Tuesday, August 9, 2016

How Will Ban of Russian Athletes Impact the Olympics?

What teenager would pass up free food? I couldn't and in 1984, going into my junior year of high school, I did not. Thanks to McDonald's and an Eastern Bloc boycott of the Olympics, I ate very well for two weeks in August. I enjoyed watching the U.S dominate in a somewhat lopsided competition. And with each medal we ran to join the line under the golden arches.

The events leading to the 1984 boycott began in 1978 with a coup against the government of Afghanistan. Shortly after taking over the new government faced a number of insurgencies by anticommunist and mostly Muslim leaning groups. In response Afganistan called upon the Soviet Union which responded to its new ally by sending troops in December 1979.

In response to the Soviet Union's actions in Afghanistan, the United States and a number of other countries joined in a boycott of the 1980 Summer Olympics held in Moscow. While the boycott was not supported by all western countries (France and Great Britain among others did not support the boycott) competition suffered. Meanwhile athletes from the U.S. and many other countries lost an opportunity to fulfill their Olympic dreams.

Four years later the Summer Olympics were hosted by the city of Los Angeles. Citing anti-Communist sentiments the Soviet Union claimed it was unsafe to send its athletes to the 1984 Olympics. Other Eastern Bloc countries followed suit. Without competition from the boycotting nations the United States won a record 83 gold medals. The nation’s very large medal haul would lead to very long lines at the nations’ McDonalds’ franchises.

That summer McDonalds' ran a promotion where each purchase came with an Olympic game card. Each card listed an Olympic event. If an American earned a medal in that event the cardholder received free food and another game card. That summer my friends and I, while attending a special summer science program in another state, lived on free Big Macs, Quarter Pounders and just about everything on the menu.

To my knowledge McDonalds' has no plans of repeating their Olympic promotion and has not done so since 1984. If any company were thinking of a similar promotion, this is not the year to do so. With allegations of tampering with drug testing results, a number of Russian athletes have been been banned from this year’s Olympics. The International Olympic Committee left it up to the individual sports federations to decide on suspensions for other Russian athletes. As a result a number of athletes will have to stay home.

I feel sad for the athletes who dreams may be lost due to the actions of those who came before them. At the same time I think it important to send a message. It is important that nations and athletes know that cheating will not be tolerated. It is also important, perhaps more important, that clean athletes know that the governing bodies of various sports support them in doing what is right.

As a parent I need those who are in charge of officiating sports to support the lesson I teach my children. In sports, while it is always more fun to win, cheating only ensures that everyone loses.