At a press briefing last week with International Olympic Committee spokesman Mark Adams, there was stern talk about a country of cheaters so shot through with a gold-at-all-costs mentality that they countenanced the systematic exploitation of Olympic athletes.
And when they weren’t talking about the United States, they talked some about Russia.
“I join everyone by saying how appalling this is and how appalled as a parent you can be when you read these things,” Adams said to reporters, referring to the Larry Nassar sexual abuse case that has consumed USA Gymnastics and the United States Olympic Committee. Moments earlier, he had addressed a mild softening of the IOC’s ban on Russian athletes from the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics, vamping about “democracy and liberty and freedom.”
It was a revealing moment, a pair of Olympic scandals meeting on the eve of the Winter Games, which began in earnest Friday. In Adams’ fluent institutionalese — his “guidelines” and “briefings” and “processes” and “agenda” — the grotesque particulars of the two cases fell away, and you could begin to see the essential similarities.
These were both scandals of entrenched abuse, born in one instance and deepened in the other out of a desire to win. Because of a wish for Olympic superiority, Russia’s Olympic Committee systematically drugged its athletes. Because of a wish for Olympic superiority, the U.S. Olympic Committee and USA Gymnastics failed to protect their athletes from the interweaving of emotional and sexual abuse.
So why not ban the United States? By what moral logic are the Russians any more deserving of punishment than Americans?
Part of the U.S.’s evasion of culpability here derives from how the country has structured its institutions. Americans have a well-established doping regime, too; it’s just privatized and corporatized, like America itself. By law, the USOC, which is said to have covered up more than 100 positive tests from 1988 to…