By: Devin Fussa
United States skeleton and bobsleigh athletes are considering boycotting the 2017 World Championships in Sochi, Russia. Due to concerns regarding Russian athlete steroid abuse, many of these Americans have been outspoken in their desire to skip the upcoming contest. This event will play a key role in ranking the national teams for the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea, and such an action would be considered highly controversial.
The World Anti-doping Agency released a report in June, 2016 detailing the drug abuse of numerous Russian athletes during the 2014 Sochi Olympics. This information was first revealed by Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov in a report released by the New York Times. Rodchenkov was the longtime chief of Russia’s anti-doping laboratory, and his role as a whistleblower shed light on the country’s state-wide doping program that took place for nearly a decade. Just last Friday, the WADA elaborated on their original report, announcing that over 1,000 Russians had participated in the state-wide doping program within the last four years alone. Many tainted drug testing samples were replaced with clean samples, allowing athletes to participate when they, in fact, should have been banned. This year, various Russian athletes have been stripped of their medals from the Olympic Games in Beijing in 2008 and London in 2012, but not the Sochi Games.
Athletes of other countries, too, have considered taking action against the 2017 skeleton and bobsled world championship. Britain’s Lizzy Yarnold, Sochi 2014’s skeleton gold medalist, has made public statements expressing her concerns, along with many other notable skeleton and bobsleigh athletes. After last Friday’s updated report, Latvia and South Korea have already decided to skip the 2017 World Championships. While Russia is currently ineligible to host Olympic events, it is still able to hold other competitions. Although initially declining to comment, The United States Olympic Committee recently released a public statement on the matter. “The USOC does not, and will not, support blanket boycotts of any events. Any decisions our athletes make will be supported independently from our bid for the 2024 Summer Games, which is independent and unrelated to these events,” said a spokesman. It is expected that the International Bobsleigh and Skeleton Federation will soon release an official statement on which the US and Great Britain will act accordingly.
It remains unknown whether any action will be taken by either the US athletes or the USOC. With the possibility of a boycott looming in the horizon, no American athletes have definitively announced their absence from the upcoming competition. The boycott, however, remains a very possible scenario. “There’s tremendous support to skip this event, and I think it’s the right decision,” says Kyle Tress of the US skeleton team. With growing anger regarding the handling of the Russian doping scandal in 2014, many athletes have decided that change is necessary for the well-being and integrity of their sport.