Olympics, Sports

Russia to Regulate Sporting Accomplishment?

Curious news came out of Russia related to the Olympics today.  Following a bill submitted by lawmaker Yegor Anisimov, the Russian parliament will consider a proposal to bar athletes from competing in more than two Olympic Games.

Evgeny Plushenko - Sochi Olympics
Evgeny Plushenko Leaving the Ice Shortly Before Pulling Out of the 2014 Olympics (Photo Credit:AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

The proposed law is considered a ploy to keep older, and presumed more injury-prone, athletes from denying places to younger competitors. The bill is largely in response to what occurred with figure skater Evgeny Plushenko during the 2014 Sochi Games. Plushenko, who was competing in his 4th Olympics, withdrew from the men’s competition right before it started — when it was too late to replace him. There had been concerns about his injury status for months prior to the Games.

In introducing the bill, Anisimov stated:

There is no doubt that [Plushenko] knew about his health problems earlier on, but he didn’t remove his candidacy to compete at the Olympic Games, thus depriving other athletes of the chance to take part. [The bill] will allow other, younger and no less talented athletes to take part in international competitions at such a high level.

Though I’m not familiar with the Russian legislative process, I would be shocked if this becomes a law. All of this feels like a knee-jerk and excessive reaction to a unique situation. Maybe even a ploy for attention. There isn’t a need for legislative action. Isn’t this why you have Olympic committees and individual sporting bodies? To make decisions on what the best team composition would be for the various competitions.

For the sake of argument, let’s say this is a legitimate proposal. You can’t make a blanket assumption that an older athlete will be any less healthy than a younger athlete. Health is an individual thing, and injuries can strike any athlete, regardless of age, at any time. Furthermore, many Olympic sports don’t have viable professional league alternatives — the Olympic Games are the pinnacle competitively and financially. A cap on Olympic appearances could mean forced retirement for many athletes, and a lessening of opportunities to make a living. And this doesn’t even touch upon the potentiality of fans being deprived of great performances from athletes who either maintain peak physical shape for an extended period of time, or get better with age.

Yelena Isinbayeva
Yelena Isinbayeva on the Medal Stand at the 2012 Olympics (Photo Credit: Getty Images)

Two-time Olympic champion pole-vaulter Yelena Isinbayeva, one of the most prominent Russian athletes that would be effected by the rule if it became law, said upon hearing about the proposal that the bill is “complete nonsense by a man who does not know sport. This bill has nothing to do with real life. This law can deprive people of dreams. Any athlete has the right to compete for as long as they can qualify for the Games.”

As for Plushenko, who has dreams of a 5th Winter Olympics appearance in 2018, he says the proposal is “inexplicable and inappropriate.”

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