Trust, common sense long gone when it comes to IOC and its doping decisions

Do not adjust your television screens during the Parade of Nations, Designer Brands and Traditional Costumes at the Pyeongchang 2018 opening ceremony, airing Friday worldwide and soon to be on perpetual replay in the twilight time zone of Olympic history.

The athletes will march as usual and the VIPs will regard them from seats on high. The ritual and its veneer of peace, love and understanding will comfort those who want to think that the Olympic infrastructure is too big and entrenched to fail. It isn't.

Two weeks ago, a 57-year-old amateur cyclist in the United States was suspended for four years for refusing to take a drug test. Today, the country that rigged the testing laboratory at the last Winter Games -- and stonewalled the subsequent investigation -- has suffered few consequences.

Yes, Russia is suspended, but not banned. It will field 168 athletes wearing neutral uniforms that are not neutral. Over the next 16 days, many of the Olympic Athletes from Russia and their fellow Olympic Athletes from Everywhere Else will urinate into tamper-proof bottles that aren't really tamper-proof. Years from now, some of those bottles will be re-opened for testing and a bunch of billable hours will be invested in which medals shouldn't have been medals.

Nothing at this Games will be untarnished by the double standards that reign in international sport. This isn't just about Russia's sporting crimes and punishment. It is about a global industry -- can we please dispense with the soft-focus and misleading "movement?" -- that has had 20 years since the establishment of the World Anti-Doping Agency to establish best practices and some modicum of fairness to safeguard the credibility of its product.

Whatever trust existed has been frittered away in the past four years because of the conflicts of interest between sport and anti-doping that are baked into the bureaucracies. The system is vulnerable to manipulation by anyone with enough savvy and influence. Russia just did it more obviously and efficiently than anyone else in recent memory.

The International Olympic Committee had a choice a year ago after receiving the complete findings of an investigation led by Canadian law professor Richard McLaren. His report spelled out the way Russia's athletic, scientific, political and security arms worked together for a common goal: boosting the Russian medal count with the advantage conferred by doping, and covering its tracks.

The IOC could have moved swiftly and firmly, the way the International Paralympic Committee did, by twice barring Russia from competing -- before Rio 2016 and again before Pyeongchang 2018. One of the IPC's chief objections to Russian participation was the fact that the Russian Anti-Doping Agency had not achieved compliance with international standards.

Cutting through the gobbledygook, what this means is that Russian athletes, who should be among the most scrutinized in the world given recent events, have not been subject to regular or rigorous testing in their own country for most of the past four years. Outside experts and contractors encountered significant resistance and obstruction when they tried to fill in.

Statistics published late last year showed that many top athletes had been tested once, or not at all. International federations were said to have picked up the slack, but that's impossible to verify, because almost none of them are transparent on the subject.

Russia challenged the IPC's 2016 decision at the Court of Arbitration for Sport and lost. If the IOC had told Russia to sit out for Pyeongchang, the decision would have stood and perhaps there would have been half a chance of forcing real reform.

Instead, the IOC took the scenic route. It demurred and created two commissions that took a year to retrace McLaren's steps and re-interview the main witness, whistleblower Grigory Rodchenkov. The lack of urgency echoed that exhibited by the World Anti-Doping Agency when Vitaly Stepanov began to offer damning information from inside the Russian Anti-Doping Agency almost 10 years ago.

A refresher: McLaren's mandate was to examine the system, not to generate evidence for individual cases against athletes. Yet the IOC turned around and tried to use it for just that, unable to add much new information, in part because Russia continued to thrash, deny and block the release of samples and electronic data from the Moscow laboratory Rodchenkov used to helm.

So deep is the distrust about the IOC's motives that when some of the sanctions against Sochi medalists were overturned by CAS, Denis Oswald, who chaired the commission that imposed them, felt obligated to state publicly that the cases hadn't been booby-trapped to lose.

The suspension of the Russian Olympic Committee was announced with great fanfare in early December, but it didn't take long to understand that a large delegation would wind up being "invited'' to Pyeongchang by the beneficent IOC. And that will sow doubt every time a Russian athlete wins a medal or makes a final. Every post-event news conference in those situations will -- or should -- go straight to that point.

A clause that enables (read: ensures) the suspension to be lifted at the start of the closing ceremony is an affront to any athlete who follows the rules. If the culture of cheating and denial hasn't changed in the past four years, it's not going to change in the next fortnight.

Amateurism has long since ceased to be a real theme of the Olympics, but the paternalism of earlier eras lingers. Olympic athletes are infantilized by mythology that encourages them to chase their dreams while conscripting themselves to institutions that have no accountability and exist chiefly to perpetuate themselves. In the worst-case scenario, they bask in reflected glory while leaving athletes exposed to real danger, as we've learned in the horrifying testimony heard in two Michigan courtrooms in recent weeks.

Anti-doping issues really boil down to working conditions for athletes. They sign on to have their privacy invaded by testers at all hours, to tether themselves by providing their whereabouts, to abide by the principle of strict liability, responsible for what's found in their bodies, even as they watch it flouted by whole nations.

The reason to agree to testing, imperfect as it always will be, is so that doping doesn't become a mandatory price of doing business. Athletes may have to take matters into their own hands and formally organize to ensure that doesn't happen. The obstacles to that are not small, but continuing to do the same thing and expecting different results won't work. They know that from their own training.

The Russian legal challenges came right down to the wire, just as they did before Rio. CAS rulings announced Thursday and Friday kept several dozen Russian athletes disinvited from Pyeongchang. The reasoning was based on eligibility rights set out in the Olympic charter: a constitutional call that barely saved the Winter Games from real chaos. But there's a sourness to the whole process that even brilliant and entertaining competition may not be able to overcome.