If Russian athletes were to be banned from the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Summer Olympic games – as the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) has suggested – that would considerably chance the landscape of the competition, including and not limited to sports betting. WADA has called for the ban as a result of a 103-page report from Canadian law professor Richard McLaren, who found evidence of systematic, state-supported cheating by Russia’s athletes during the Sochi Winter Olympics. How would the Games be affected if the International Olympic Committee heeded WADA’s recommendation? Let’s imagine an alternate reality in which Russia did not attend the 2012 London Olympics.
Russia finished fourth in the 2012 Summer Olympics medal table – behind the United States, China, and Great Britain – with 22 beautiful gold medals, 25 so-so silver medals, and 32 shameful bronze medals for a total of 79 medals. Had Russia not participated, South Korea would have taken that spot. One of those silver medals went to well-known tennis player Maria Sharapova, who was recently suspended for two years for testing positive for meldonium. In her defense, that substance was not in WADA’s banned list until January 1st, 2016. Then again, taking into account if neither Sharapova nor Maria Kirilenko had been there, Serena Williams – a perennial sports betting favorite – probably would have taken home the gold anyway.
And what about events in which the Russians did win the gold medal? Australian Jared Tallent might have won the Men’s 50 kilometers walk. American Erik Kynard might have won the Men’s high jump. South African Caster Semenya might have won the Women’s 800 meters. Kazakhstani Adilbek Niyazymbetov might have won the Men’s light heavyweight boxing gold medal. Who knows? Some of them might still get those medals. After all, American shot-putter Adam Nelson was awarded a gold medal for his performance in the 2004 games in Athens earlier this month, as the original gold medalist in that competition tested positive for anabolic steroids. Of course it would be malicious to assume that all Russian athletes dope, but all things considered, the absence of Russian athletes might have, as far as online betting is concerned, a similar effect to the Russian boycott of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games.
The question remains whether the International Olympic Committee will enforce WADA’s suggestion. The International Association of Athletics Federations already issued a ban on Russian track and field athletes last month, so a full ban is not really that far-fetched. The goal would be to “give clean athletes some measure of comfort that they will be competing on a level playing field in Rio,” as U.S. Olympic Committee CEO Scott Blackmun said. Unfortunately, such a measure would harm clean Russian athletes as well – not to mention it would benefit other countries’ athletes, even improving their online betting odds. If Russian wanted to use Sochi as a “reminder to the world that Russia remained relevant, powerful, and successful,” it certainly backfired on them. They may have as well make their own medals and passed them around.