All kids have hobbies, from obsessing over new video game to solving Rubik’s cubes, but Danielle Zambetti, a local eighth grader, has a slightly more unconventional and specific interest- historical and current doping scandals in international sports. Her latest addition to the lot: the institutionally organized doping of Russian athletes in the 2014 Sochi Olympic Games.
Like the rest of us, Danielle watched a recording of the Olympic openings later on in the day.
The crème de la crème of the world’s athletics marched out in meticulously designed regalia reflecting their culture, but after twelve nations strolled onto the floor of the opening ceremony proudly in their colors, one walked out in neutral gray coats and white scarves, under the Olympic flag.
If you’ve brushed up on your international sporting or even your politics in the past few months, you might know that every athlete in that group was Russian, competing under the title of OAR (Olympic Athletes from Russia).
If you’re like me, you’d think it’s only because of the widespread cheating of Russian athletes in the Sochi Olympics. Things of the sort happen with every country, but when it gets out of hand, the whole country’s group will pay a heavy price. But Danielle Zambetti, after hours of free-time research, knows how much more nuanced it is than that.
To her, it’s all part of a painstakingly arranged system (often called a “doping culture”) that was sponsored and controlled by the Russian government, where overeager athletes can participate in taking banned substances that enhance performance (she had a 1,300 word write-up on this that I can only condense here, it’s so thorough). Doping isn’t rare, and it's certainly not the most common in Russia- it’s estimated that 29-45% of all elite athletes undergo it at some point, which, according to her, is why “it’s common for people to hear about professionals doping.”
In most countries, they’re discouraged from this by all of the rigorous testing they go through. Under recent authorities in Russia, however, the test results were quite literally changed by hand, and the false paperwork submitted to the International Olympic Committee. The metaphorical paper trail wasn't burned up, and a Canadian lawyer was able to track it to its source.
The IOC’s Schmid Commission investigated, and its findings concluded that high-up authorities (although it’s unknown if Putin was directly involved) were complicit and active in changing the results.
As a result, they banned dozens of athletes and coaches for life, and suspended others; and in an unprecedented move in doping scandals, they banned the whole country from competing, even the clean ones- or at least they banned them from competing as Russians (they’d have to wear neutral tones during the procession and if they medalled gold, the Olympic anthem would play).
To compete, clean athletes have to audition in front of a panel of IOC officials rather than doing qualifying runs under their own country’s sporting authorities. Danielle says that to her, the punishment was appropriate- it showed other governments that even in sporting, their actions have consequences. “Organizations are trying to make everything fair for athletes,” she said.
She’s a swimmer and a competitor on the track team. She’s played basketball and golf, soccer and softball. International sporting, to her, is an opportunity for her to learn about sports she wouldn’t have otherwise heard about- although she’s especially partial to skating and swimming news.
“Hearing about these scandals motivate me to be a better and more fair athlete,” she stated. “It’s important for aspiring athletes to know that to be your best, you don’t have to resort to doping. It’s all about hard work, and the end game isn’t winning. I swear, I give lectures like my mom when it comes to this.”
Fair sporting matters to her, and it doesn’t matter whether or not the news is local- to her, it’s always relevant.