George Orwell once claimed that sport was “war minus the shooting”. It has, he explained, “nothing to do with fair play. It is bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, disregard of all rules and sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence.”
The Court of Arbitration for Sport has ruled that Russian track and field athletes will remain banned from the Olympic Games after the discovery of a widespread state-sponsored doping programme.
Sport really does reflects national pride. And that fact has been recognised by no-one more than it has by Vladimir Putin, who is the most sport-orientated leader that we have ever seen in Russia.
The president, who is a black belt in judo and has written a book on the subject, showed off his skills against the Russian judo team in a training session earlier this year. Meanwhile, just a few months ago, he joined in the annual Night Hockey League festival game. He has also been photographed hang-gliding and bob-sledding.
The Russian Foreign Ministry has already branded the Court of Arbitration’s decision yesterday as a “crime against sport”, while Russian pole vaulter Yelena Isinbayeva – one of the 68 Russian athletes who appealed – condemned the ruling as “a blatant political order”.
Indeed, there is no doubt that a lot of Russian people think this is a political move. There is a grave danger here that Putin can turn it into political hot potato and use it to foster an anti-western feeling within Russia.
The judges sitting on the Court of Arbitration panel were three lawyers from Italy, Britain and the United States. While they are among the most respected in their field, their nationalities are not likely to change Russian minds about the impartiality of their decision.
All Russian athletes were banned from the Games when Russia was suspended from global track and field events by the International Association of Athletics Federations in November – but other sportsmen and women could still potentially take part.
Some athletes, including one who was involved in the whistleblowing which saw the doping scandal brought into the public domain, could compete as “neutrals”, subject to a series of rigorous tests.
However, whether anyone will be able to represent Russia at the Games depends on the decision by the International Olympic Committee, which is due to hold a second emergency meeting on Sunday to decide its course of action. The report released earlier this week suggested that Russia’s doping programme covered across the “vast majority” of summer and winter Olympic sports,
It is, of course, right and proper that the IOC should uphold the integrity of the Games, and that in the short term the best way to do that is to impose a blanket ban until more transparency around drug test results is possible. But it needs to move as quickly as possible to identify and ban individuals who have taken drugs because all a blanket ban will do is to play into Putin’s hands in fostering division between Russia and the West.
Tram inquiry is on wrong lines
Compared to what it cost to build in the first place, £3.7 million is a drop in the ocean.
But to find that the cost of a probe into what went wrong with the Edinburgh trams project has run well into the millions is a punch in the stomach for exasperated tax-payers.
Alex Salmond said it would be “swift”; the Scottish Government has claimed the probe would be cost-effective, but it is difficult to see what is cost-effective about carrying out this investigation at this price.
What we have to think about is what we get at the end of it – and therefore what return on investment this investigation is. It is basic business sense.
Are the people responsible for the project going to be held to account? It would be surprising if they were.
Is any money going to be paid back into Edinburgh’s coffers? Again, this looks distinctly unlikely.
Are lessons going to be learned from any of this – and if so for what? City transport leader Lesley Hinds claims we could benefit from experience to help on any other capital projects, but anyone with enough guts to embark on such a project should start with a blank piece of paper rather than taking any tips from tram bosses. In short, this is money that could be better spent on many other things.
With no end in sight to the probe – it has barely even got underway with witnesses yet to be quizzed and only a perfunctory meeting so far held – are we going to sit back and watch while the bill spirals out of control? Someone needs to take control and put a stop to this fast – or we will have learned nothing from the tram project.