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Russia's Paralympians: A Doping Scandal or Case of Continuing Discrimination Towards Disability?

  • Date: 2016/08/08
  • Paul Dodenhoff - Paul Dodenhoff: Bio
  • Synopsis : Paul Dodenhoff writes on the banning of Russia from participating in the upcoming Rio 2016 Paralympic Games for allegedly violating international doping rules.

Main Document

On Sunday, The International Paralympic Committee banned Russia from participating in the upcoming 2016 Paralympic Games for allegedly violating international doping rules. The committee put the ban firmly upon the actions of the Russian Government - for having a 'medals before morals' mentality. However, this decision leaves a question to why Russia's disabled athletes are apparently being treated quite differently from Russia's abled-bodied athletes.

As far as the abled-bodied Olympic Games in Rio is concerned, 118 competitors of the 389 strong Russian team have been banned due to the doping scandal. Critics had initially called for Russia's entire Olympics team to be banned, an action argued to be needed in order to send a clear message that cheating within sport via drug use is unacceptable. However, the International Olympic Committee considered that such an outright blanket ban on able-bodied athletes would be wrong and unfair. So yesterday's alternative action throws up the question of why the IOC considers a blanket ban of able-bodied athletes not to be fair, but the IPC indeed considers that a such a ban on Russian para-athletes is?

The Rio 2016 Paralympics will begin in 31 days' time, on 7th September, and 267 Russian para-athletes will now miss the Games due to the ban. It's a scandal that comes after the release of the McLaren report, published last month and a report that details a widespread state sponsored doping programme operated by Russia that seemingly covers both Olympic and Paralympic codes. However, The IOC was recently criticised for ignoring the World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada) recommendation to ban Russia's able-bodied athletes completely from the Rio Olympics, criticism that some people have taken to be pretty much, political.

Last month, a host of Britain's former Olympic heroes joined forces with UK politicians and leading sporting figures to sign a letter to the IOC pleading for Russia to be excluded from the Games. Russia's RT channel also uncovered similar letters sent to the IOC from leading right-wing newspapers such as the Times, similarly pleading for a ban on Russia's athletes. Revelations of pressure upon both the IOC and the IPC therefore mirror the international political pressure often put upon Russia as part of the western world's ongoing effort to isolate Russia and thereby build an opposition to President Putin inside Russia itself. A Russia that is a constant thorn in the side of both British and American politics for its involvement in the Ukraine and Syria. Heavy stuff indeed.

Certainly, rumours abound that the International Paralympic Committee may be much more prone to succumbing to any outside political influence than the International Olympic Committee may be, hence the rather dubious decision to blanket ban disabled athletes from Russia but not it's able-bodied ones. Whether this is true or not, is not for me to say. However, the blanket banning of disable Russian athletes does leave a very peculiar taste in the mouth.

Particularly when we consider that disabled people in general are not only often perceived as deviating from some kind of medical norm, be it a physical norm or a mental norm, but also from a moral norm of some kind. Britain's constant but relatively recent portrayal of disabled people as scroungers and fraudsters are just one example of how disabled people often become perceived as being inherently 'immoral'. The recent blanket banning of disabled Russian athletes may therefore not only say something about drug scandals and international politics, but also how disabled people are still perceived as being far more 'shiftier' than the able-bodied.

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