately wants to believe that the country’s sports officials acted purely for the glory of the motherland, with no pecuniary interest anywhere in sight.

Alas, that’s not exactly the case. For example, Liliya Shobukhova, winner of the 2010 London Marathon, admits paying the RAF €450,000 to cover up a positive drug test.

The Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko denies the allegations, but then he would. Such baseless slander, he said, is yet another attempt on the part of the West to besmirch the pristine honour of Russia.

Recorded testimony of both athletes and former anti-doping officials counts for nothing, as far as Mr Mutko is concerned. It’s all baseless (goloslovnyie, for the Russophones among you) allegations.

Perhaps. Allegations of wrongdoing, baseless or otherwise, are a standard weapon of Cold War, something that’s unfolding in front of our eyes.

It’s just that some allegations are more, and some are less, credible than others. For example, my friend Vlad made a number of allegations in his yesterday’s speech.

One of them was that the West is trying to dismember Russia the same way it has already dismembered Yugoslavia. However, since such dastardly perfidy wasn’t supported by any documentary evidence, certain incredulity is justified.

I, for one, find it hard to believe that Western countries are actively conspiring to detach, say, Voronezh or Novgorod from Russia. Believing that Russia is trying to detach Donetsk and Luhansk from the Ukraine is much easier, considering that both are currently occupied by Russian troops and their proxies.

By the same token, few would take on faith an allegation that 99% of, say, British athletes are doped up to their eyeballs every time they compete. Yet the same allegation about Russia, given both its history and current evidence, rings true.

The Russian sports establishment is run by the same amalgam of the KGB/FSB and organised crime that runs the whole country, but even more tightly. Expecting probity, sportsmanship and fair play from that lot is like expecting gentlemanly manners from David Mellor.

I’d go as far as to suggest that even in the absence of such sponsorship, Russian and Eastern European athletes would be doing all the same things, if possibly on a smaller scale.

For example, most doping bans in professional tennis have been imposed on Eastern European players – even though they are relatively independent from their federations (relatively is the operative word).

Westerners simply don’t comprehend the full scale of moral degradation suffered by a nation under communist rule. Four generations of Russians and two of Eastern Europeans were brainwashed to believe that morality is coextensive with the good of the state.

Even assuming that things then changed drastically, which they may or may not have done in Eastern Europe, and certainly haven’t in Russia, it’ll take at least as many generations – and I’m being uncharacteristically generous – for these countries to recover from the trauma.

They haven’t yet, not by a long chalk. This should (but won’t) give our own rulers some second thoughts about all those Eastern Europeans, millions of them, settling in Britain.

One hears many well-meaning and good-natured people saying that, when all is said and done, those people are products of Christian civilisation. Hence we shouldn’t be unduly concerned about being inundated with them.

Wrong, my friends. These people come from a civilisation so corrupted by communism that lawlessness has penetrated their DNA.

There are exceptions of course; there always are. But as their version of sportsmanship shows, these exceptions are the kind that prove the rule.


My new book, Democracy as a Neocon Trick, is available from Amazon and the more discerning bookshops. However, my publisher would rather you ordered it from, in the USA,


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