Sunday, February 18, 2018

Russian Interference

The United States men's hockey team lost big time at the PyeongChang Winter Olympics to the Olympic Athletes from Russia team, 4-0.  What was galling about this game is not that the Americans lost to a Russian team.  What was galling is that they lost to a team that should not even be there.
Sportswriters are inevitably blaming this defeat on the National Hockey League for not letting its players take a couple of weeks off to participate in the Winter Olympics and forcing national teams to rely on college students and minor-leaguers, which decimated the American and Canadian teams more than it did the Russian team, and even though veterans of the 1980 "Miracle on Ice" team may disagree, there is probably some truth to this, as the Russian team was able to find enough players from a major professional league in Russia itself.  But that's hardly the whole story.  The anti-doping ban on the Russian Olympic team made exceptions for athletes who don't have any record of cheating with steroids, and while I expected female figure skaters to dodge the ban, I never thought that there would be so many Olympic athletes from Russia who technically aren't competing for their country still being able to compete in Winter Olympic events.  Nor did I suspect that there would be an opportunity for enough Russians to compete in a team sport like ice hockey.  Both sexes.  As I see it, the International Olympic Committee's exemption on the ban against Russia that allows drug-free Russian athletes to supposedly compete for themselves and not for their country is comparable to a man who gives up buying and eating baked goods for Lent - cake, pie, muffins - but making exceptions for cake, pie and muffins he doesn't have to pay for . . . and being married to a pastry chef who takes home some of her work.   
I'll come right out and say it: The ban on the Russians is a joke.  The mere presence of a men's hockey team from Russia at these Games, even if it doesn't compete under their red, white and blue flag, is courtesy of a big loophole that one of the Flying Wallendas could have jumped through.  Heck, there are so many "Olympic Athletes from Russia" in PyeongChang that the Russians might as well have sent an official team there.  Look . . . a ban is a ban.  No Russians should mean no Russians.  Sometimes the innocent have to pay for the crimes of the guilty.  Life isn't fair, and it shouldn't be any fairer to today's Russian athletes than it was to  the Soviet-era Russian athletes who had to stay home during the 1984 Los Angeles Summer Olympics . . . or the American athletes who had to stay home during the 1980 Moscow Summer Olympics.  (Why didn't the International Olympic Committee allow would-be 1980 U.S. Olympic team members compete as "Olympic Athletes from America" in Moscow then? They didn't want the boycott.  Jimmy Carter did.)      
Oh yeah, I ought to tell you about that 4-0 hockey game, which got so violent as Russian and American players were devolving into fistfights with each other.  The Russians were especially aggressive, getting away with a lot of crap that the referees didn't seem to think was worthy of penalties.  There's no doubt a lot of animosity between the Americans and Russians, thanks to this election-interference issue, and this game was certainly reflective of it - and a black eye for Donald Trump, who all but promised the return of détente with Russia in the 2016 presidential campaign.  But that doesn't justify all of this unnecessary roughness.  Back in the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, which took place after the Soviet invasion of Hungary, Hungarian and Soviet athletes went at each other, and a riot almost started when a Hungarian water polo player got cut badly over his eye during the U.S.S.R.-Hungary game.  The problem of Russian bots smearing Hillary Clinton isn't as serious as a full-scale military invasion in which people die. 
But again . . . the Russians shouldn't be competing at PyeongChang in the first place.

No comments: