Russia’s Olympic Ban: What Happens Next?

July 1, 2016

In each installment of “CGI Asks,” a selection of experts respond to a question about developments related to Russia and the region. 

This week, as the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) voted to uphold its ban on Russia’s track and field team from the the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, we asked what the long-term implications are for Moscow in the international arena.

Richard Arnold, Assistant Professor of Political Science, Muskingum University 

Richard Arnold

The International Association of Athletic Federations (IAAF) ban on Russian athletes’ participation at the Rio Olympics will have significant impacts on a regime which has made sporting prowess and the return to Soviet-era glory part of the basis for its legitimacy. Putin himself attempts to project an image of sporting masculinity and many nationalist organizations have some physical activity requirements for the ‘health of the nation.’

Accordingly, the doping scandal reflects badly on Russian culture and society, seeming to confirm stereotypes of a disrespect for rules and a corrupt society. The fact that the doping was allegedly endorsed (if not organized) by Russia’s sports minister Vitaly Mutko will only enhance these images and, in many ways, reveal their desperation to appear victorious in this matter.

The consequences may be sizable. Critics may start questioning the legitimacy of Russia’s ‘victory’ in the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, where it topped the medal tally. If that happens, the reputation of the Games will be tarnished and their cost (around $50 billion) will seem to have made little lasting impact. Likewise, the prestige that comes from hosting a World Cup will be questioned, and indeed some footballers in Russia have also failed doping tests.

The ban will probably not have an impact on Russia’s hosting of the World Cup in 2018 (although judging from the exceptionally poor performance of the Russian national side at the 2016 UEFA European Championships they may prefer it to do so). FIFA is the governing body of world football, not the IOC or IAAF, and they have shown no interest in changing the hosts of either the 2018 or the 2022 World Cups. That said, it will case a negative pall over the prelude to the World Cup and so detract even further from the prestige of the event. I wouldn’t be surprised if attempts to take the 2018 World Cup from Russia (for reasons of security, racism, international relations, or the recent soccer hooliganism in France) intensify as we get closer to the event, but it would be a stretch to include the IAAF ban as a reason for doing so.

Overall the greatest harm being done is to the notion of international sport as various actors either politicize it or portray it as politicized. This is a shame, as friendly competition in such matters is a great outlet for nationalist passions and, as the founder of the Olympic movement Baron de Coubertin put it, “the Olympic Games were created for the exaltation of the individual athlete.”

Patrick Rishe, Director, Sports Business Program, Olin Business School, Washington University in St. Louis and President, Sportsimpacts


PatrickRishe JPG from Fall 2014 LMUI definitely don’t see Russia being in a place where they would act in a retaliatory fashion, largely because of the social media world we live in. If the Russian athletes had been wronged by the World Anti-Doping Association (WADA) in the organizations impartial assessment of the Russian doping issue, then Russian athletes could play the role of martyr.  But this is not the case.

On the contrary, I believe WADA’s actions will, at the very least, lead to fewer incidents of cheating – not just by Russian athletes, but by athletes globally.  Being barred from competing in the Olympics is about as large a black-eye as it gets.  If you can’t learn from that mistake, then the non-Olympic professional earnings these athletes could earn in their respective sports (particularly track and field) are clearly enticing enough to tempt these athletes to skirt international rules of fair play.

And, as hosts of World Cup 2018, I doubt the Russian ban from Rio will have any residual effects on how Russia treats other world athletes when they compete for soccer’s most prized title in 2018.

Manuel Veth, Editor-in-Chief, Futbolgrad 


manuel vethIt is difficult to imagine what the greater consequences will be for Russia’s Olympic ban. Furthermore, it will be interesting to see whether the IOC will even uphold the ban, especially given the fact that the current president of the IOC, Thomas Bach, has close connections to the Russian Federation, particularly with President Vladimir Putin. Even so, Russia will still send at least 330 athletes to the Olympics—perhaps more depending on individual applications.

Yet, even if all Russian track and field athletes remain banned from the Olympics, the internal image of Vladimir Putin will not be damaged. Yes, Russia’s successes at Sochi are now tainted internationally, but it is doubtful that this scandal will take away from the positive hosting experience that Russia feels it had at Sochi. The vast majority of the Russian population will most likely ignore the doping scandal.

The fact that some Russian athletes won’t be allowed to participate at the Rio 2016 Olympics is a shock. At the same time, however, the Olympic movement itself has been damaged by various scandals, and therefore doesn’t receive the same attention that it used to. In fact, the Olympics have lost much of its global appeal to international soccer tournaments like the Copa America, the European Championships, and the World Cup.

The 2018 World Cup in Russia will likely be unaffected by the Olympic scandal. On the other hand, individuals such as Vitaly Mutko could now find themselves under intense scrutiny. Mutko is both the Minister for Sport, and the president of the Russian Football Union (RFU).

Mutko cut an unfortunate figure when Russian hooligans were involved in riots at the 2016 Euros in Marseille, and is also considered responsible for the national team’s poor performance—the Sbornaya may have been the worst team at the tournament.

The FIFA World Cup will officially kick off next summer with the Confederations Cup in Russia, and with Mutko implicated in the doping scandal, his poor response to the riots in Marseille, and the fact that his RFU reforms have not led to better performances on the pitch, could result in the government making major changes at the top of the Ministry of Sport and the RFU.


The Center on Global Interests provides an open platform for discussion. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s).