Category Archives: Athletes

Facing the music: religion, nationalism, and sports have enchanted the working class; socialism hasn’t

Orientation

Religion, nationalism and sports as propaganda for the ruling class.

In the closing section of my course Brainwashing Propaganda and Rhetoric: Dark Psychology in the 20th Century, I ask my students to compare organized religion, nationalism and sports, not only to determine the kind of propaganda they are (black, gray or white), but also the devices and artifacts that are used. This includes the use of architecture, statues, rites of passage, liturgy, sacred music, pilgrimages, holy days, use of visual symbols, language manipulation and techniques for altering states of consciousness. The world religions have used these processes for at least 3,500 years to exploit, control and distract people from their misery on earth and direct us instead to variations of ‘you’ll get pie in sky when you die’.

The history of nationalism over the last 400-500 years has closely followed the techniques of organized religion. In fact, I think it is fair to say that nationalism is more powerful than moderate and liberal religion in motivating people. I doubt whether most people of liberal or moderate religion in the West would sacrifice their life for their religion. But at least among the working class who sign up for the military, nationalism can motivate people to fight and die to kill strangers in other countries who share the same social class.

Sports, as opposed to religion or nationalism, is a more joyous escape from the difficulties of life. If I were a betting person, I would bet most Americans might go to the barricades if the AFC and NFC championships were not televised. A championship playoff game such as the World Series could certainly outdraw any religious or patriotic ceremony in TV ratings. And what is the result? Who wins the game ultimately has little effect on the lives of the fans. Yet they continue to watch. This is some mighty potion going’ on. Do the socialists understand it? Do we use similar techniques to win the working classes to socialism? Not on your life!

Qualification

I am certainly not claiming that religion or nationalism has the same hold on people in the 21st century that they did in the 20th century. At least in the western countries, there has been a steady decline of interest in religion. Nationalism certainly does not have the grip on Europe that it did in the 19th and 20th centuries. Still, in spite of this decline, both carry enormous power.

I   Socialists’ Failures to Come to Grips With Enchantment

It’s not enough for socialists to simply claim that religion, nationalism and sports are examples of “false consciousness” for the working class.

I would think that socialists, being social, would be hip to what is going on with these propaganda techniques. Sure, you may find cultural critics beginning with the Frankfurt School who will bemoan the lack of taste among the masses and state how all religion, nationalism and sports produce false consciousness. But this is a very mechanical and unnecessarily bleak understanding of the potential of the techniques used in these areas to light a fire under the working class. We must not only point out the manipulative nature of enchantment, but we need to be dialectical and ask how we could use these techniques to promote socialism. After all, the construction of a sacred space (whether a church or a ballpark), a dramatized story, ritualized gestures, and the use of music and the arts to alter consciousness is not just naïve superstition. It is part of our bio-evolutionary heritage to be interested in these things. The alternative to the alienated enchantment of sports, religion and nationalism is not de-enchantment, as so many dry-as-dust socialists seem to think. We must build a “this-worldly” pagan enchantment that is a foundation for socialism.

Socialists’ failures against nationalism and religion

Three examples should give you the picture. The first is the famous one of socialists before World War I. The socialist parties in Europe and, to a lesser extent in the United States, were very confident that the workers of the world would unite to oppose the war. After all, the workers understood that they had no fatherland, right? Wrong. Not only did working class people kill each other after being whipped up to mass hysteria, but most of the socialist ministers, some of them great intellectuals like Kautsky, Plekhanov and Kropotkin got emotionally caught up in defending the fatherland. Socialism as a political movement of internationalism was no match for nationalism.

The second example is of Germany in 1933. During the depression in that country, the Socialist Democratic Party (SPD) was the strongest socialist party in the whole world. Economic conditions were bad. Great time for a revolution, right? What did the socialists do? According to the mass psychologist Wilhelm Reich, they simply fed the masses boring statistics about their condition. However, the Nazis understood that there is a charismatic side to people, a side that likes mythology, drama, pomp and circumstance, doomsday scenarios, scapegoats, black and white answers and promises of redemption. Goebbels and the Nazi brass understood mass psychology while the socialists were buried in the Enlightenment and the French Revolution.

My last example is about the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church is one of the most horrendous institutions in the West in the last 800 years. Its officials committed every one of the “seven deadly sins” time after time as they tortured heretics and witches. They’ve made deals with royalists and military dictatorships and they have made peace with capitalists long ago. The Catholic Church has a record of child abuse that spans centuries. Yet many U.S., Italian, Spanish, French and all the other people in Catholic countries continue to attend mass and support the Church financially. At the same time, the socialist parties that actually do want to create heaven on earth with workers could not ever get masses of people to come to meetings once a week. People are too busy for that. But they are not too busy for church. How can this be?

The issue here is not that the working-class is stupid or that they are victims of false consciousness. Rather, I believe the issue to be:

The Church must be doing many things right to continue to collect their revenues and get people to attend in spite of being seen as the world’s first international terrorist organization.
Do the socialists understand this mass psychology? No, they do not.
Do the socialists think that the techniques of religion, nationalism and sports could be used to mobilize people for socialism? Ah, what?

Marx did not understand religion and nationalism

Marx said some very riveting things about religion. Among other things he saw the construction of “god” as an alienation of human creativity. But at the same time he believed that religion would wither away under communism as people’s material conditions got better. Clearly this has not been the case. Neither was Marx very dialectical about how religion could be used by socialists. With the exception of liberation theology, socialists have not understood how to transform all the ingredients that go into “cooking” a religious experience and mythologize a socialist story complete with music, ritual, mythology and patron saints. The closest instance of socialists doing something like this is May Day in southern European countries. It used to be that people made costumes for May Day and gathered together while wearing those costumes, sharing food and singing The International. All these things gave it some of the sweep and drama of religion.

The extent to which the Communist Party tried to outlaw religion is revealing in how little they understood it. All this did was to make it more attractive by burying it underground. Socialists also did not understand that nationalism would not disappear under socialism. During World War II Stalin needed to refer to the “Great Russian Fatherland” (hardly a call to socialist internationalism) in order to inspire and join people together through hardship.

Neither did socialists understand that race cannot be reduced to social class.

Again, Marxists’ general approach is that race will only preoccupy people when capitalists use race to keep people from uniting as a class. But once workers gain class consciousness, the issue of skin color will dissolve in people minds. This has not been born out in experience. In addition, because of Marxists’ cynical attitude towards evolutionary psychology they have yet to make current in their theory the fact that ethnocentrism goes all the way back to hunter-gatherers. While ethnocentrism and racism are not the same thing, ethnocentrism is present enough to see that the skin color of people does matter around the world and that this was present long before capitalism existed.

Marxists cannot explain how sports have charmed the working class

A number of years ago, Noam Chomsky commented on how amazed he was by the intelligence of working class people when they called into a sports talk program the Monday after Sunday’s NFL games. Their analysis of what plays didn’t work, what plays could have worked along with the strengths and weaknesses of the players was astounding. But then he pointed out how all this intelligence goes away when the same people are then asked to make a political analysis of the current events in their lives – working conditions, wages, war. The working class is mute when asked to explain how and why capitalism is failing. The question is not why working class people have cognitive compartmentalization, separating sporting events from their everyday life. The question is what does sports offer people that makes them so involved? Have socialists asked themselves what would have to happen to make working class people be carried away by socialism the way they are by sports?

As many of you know, a number of years ago the Seattle Seahawks played the New England Patriots in the Superbowl. The Seahawks were losing but had a great drive going at the end of the game. With about 90 seconds left and the ball on the New England one-yard line, the Seahawks quarterback decided to pass the ball rather than hand it off to Marshawn Lynch who had a great game. The pass was intercepted. I knew the next day in my brainwashing class, this was what they wanted to talk about. It wouldn’t have mattered if the stock market crashed. Why is this? Unless students were betting on the game, they had no material stake in the outcome. Still – most of the men in the class were very involved.

II  Bad Taste: A Communist is Swept Away By Baseball

Flashbulb memories of my performance as a baseball player

When I was about 7 years old I used to play a ‘let’s pretend’ game. I laid out 4 rags I’d gotten from the garage and placed them in a diamond form which represented the bases. The bases were about 45 feet apart. Then I looked at our house and took my batting stand and let my imagination take over. The scene is no doubt familiar to many of you. It is the last of the 9th inning, we are losing by three runs. The bases are loaded and there are two outs. Then I swing and hit the ball – tsssssch! “ As Mel Allen was saying in my head “there is a high fly ball deep to right center. The centerfielder is at the track. It is going, going, gone”. Then I would trot around the bases. As I got older I played a great deal of hardball and I hit home runs, but never quite experienced the situation I imagined when I was seven until my last year of playing.

In 1968 our team from Brooklyn got into a playoff game at Victory Field which was one of the fanciest fields around. My girlfriend Rose Nuccio let it be known to me that this was the last time she was coming to my games. Sunday was her only day to sleep in. “Besides” she said, “you are 0-8” (referring to my performance in the last two games.) She brought her sister Miriam along with her for this game. In the top of the first inning I am up with two guys on base and two outs. The left-handed pitcher, Rick Honeycutt, throws me a high inside curve ball.

“Tshrush”! I tomahawk the pitch and the ball really does head for the right centerfield fence just like in my fantasy 13 years ago. As I watch the ball head for the fence time and space seem to contract. It’s as if I were in my backyard 13 years ago. The ball lands on the tennis courts on the other side of the fence scattering everyone. I am so out of it that as I make my rounds of the bases I miss first base. The coach has to get me to touch the base. As I round second I see Rosie and Miriam jumping up and down screaming like two young Italian gals will. The look on Rosie’s face as our eyes met was like a melting ray of sunlight that united our eyes. I missed third base too. Finally as I headed for home most everyone on our team came out to home plate to meet me. It was as if we won the World Series. I disappear in a mass of teammates at the plate.

I have told this story in my psychology classes as an example of a peak experience. I also use it in my brainwashing class to show how powerful sports can be in moving people. Virtually every time I tell the story I cannot help but become teary. I’ve seen students cry even though they know nothing about sports. Unless socialists can find a way to create this kind of drama, not occasionally but as part of a regular seasonal sequence, we will continue to be marginalized.

The lure of professional baseball: the return of the hero Ken Griffey Jr. to Seattle

My last example is about a baseball player many of you know. Ken Griffey Jr. was a great home run hitter for the Seattle Mariners for about 10 years. For whatever reasons, I believe he asked to be traded to Cincinnati, where he played for about another seven years. Probably because he was a left-handed hitting center fielder like I was, and because of his grace I liked him and followed his career. Then I heard he was traded back to the American League, to the White Sox. The following year he was traded back to Seattle. How would the fans feel? Would they hold a grudge because he left? I knew they wouldn’t. I wanted to see the homecoming so I watched the game when he came back to Seattle. The fans made signs and were screaming for him. They must have given him a 5-10 minute standing ovation. Tears streamed down my face. I wasn’t even a Seattle fan! What was going on was not a baseball game. It was the return of a god to his home ground.

Movie stars, musicians and sports figures are our gods and goddesses. These celebrities have happily replaced priests and military generals as our heroes. Like gods and goddesses, they enter into sports mythology complete with the stories of great World Series, great stories of betrayal (by playing for another team) drug scandals and homecomings. The people of Seattle understood that when they came to this game they were participating in the final days of a great sports god, and this mattered more than who won this particular game. If socialists cannot figure out that this is what is going on with sports fans and, even more importantly, how to use this energy for our purposes, we will continue to be marginalized.

III Socialist enchantment needs to happen before the revolution

Socialism has certainly had its events that could be claimed as peak experiences or even religious experiences. Anyone who had participated in a revolution knows these moments are euphoric and unforgettable. Anyone who participated in the Occupy Movement will not soon forget it. And those centrists fools who think that Occupy “is over” will be in for a rude awakening as their spastic, decaying capitalist system will continue to undergo more nervous breakdowns. These breakdowns will only produce more “Occupies”.

But what about budding socialists who have never had revolutionary experiences? What do we have to offer them in the way of inspiring collective experiences before a revolutionary process begins? Throughout the year baseball has its opening day in April; the All Star game is in July; the World Series in October. Religion has its holy days peppered throughout the year. Nationalism has its holidays – President’s day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Veteran’s Day and Thanksgiving. What is missing under socialism is a similar pageantry of rituals, joining in song and dance along with regular places to meet and celebrate. All of these things build a theatrical stage scaffolding for extraordinary revolutionary events. I am not talking about practical, political meetings. Theatrical stage sets might inform the practical but they are the celebration of the socialist tradition regardless of specific political or economic events that might be happening.

Socialists understand enchantment during and after revolutions, but before the revolution too many socialists are disenchanted crab apples. In part, this is because of a sad lack of yearly seasonal rituals that keep the fires burning between one revolutionary generation and the next.

Lastly, religion, nationalism and sports all have ways of linking the important events of the year to the lifetime of the individual. Catholics have confirmation at roughly the age of nine; Hispanic Catholics have quinceañera around a girl’s 15th birthday. In sports an individual might visit Cooperstown (Baseball’s Hall of Fame) for their birthday. Nationalism has its pilgrimages to the Washington monuments in the summer. What does socialism have to offer? Is it possible to have something like my baseball flashbulb memory tapped into some systematic experience that could be given to socialist children or adolescents? Would it be possible to have an experience of socialism before the revolution, which is similar to whatever it takes to make the fans wave their signs, scream for 10 minutes and become emotionally spent when their hero comes home and is paraded through the streets? Boy, does socialism need some of that potion. We need some Love Potion Number 9.

In Part Two we’ll explore in more detail what this might look like.

• First published at Planning Beyond Capitalism

The Woes of Luka Modrić: Croatia, Nationalism and Football

Juraj Vrdoljak of Telesport was convinced.  “I think half the population didn’t show up to work on the morning after the win against England.” The victory had inspired early shop closures, a feeling of rampant escapism. “Croatia is a country with a deep economic crisis.  Every day, life is really hard.  It’s full of bad stories and tough times.  There is lot of poverty.  A lot of people are emigrating.”

Members of Croatia’s football team have become national talismans of endurance, the shock troops of resilience and hope.  Ivan Rakitić, when he takes the field against France, will be playing his 71st match of the season, the most than any top-flight player this year.  Luka Modrić remains unflinching in the midfield as the team’s general.  Domagoj Vida has been granite in defensive solidity.

Football teams can be held up as mirrors of the nations they represent. This sociological gazing can always be taken too far, a scholar’s fruitless pondering, but Croatia’s national side is instructive.  It was Dinamo Zagreb’s Zvonimir Boban who stirred matters with his heralded assault on a police officer engaged in a violent scuffle with fans in a match against Red Star Belgrade.  Croatian football was fashioned as a vehicle of protest and dissent against what was seen as a Serb-dominated federation.

In time, football kicks became shells and bullets in the murderous dissolution of Yugoslavia.  To this day, a legend stubbornly holds that the truculent Bad Blue Boys of Dinamo and the countering Deljie of Red Star precipitated the first shots of that war.

Starting with its current inspirational captain, the link between social ill and patriotic performance can be seamless.  When he finishes the tournament in Russia, Modrić will have to turn his mind back to his relationship with mentor and former Dinamo Zagreb executive Zdravko Mamić, a towering figure who finds himself facing a six-and-a-half year prison sentence for corruption and fraud.  From Bosnia and Herzegovina, he does battle with the authorities, attempting to avoid extradition after fleeing Croatia.

A bursting feature of the case mounted against Mamić involved claims of ill-gotten gains from transfers of Modrić from Dinamo Zagreb to Tottenham Hotspur in 2008 and Dejan Lovren to Lyon in 2010.  Modrić, it seemed, was implicated in signing an annex to his Dinamo contract, suggesting a 50-50 split of any future transfer fee.  What was significant was the timing – 2015 as opposed to any earlier dates.  Through his tenure, suggestions that Mamić had conducted a “silent privatisation” of the club were rampant, producing inflated transfer prices and a cult of acquisitiveness.

Modrić, having been billed as a star witness who initially supplied anti-corruption investigators with gold dust on Mamić’s penchant for cooking the accounts, notably in terms of pocketing millions of euros of the transfer fee, froze in the dock.  His memory, it seemed, had failed him; the contract annex was not signed, as he initially claimed, in 2015 but 2004.  This testimony was effectively rendered worthless.  Croatia’s captain now faces the prospect of a perjury charge that carries a possible sentence of five years in prison.

The Croatian Football association, in an official statement in March, was not having a bar of it, unsurprising given the powers that be within the country’s football hierarchy.  The body insisted upon “the principle of innocence and considers every person innocent until proven otherwise.”  It was also “deeply convinced of the correctness of Luka Modrić’s testimony before the court in Osijek, and especially because of Modrić’s behaviour since his first appearance for the Croatian U-15 team in March 2001 to date.”

While every inch the commander in the field, with his team keen to impress in their following, not all Croatian supporters are in the Modrić tent of fandom. The Bad Blue Boys have found themselves split in loyalties over the years, with some, such as Juraj Ćošić, forming a breakaway team, Futsal Dinamo. “Zdravko Mamić,” claims football sociologist Ben Perasović, “is a typical member of the new rich class.”  It is a class that continues to afflict Croatian football with their depredations, a looting tendency that is only now being reined in with mixed success.

The other team members have also shown this side to be rather prickly. Vida, and the now sacked assistant coach Ognjen Vukojević, were caught on film making comments supportive of Ukrainian nationalists in the aftermath of the side’s defeat of Russia in the quarter-finals.  FIFA’s benevolence prevailed, and the centre-back was permitted to play in the semi-final against England.

Such a background adds more than a touch of complexity, with all its discomforts, to the World Cup final against France.  Croatia’s team will not merely be facing their opponents on the field in a battle of wits and tenacity. Off it, pens and knives are being readied and sharpened, with prosecutions being prepared.

Even now, the team is being written off by the smug pundits of football orthodoxy, though with less disdain than before.  Three matches on the trot into extra-time suggest imminent exhaustion, a possible overrunning by a more refreshed French team. But desperation, in meeting talent, can be the most potent of elixirs.  This Croatian team has pushed the sceptics to the edge, and threatens to leave them there.  And with players like Modrić, adversity remains their closest companion.

Giant Killing: Heroes and Teams at the 2018 World Cup

They have been falling like ninepins at one of the most unpredictable World Cups in generations.  Even before the kick-off in the tournament, Italy’s absence was conspicuous.  By the time the first phase of matches had been concluded, Germany, whose teams have made it to the elimination phase for eighty years, found itself in exit mode, a victim of exhaustion, desperation and South Korean determination.  Die Welt deemed the performance an embarrassment of perfection, the team’s performance “harmless, unimaginative, listless”.

Spain, who won the 2010 World Cup, found its adventure prematurely aborted in the round-of-sixteen, falling to the inspired Russian team on penalties.  Portugal, in their defeat before the hard set Uruguayans, went the same way in that round.  (Christian Ronaldo was distinctly off the boil.)  Not enough credit, however, was given in shocked observations to the other side of the show, the performances of those giant killing teams which have added to the fogginess of any crystal ball.

One colossus did seem dangerously predictable in advancing.  Brazil threatened at points to overcome a furiously talented Belgian team, but failed to transform possession into goals.  The Belgians made their chances count and duly dispatched another giant from the competition.

A sense prevailed that Brazil were their own worst enemy.  This was not the team of jogo bonito, jaunty, ruthless representatives of the beautiful game.  Neymar was both talismanic and deficient, an asset rolled into a liability.  His drama strewn efforts, which involved diving and rolling as much as it involved natural ability, did not provide the ballast his team required.  Such attitude, it has been surmised, might have been born from past serious injuries, be it the broken back he sustained in 2014, and a broken foot in February this year.

“I can say,” wrote Neymar in an Instagram post, “that this is the saddest moment of my career, it is incredibly painful because we knew we could get there, we knew we had conditions to go further, to make history.”  It proved “hard to find the strength to play soccer again, but I’m sure God will give me strength enough to face anything”.

The shocks have been marked and frequent, with the ground left for exhilarating performances.  Giants Argentina did not vanquish Iceland, the match concluding with a goal a piece. In an absorbing match, it was that other footballer of genius Lionel Messi, who took the penalty after a collision between Sergio Agüro and Hördur Björgvin Magnússon.  He botched it, and Hannes Thór Halldórsson made the save.  Another team of minnows had done their country exhilaratingly proud.

Croatia, with its own smattering of talented players, subsequently rumbled Messi’s side with three answered goals, despite both sides going into the second half without having scored.  France, in a thrilling bout involving seven goals and the incessant efforts of the 19-year-old Kylian Mbappé, issued the coup de grace.

The host team Russia was a thrill with Croatia, also going down to penalties.  England, albeit with a soft line of the draw, found themselves in their first semi-final in major international competition since 1996.  An exorcism of sorts has been taking place with this team, with manager Gareth Southgate, waistcoat and all, becoming very much a figure of veneration in a nation bruised and battered by the trauma of Brexit negotiations.  Both dedicated Leavers and grieving Remainers have at last found something they can agree about.

As the BBC noted with a smattering of affection, this “affable man” had done what a host of experienced highly credentialed predecessors hadn’t.  Sven-Goran Eriksson, Fabio Capello, Steve McClaren and Roy Hodgson had failed “despite more than 80 [matches] between them.”  While the football nation has historical pedigree, and not short of its stellar complement, team efforts have tended to founder when it mattered most, notably during the psychological wear-and-tear of the penalty shootout.  Southgate’s skill has been to temper expectations and the hysterical overconfidence that has accompanied previous World Cups.

The tournament has also thrown up a dilemma for managers: How best to incorporate the hero of the side, the glorious figure who shines in a team of lesser mortals who await for the powder to be lit, the flames to be stoked?  Teams studded with Neymar, Messi and Ronaldo may be Olympian on the field, but team value and effect is something else, material drawn from the machinery of collective spirit and mutual encouragement.

Truism as it is, teams, well functioning, telepathically linked and good of understanding, win matches.  Caesars deft of foot and brimming with talent are less significant, even if they are capable of landing killer blows.  “When you have somebody who can turn the game in a flash,” asks Kris Voakes, “do you select them at all costs regardless of their fitness in the hope that they supply that moment of genius?”  France, the sole giant and finalist in this competition, has no such dilemma, a team bristling with talent but compact in purpose.

May 14th: Just Another Day in a Collapsing Empire

May 14th was quite a day for the empire, the shit show on full display exhibiting lots of swagger in its death throes. The people on the inside are the last to know. They don’t see it but everyone else does. The rest of the world can see the toxic death culture, they see the rationalizations for idiocy and how silly they seem. The US empire has no clothes but wears only a paper thin emotional veneer resembling a child who attempts to lie for the first time after murdering the family dog. This is the modern American mind of empire. Delusional and full of contrived pablum to excuse their wretched actions. Trump is truly the perfect man to represent this country, its true face. A huckster, a gangster, and a liar that says one thing and does the opposite. The actions and the results before us are the real values of empire and not their diseased words, which are devoid of truth.

On May 14th the empire’s best friend Israel continued to show its reverence for death while inhumanely shooting protestors on the Gaza strip. 58 lives lost and 2,700 injured are the current stats, horrors playing out that we’ll never be able to wrap our minds around, but tomorrow Palestinians will wake up and know a life that has more suffering than the day before. Many of the injured will look forward to death knowing the Israeli government lacks all basic compassion for fellow humans and the wounded know the path ahead will contain even more hardship. The implications of Israeli actions won’t make headlines for long in the US, and the externalities we’ll never see directly tied to this story will cause sadness and turmoil they will struggle to fight past for years – if Israel lets them live that long. We humans are more fragile than what is put onto our TV screens. Characters undergo one torturous event after another with little repercussions, but in reality our emotions break, especially when all community has been stripped out from under us, especially when people we love are killed or maimed for no good reason.

Six who died were under the age of 18. Does the US care? Nope, they’d sooner blame Palestinians for putting kids in the line of fire of Israeli soldiers than take responsibility for supporting a regime who sadistically fires openly into crowds of unarmed people. The corporate media have short memories, convenient memories. We forget how upset we were at the Syrian gas attack that may have claimed 40 lives and later the incident was filled with controversy over if Assad was actually responsible, I do not know the truth about this but I smell bullshit from somewhere, regardless of my bullshit sniffing abilities that number is less than the 58 killed at the protests on May the 14th. And there will be not a chirp, a squawk, a snort, or whinny of angst directed towards Israel for these actions by our overlords. In fact, quite the opposite.

The ignoble Jared Kushner said at the embassy opening that “Those provoking violence are part of the problem and not part of the solution.” referring to protestors who don’t have guns, didn’t wound one Israeli soldier, they don’t have an air force, tanks, humvees, an organized military, or any of the implements of destruction Israel does, yet Palestinians are somehow provoking violence to such an extent the bully state had to slaughter them? Ok Jared, fuck you. There is no respect for life, zero empathy, and not the smallest hint of a lingering humanity remaining in the logic of the state.

The US operates in a good ole boy league where the fellow goombahs get an automatic pass, they are made men, with made nations, they do as they please. So it would also please them on the day of May 14th to move the US embassy to Jerusalem as nothing more than a provocation to invite targets out for the racist Israeli state to gun down. The ostensible provocateurs are a battered people who are being violently edged off this planet for reasons of insanity from a bully regime and their bully death culture. The provoked are a people crying out for someone in the world to stand up to this machine. Provoked to the point they want the world to witness what those in power will do to people who are of no legitimate threat; To show how vicious and small in character those who wield power are, to show how profound their lack of wisdom. Palestinians are no more of a threat to Israel than an ant is to an elephant, yet this particular raging elephant’s sense of entitled justice is to seek out the ant population and stamp it out of existence, then boast as if they were doing a great service.

In other news occurring on the day of May 14th 2018, the supreme court of American shysterism decided to give states the power to legalize gambling. With the current predicament of the world and the myriad of issues I quite frankly get tired of speaking to…the warring, the species extinction this, the climate change that, the wealth inequal…..well, you get the point. Any logical mind might say that we shouldn’t take time to further line the pockets of the wealthy by allowing them to own these new con games. Also, it might seem a tad exploitative to further entice the poor to desperately gamble away their rapidly diminishing savings before addressing those much larger issues, but all dissent will go unheard because there’s money to be made, boys, so instead we’ll hear people say some ridiculous drivel about how this is good for economic growth, and we’ll continue to live by the obvious lies of supply side economics.

And of all the issues in the world to address, of all the ideas in dire need of review, the US government’s highest court chooses to address sports gambling and rules in favor of empowering an industry that has been synonymous with organized crime even in areas it’s legalized. From gangster Bugsy Segal who famously had a role in creating the Las Vegas strip, to Sheldon Adelson who was said to have ties to Chinese mafia, and, of course, like flies attracted to shit Donald Trump comes buzzing around the casino business with plenty of allegations mafia associations, of course, his most verifiable organized crime association being the US government itself.

Legalizing sports betting is an apropos move for an empire doing all it can to emulate the Biff Tannen universe that was widely referenced at the start of the Trump presidency. Sports are already a severely overemphasized part of American culture. The athletes are receiving salaries that rival that of some of the most abusive CEOs, but the US populace worships them, they make excuses for the rampant greed out of addictive impulse. Many of these dollars athletes and billionaire owners earn are subsidized from lower class taxpayers where they are forced to pay for stadiums and surrounding infrastructure owned by the billionaires, just so we can watch athletes whose top salaries are quickly approaching 40 million a year play for meaningless things that will quickly be forgotten in time.

The narrative from states and business interests looking to profiteer off gambling will put on their best act to pretend like the abusive capitalist activity of gambling is some form of freedom, and the narrative of Israeli slaughter of Palestinians is that peaceful protestors are a threat to a heavily armed military, and the narrative from corporate media will be that these are just things happening and not signs of empire collapsing amid the ever growing misery of a global population. And the narrative of the people in the empire who are lonely, sad, and separated from connection will tell themselves that democracy and capitalism will somehow purify to the point that they’ll really deliver on the goods this time around. That surely this twisted form of democracy installed by genocidal slavers will avert disaster in the coming elections. The idea is we wait in futility for events that have no chance of curving the murderous gangsterism inset in this disposable dung heap of a society; I don’t mean to insult dung, lots of good things grow out of dung, nothing good grows out of this disease. It must be transformed at a deep level to be fertile space again, and if we are to heal the disease we cannot continue to sow the lies of false narratives.

Kevin Love: Making a Hole in Denial

For behind the sense of insecurity in the face of danger, behind the sense of discouragement and depression, there always lurks the basic fear of death, a fear which undergoes most complex elaborations and manifests itself in many indirect ways….No one is free of the fear of death.
— Gregory Zilboorg, psychanalyst, as quoted in The Denial of Death, Ernest Becker

An anxiety is a lack that causes pain; a game is a lack that causes pleasure.
— John Fowles, writer, The Aristos

What we play is life.
— Louis Amstrong

In his moving essay revealing his existential anxiety and panic attack, NBA star Kevin Love has touched a nerve that underlies not just sports and male experience, but life itself.  He is right to say, “This is an everyone thing.”  In doing so, he has performed a public service far beyond getting men and boys to open up about their fears and feelings.  He has, as befits his surname, opened many people to a consideration of the marriage of love and death, and why all efforts to divorce them result in the diminishment of life’s passion and intensity.

Commenting on the unavoidable but often denied link between love and death, the important American psychologist Rollo May said this in Love and Will:

To love means to open ourselves to the negative as well as the positive – to grief, sorrow and disappointment as well as to joy, fulfillment, and an intensity of consciousness we did not know was possible before.

So it is fitting that in telling us of his conversations with a therapist, the one personal experience Kevin tells us about is the death of his Grandma Carol, who meant so much to him and was like another parent when he was growing up.  Busy with his basketball career, he didn’t see her when she was dying.  “I felt terrible that I hadn’t been in better touch with her in her last years,” he writes.  Deeply pained at losing her and guilty about his behavior, he shared this with no one, bottling it up as he had learned since boyhood (Be strong, be a man), and like the athlete that he is, perhaps thought that if he did not dwell on this loss, the next game would be a win and he could somehow move on.  But this never works for long, as Love learned when panic burst into his consciousness and took him down during a game last November.  “It came out of nowhere,” he says, having learned, however, that nowhere is somewhere, even when a surprise.

Substitute sportswriter for athlete, as Richard Ford does in his dazzling novel, The Sportswriter, whose main character Frank Bascombe, a sportswriter haunted by the death of his young son from Reye’s syndrome but trying to lose himself in the ordinariness of sports-writing, says, “Since after all, it is one thing to write sports, but another thing entirely to live a life,” and we have Love’s cautionary tale.

For sports (shopping for women) is the perfect metaphor for the modern American male’s flight from authenticity.  As the etymology of the word sport attests (from old French, desporter to divert, literally “to carry away”), sports are a diversion from something.  Let’s call it “real life,” the place from where, as Ernest Hemingway so aptly put it in the title to his short story, “The Winner Takes Nothing.”  Trophies are handed out at post-season dinners, but as the American philosopher William James said, “The skull will grin in at the banquet.”

Although sports can inspire one to think deeply, for most people, athletes and spectators alike, sports are a diversion from existential matters involving relationships, fears, deep feelings, life’s meaning, love and loss, death, etc.  While surely fun, entertaining, and lucrative for professionals, sports are also absurd since they involve movements through time and space toward unnecessary and fictitious goals where someone wins (lives) and someone losses (dies) in a game of unreality.   In sports we play to overcome artificial and superfluous obstacles for fun and money – and for deeper reasons we may not realize.

Take golf, for example (my apologies to golfers).  Why does anyone care who can hit a little white ball with a stick in the fewest strokes down stretches of green grass into a hole in the ground?  Many do.  They spend enormous amounts of time and money trekking after those little white balls.  They care primarily because it’s fun, and fun is good.  Such fun is utterly meaningless in the larger scheme of things, but many find it relaxing from the “stress” of everyday life – a relaxing distraction.  And, of course, distractions can be good in moderation.  It is not sports that are the problem, but the obsession with them.

I knew a woman who felt her husband was overly obsessed with sports, and although she was wrong, she used to say to him, “With you it’s balls, balls, balls.”  To which he would respond, also erroneously, “And with you it’s malls, malls, malls.” But their humorous exchange catches a widespread truth about men and women in American society where there are plenty of obsessively distracted people of both sexes.

Sports only matter because they don’t.  And it is in that gap between mattering and not where panic, anxiety, and depression can appear “out of nowhere.”  Another athlete, the Nobel Prize winning French author Albert Camus, a soccer goalie in his youth and a lifelong fan, phrased this experience differently when he said, “At any street corner the feeling of absurdity can strike any man in the face.”

Athletes ride intense emotional roller coasters.  You win, you lose, you’re up, you’re down – like “real life,” just faster and with a much quicker turn-around time.  While Kevin is right to say that “everyone is going through something that we can’t see,” athletes live at a different pace and intensity, and the resulting highs bring deep lows as well.  One day you’re dead; the next day you are resurrected, as long as there is another game or season.  Some days you are in purgatory and wonder if all the aches and pains you endure are worth the cost.

This is true for the spectators also, absent the physical pains. Many fans are fanatics for a reason. The intensity of sports, its unpredictability, its “never over till its over” drama makes it the perfect distraction from more important matters.  It has an extraordinary power to energize and deflate, but all in a land of make-believe that often blinds its devotees from trying to understand “something that we can’t see” in their own lives.

But a fan’s life can last until actual death, while an athlete has a limited amount of time to perform. One day when your playing days are over your confrontation with “reality” happens, either consciously or out of the blue.  For many former athletes, men particularly, because women have come late to the games, the rest of their lives are lived in a desperate reliving of the past among “the fraternity of missing men,” as Don DeLillo says in his incredible novel, Underworld.  It is a place where “desperation” speaks.

A few years ago there was a short Grantland documentary, “The Finish Line,” about Steve Nash.  An uncanny player, Nash was battling injuries and age, and the documentary shows him pondering whether or not to retire or continue his rehabilitation and attempt a comeback.  In the opening scene Nash goes out with his dog into the shadowy pre-dawn where he muses on his dilemma.  His words are hypnotic.  “I feel,” he said, “that there’s something that I can’t quite put my finger on that – I don’t know – I feel that it’s blocking me  or I can see it out of the corner of my mind’s eye, or it’s like this dark presence…. is it the truth that I’m done?”

Hobbled by a nerve injury that severely limited his movement, he played a few more games and retired within a year.  He had brought an infectious joy to his playing, but he left without fulfilling his dream of winning an NBA championship.  Of his retirement he said, “It’s bittersweet.  I already miss the game deeply, but I’m also really excited to learn to do something else.”  Unlike many athletes, Nash was moving on; his “dark presence” wasn’t a final death but a step on the road to a hard rebirth.  It was a Dylanesque restless farewell: “And though the line is cut/It ain’t quite the end/I‘ll just bid farewell till we meet again.”

I think it safe to say that behind every panic attack, at the deepest level, lies what William James called “the worm at the core,” by which he meant death, the fear of it, the anxiety it engenders that rumbles beneath the placid surface of everyday life and breaks the surface here and there when least expected.  Sometimes it happens during “little deaths,” what the French call La petite mort in reference to the sensation of sexual orgasm, but which happen throughout life in so many guises such as losing a game, missing a shot, or failing an exam.  It can happen anywhere and any time, even in moments of great success, such as hoisting a trophy above one’s head after being named the Most Valuable Player.

A few years ago my friends and I were playing in basketball tournaments for men over fifty and we qualified for the Senior Olympics at the University of Pittsburgh.  We acquired a sponsor, a local funeral home that made warm-up jerseys for us.  Being used to dealing with bodies at rest, these comedians knew we were a bunch of aging hoopsters intent on keeping our bodies in motion for as long as we could.  So they had shirts made with that up-beat and adolescent cliché printed on the front, “Basketball is Life.”  Lest we forgot, and being in the trade of taking bodies at rest to the underworld, on the back they had printed “Leave the Rest to Us: Flynn and Dagnoli Funeral Home.”

Kevin Love’s essay, “Everybody Is Going Through Something” is like that shirt.  He reminds us that at the back of everyone’s face there are matters that deserve scrutiny even when we can’t see back there.

He deserves a Most Valuable Person award for making a hole in a denial that is an “everyone thing.”

Did the CIA Sabotage Russia at the Olympics?

There is something very fishy about the Anti Doping Rule Violations (ADRVs) pinned on the Russian curler and Russian bobsledder during the final week of the Peyongchang Winter Olympics.

It makes no logical sense that an athlete would do a one-time consumption of a chemical that is of no value in circumstances where it is almost certain to be detected with huge negative consequences.

That is precisely the situation. The Russian Mixed Curling bronze medal winner, Alexander Krushelnitsky, had to give up his medal, plus that of his partner wife, because traces of meldonium were found in his urine sample. He had previously tested clean. Meldonium is a medication which helps keep the heart healthy by increasing blood flow. That would be of no benefit in a sport like curling which requires accuracy, strategy and focus but is not taxing physically. The “sweeping” to help guide the rock down the ice lasts only 20 seconds or less. International curlers were astounded at the news and bemused at the idea of performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) for curling. The skip of the Danish curling team said: ”I think most people will laugh and ask, ‘what could you possibly need doping for?”

Krushelnitsky strongly denies taking banned drugs. “I am categorically opposed to doping …. never, at any time that I have been involved in sport, have I ever used prohibited substances”.

Similar curious circumstances apply in the second ADRV.  Russian bobsledder Nadezhda Sergeeva had numerous negative (clean) tests before she was tested positive for banned trimetazidine.  Bobsledding is another sport which requires physical and mental skill but not physical endurance.

In the February 25 IOC meeting to close the Peyongchang Winter Games, the head of the IOC Implementation Group, Nicole Hoevertz, said the Russian athletes had been tested “more than any other athletes”. She and her group were convinced that the 168 member Russian athletic team was clean. At about 82:00 in the video, she says the two Russian doping violations were “so peculiar.” She introduced the Director of the IOC Medical and Scientific Commission, Dr. Bludgett, to provide more detail. He suggested that meldonium would not be of benefit in curling. He then went further and suggested the ADRV regarding trimetazidine may be in error.  He said trimetazidine “is a substance where there is a parent compound which is a common headache migraine treatment available particularly in China and Japan and if that is found then it is not considered an ADRV. And if there is a very low level, as there was in this case, that is a possibility.”

Sergeeva denies ever taking banned drugs and even went on social media with a T-shirt declaring her commitment to clean sport.

In summary, it seems highly unlikely that two different Russian athletes would intentionally take medications that have no benefit but which are almost guaranteed to be detected resulting in huge harm to them and their team.

Who Benefits?

Another possibility is that meldonium or trimetazidine powder was surreptitiously put in the food of the athletes. This one time consumption would cause a positive test.

In fact, there are forces on the international scene who are pleased that Russia has been battling defamation and charges of “state sponsored doping” for the past two years. They want the current denigration and punishments of Russia to continue, perhaps influencing Russia’s upcoming national election and undermining Russia’s hosting of the Football World Cup this summer.

One such group is the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The CIA has a long history of big and small criminal deeds. Presumably it would not be difficult for them to infiltrate Olympic facilities or bribe a corrupt individual to put traces of meldonium or another powder in someone’s food or drink.

Those who quickly dismiss this possibility probably also thought that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction in 2002. That was a false claim supported by evidence fabricated by the CIA.

It is well documented the CIA carries out murders, coups and major sabotage. The CIA has documented some of their methods in “The Official CIA Manual of Trickery and Deception“. They don’t just carry out assassinations and coups. In the book “In Search of Enemies”, former CIA officer John Stockwell documented how the CIA created a false story about Cuban soldiers raping Angolan women to defame Cuba.

Corrupt police forces sometimes plant evidence on a suspect they wish to convict. It would be essentially the same thing to get a Russian athlete to ingest spiked food or beverage. The CIA has motive and expressed intent:

(a) In contrast with Russian leaders who call the US a “partner”, US officials increasingly call Russia an “adversary”. The latest US National Security Strategy explicitly says they intend to respond to Russia as an adversary: “The United States will respond to the growing political, economic and military competitions we face around the world. China and Russia challenge American power, influence, and interests, attempting to erode American security and prosperity.”

(b) Despite the lack of clear evidence, there is widespread belief that Russia “meddled” in the US election. The anti-Russia sentiment has been fanned into the exaggerated claim that the unproven Russian action was “an act of war, an act of hybrid warfare“.

(c) Neoconservative forces openly talk about “punishing” Russia. The former Deputy Director of the CIA, Michael Morrell, said: “We need to make the Russians pay a price”. He confirmed on public television that means killing Russians (and Iranians) in Syria. This is the 33 year veteran CIA leader who publicly campaigned for Hillary Clinton.

Did the CIA plant the doping evidence? We don’t know for certain but it should not be dismissed out of hand. The CIA has the means, opportunity and above all the motive to falsely implicate Russians in new doping cases with the goal of preventing Russia from getting beyond the international sporting sanctions and punishments.  They have done vastly more deceitful, manipulative, and outrageous things than this.

Media Bias

Unfortunately, western media will not investigate this possibility. Western media cannot even accurately report on events like the IOC meeting yesterday. The fact that the head of the IOC Implementation Group warmly praised the Russian participation at the Peyongchang Olympics is not mentioned in western media. The fact that Dr. Bludgett raised questions about the accuracy of the ADRVs against Russia is not mentioned in reports from NY Times, the UK Guardian or Inside the Games. Instead, the writer at Inside the Games once again exaggerated the voice of critics of Russia as he downplayed the voices of international athletes who want to put the doping scandal behind and move forward.

Western media have reported deceptively that the Russian athletes have “admitted” to the violations. In fact, both Russian athletes strongly deny taking banned drugs.

Western media bias is also shown in the focus on alleged Russian doping and minimization or ignoring of other possible violations. For example, the story about the Norwegian cross-country ski team and their use of banned asthmatic medications. They get around the restrictions by having their doctor claim that most of their athletes are asthmatic. This situation is a result of the inconsistent rules and regulations. A Therapeutic Use Exemption (TUE)  can be given to any athlete designated by a doctor and in secrecy. They are not required to publicly disclose this, giving incentive to corruption and misuse.

Richard McLaren’s Bias

The World Anti Doping Agency (WADA) has also been biased. Over one year ago, their investigator Richard McLaren claimed “over one thousand Russian athletes benefited” from the alleged Russian conspiracy to cheat the anti-doping system. McLaren said the proof would be provided to the various sport federations. In September 2017 it was revealed that charges had been filed against 96 athletes. Of these, WADA cleared 95 athletes of wrongdoing; only one athlete was proven to be in violation. More recently, the Court of Arbitration in Sport completely overturned the bans on 28 Russian athletes. In summary, it appears that McLaren’s accusation about “over one thousand athletes benefiting” was a huge exaggeration or fabrication.

Where Do Things Go From Here?

The IOC Executive Board has indicated they intend to lift the suspension of the Russian Olympic Committee if no more “anti doping rule violations” are found in the last batch of athlete samples from the Peyongchang Olympics. The results are expected in a few days.

Another ADRV may appear. If so, that will greatly complicate the effort to reintegrate Russian athletics. Even if the final tests are all clean, those who oppose Russia will continue trying to delay or prevent the full integration of Russia within the world sporting Community.

The former Moscow Laboratory Director Grigory Rodchenkov is the primary weapon in the campaign accusing Russia of “state sponsored doping”. “Icarus” is a movie about him which has received huge funding and promotion. It is nominated for an an Oscar Academy award. This will serve the campaign well.

The Russians have been accused of trying to murder Rodchenkov  But if he suddenly dies one day, it is more likely to be by the CIA.  At this point, Rodchenkov has done all the damage he can to Russian sports. The only thing he could possibly do is to recant or fall apart. His handlers have prevented him from appearing before the various committees looking into the accusations. At this point, Rodchenkov could be more valuable dead than alive. His death would be a powerful weapon to disrupt the normalization of relations with Russia.

In conclusion, going back to the Peyonchang Olympics, there should be caution before assuming the guilt of the Russian athletes who received ADRVs. It makes no sense that two Russian athletes would take useless medications knowing they will be tested and found out.

The doping incident serves the interests of those in the West who seek more not less conflict and seek to weaken Russia through “hybrid” warfare. It is possible the CIA has a hand in the latest incidents, just as they have a hand in Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov. They have the means, opportunity and motive. They have the experience and history.

If this is true, it’s another example of the dangerous descent in international relations. The Olympics movement has the goal of fostering peaceful relations. The sad truth is there are forces who want to prevent that. They prefer to demonize and divide in a quest for economic and geopolitical supremacy over “adversaries”. International sports is just another arena for them.

Who is burying the Olympic Movement and Why?

By the time the 2018 Winter Olympic Games opened in PyeongChang last week, the masterminds behind the so-called Russian doping scandal had finally lost their control of the narrative, causing irreparable damage to the Olympic movement and to sports in general.  The politically motivated actions of a tiny group of functionaries in the sports industry have discredited the very concept of the purity of athletics and have resulted in a sharp drop in the world’s interest in the Games in PyeongChang.  This is evident in the disastrous attendance figures (a month before the competitions began only 60% of the tickets had been sold, and the most popular events, hockey and figure skating, had the highest number of unclaimed seats) and could also be seen in the significant drop in the IOC’s ad revenues.

The reason for this downward spiral is obvious, when some athletes are discriminated against based on their nationality while others run mad with impunity, this not only ruins the element of suspense in the competitions, it also kills off spectator interest and advertising contracts.

*****

Let’s take a quick look back at the time line of events.  After the Russian Olympians’ stunning victories in 2014, which did much to spur the success of the “Russian Spring in Crimea” three weeks after the closing ceremonies in Sochi, influential Western players began investing serious money into hyping the scandal over the so-called “Russian doping file.”  

Back in December 2014, Germany’s ARD television channel produced a documentary featuring Russian track and field athlete Yuliya Stepanova and her husband, Vitaly Stepanov, a former employee of the Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA), in which they “exposed” the system of doping in Russia.  The fact that one year previously Stepanova had been disqualified in Russia, losing her eligibility for two years for doping, and that her violations had only been revealed after her husband left RUSADA in 2011, had somehow escaped the attention of the documentary’s creator Hajo Seppelt (for more information on the first round of efforts to promote the doping scandal, see our July 2016 article, “The Olympics as a Tool of the New Cold War”).

A month later WADA established a commission to investigate the alleged use of doping in Russian track and field athletics.  It consisted of three people: the chairman and first president of WADA, Richard Pound (Canada), a law professor from the University of Western Ontario, Richard McLaren (Canada), and a former criminal investigator at Interpol, Günter Younger (Germany). On November 9, 2015, this commission published a report that included accusations against RUSADA.  The report also stated that in December 2014, the director of the Moscow Anti-Doping Laboratory, Grigory Rodchenkov, had ordered the destruction of more than 1,400 athlete doping tests, three days before a WADA audit team was to arrive in Russia.  On November 10, 2015 Rodchenkov resigned from his position and in January 2016 he emigrated to the US (for more details on this individual’s background, please see the article mentioned above, “The Olympics as a Tool of the New Cold War”).

Richard Pound

On May 12, 2016 the New York Times published a media bomb based on information provided by Rodchenkov.  It alleged that a special “doping program” was developed in Russia before the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, involving several dozen athletes, and its “specialty” supposedly consisted of anabolic steroids that were washed down with alcohol (!).  Then, in order to verify these borderline-bizarre allegations, WADA, at the IOC’s request, established yet another commission, this one headed by McLaren, which in July 2016, just a few weeks before the start of the Olympic Games in Rio, released the first (apparently urgent) section of its report that made the unsupported claim that the doping program in the world of Russian sports had the backing of the Ministry of Sports, the Sports Training Center for Russian Teams, and the Russian Federal Security Service.  On the basis of this “document,” which was never subsequently deemed convincing by any judicial authority, practically all Russian track and field athletes, as well as several competitors from other events, were banned from the Games in Rio.  

In November 2016 a new legislation took effect in Russia making it a criminal offense, with a punishment ranging from a fine to 3-5 years imprisonment, to induce an athlete to use doping drugs.

On December 9, 2016 the second part of the McLaren commission’s report was released.  It claimed that the samples taken from 12 of the Russian medal winners at the 2014 Winter Olympics had been doctored.  It also stated that more than a thousand athletes might have been involved in or benefited from manipulations to conceal positive doping tests.  On the basis of this report, the IOC decided to strip the Russian national team of 13 of its medals won at the 2014 Winter Olympics.  But on February 1, 2018, the CAS (Court of Arbitration for Sport) issued its own verdict, restoring the rights of 28 of the 42 Russian Winter Olympians affected by the IOC’s actions, including all of those who had lost their medals, and this fact would seem to put into question the legality and validity, at the very least, of McLaren’s report, based on the following statement found in that verdict:

In 28 cases, the evidence collected was found to be insufficient to establish that an anti-doping rule violation was committed by the athletes concerned.

Decisions about what to do with the remaining athletes were either postponed because it was no longer a pressing matter (the athlete in question had already retired) or else the plaintiffs’ appeals were partially upheld.  The lifetime ban on participation in the Olympic Games was lifted from all the applicants.

Despite the fact that the court blocked the IOC’s arbitrary decision to strip the Russian athletes of the medals they had won in Sochi, there was not time to challenge another egregious verdict: suspending the Russian Olympic Committee’s membership in the IOC and forcing the Russian team to compete in PyeongChang under a neutral Olympic flag.

Before we try to get the lowdown on this story, we must emphasize once again: both of these “investigative commissions” were established in the immediate aftermath of the made-to-order and in many respects fake news reports in the Western media about “doping in Russia.”  The biggest tipoff that they were fake was the fact that the main protagonists of this “investigative journalism” were individuals who had been justifiably punished or prosecuted in Russia for either using doping drugs or inducing others to use them, and under pressure from their media patron, those individuals extrapolated from their own sad experiences in front of the cameras to condemn the entire Russian sports community.  The hack jobs by Hajo Seppelt and the New York Times on the subject of Russian doping are examples of fake news in its purest form.

Richard McLaren

*****

So, to all appearances, shortly after Russia’s triumphant performance at the Sochi Olympics, a small group of predominantly Anglo-Saxon sports functionaries made the decision (at present it’s hard to say whether they did so independently or at the behest of someone higher up) to ensure that there would be no more unpleasant surprises in the future.  They hired several professionals, the most publicly visible of whom were Richard McLaren and Hajo Seppelt, to help out with the media on their project and lend it an air of expertise (proof that McLaren is in no way an “independent lawyer” can be seen in his outraged reaction to the February CAS decision).

Hajo Seppelt

In addition to the challenging task of discrediting Russian athletics in the international media, these individuals had to conduct a backstage war with the International Olympic Committee at the same time.  Far from everyone in the IOC’s leadership was delighted at the prospect of the nascent scandal and the serious damage to the Olympic movement that was being broadly predicted three years ago.  This is quite evident from the copies of the email correspondence (seemingly quite genuine) between IOC officials in regard to the doping scandal that have recently appeared on the Internet.

Without question the most illustrative example of these was the exchange of harshly worded letters between McLaren and the Director General of the IOC, Christophe de Kepper, which took place in March 2017. They were prompted by de Kepper’s February 24, 2017 memo that was circulated to the members of the IOC Executive Board, the National Olympic Committees, and international sports federations, which contained criticism of McLaren.  In particular, it noted that “the work of the Oswald Commission and of the IFs is not easy,” as McLaren’s mandate “did not involve any authority to bring Anti-Doping Rule Violation (‘ADRV’) cases against individual athletes.”  In regard to accusations that a “state doping system” exists in Russia, de Kepper stated with bewilderment that in his reports McLaren could not even stick to a consistent terminology: in some places he speaks of a “state sponsored system” whilst in the final full report he described an “institutional conspiracy.”  The main problem, as de Kepper acknowledges, is the lack of sufficient evidence to back up the accusations against the Russian athletes:

The establishment of acceptable evidence is a significant challenge, as some IFs have already experienced; where in some cases they have had to lift provisional suspensions or were not able – at least at this stage – to begin disciplinary procedures due to a lack of consistent evidence.

As can be seen both from the text of the memo and in other publicly available confidential IOC documents (for example, a stunningly open list of questions for Prof. McLaren, dated December 19, 2016 and drafted by the IOC Disciplinary Commission chaired by Samuel Schmid after examining his final report), in the first days after the report’s publication, the IOC and international federations were faced with the difficulty of digging up any shreds of evidence backing McLaren’s allegations.  Questions have even been raised in regard to the accuracy of the translation of the materials found in the report (apparently translated from Russian):

At the recent meeting (21 February) held by WADA in Lausanne to “provide assistance to IFs regarding how to analyse and interpret the evidence”, it was admitted by WADA that in many cases the evidence provided may not be sufficient to bring successful cases. IFs were told by WADA to make direct contact with the IP team to try to obtain further information. WADA also explained that the translations used by the IP team were not adequate and was obtaining official translations of some of the texts.

International sports officials had a foreboding even back then that they could expect a real grilling once matters made it to the courts and arbitration tribunals:

It is already evident from the appeals filed against some International Federations provisional suspension decisions that the IOC decision will have to stand up to a strong legal challenge.

It is also interesting that in his memo de Kepper makes it clear that WADA’s flawed and one-sided efforts were much to blame for the scandal over “Russian doping”:

The IOC is also pursuing the reform of the WADA system… We are driving forward to establish an independent testing authority – independent from sports organisations and from national interests… Sanctioning should be delegated to the CAS as the IOC successfully did at the Olympic Games Rio 2016… The IOC has made proposals for more accountability, transparency and diversity [of WADA].

The Belgian lawyer and IOC Director General Christophe De Kapper was one of the few officers inside the Committee who tried to follow the rule of law during the “doping scandal”.

You are unlikely to have read Prof. McLaren’s March 2, 2017 response to this memo.  But it’s quite interesting and a few passages from it deserve to be quoted here.

First of all, the professor expresses his intense dissatisfaction with the fact that he was not informed in advance about the drafting of the memo and also that the issues in dispute were never discussed with him:

It would have been helpful if you had spoken to me in advance so that I could have addressed the various issues you raise in relation to my Report.

Second, he tries to argue that he had never been tasked with searching for evidence of doping by any specific Russian athlete:

It was not my mandate to bring violations against individual athletes. I am concerned that the IOC seems to be on a quest to re-define my mandate by attempting to establish that my Reports are inadequate for a purpose for which they were never intended.

In regard to the confusion about the terminology (“state sponsored system”), McLaren acknowledges that the fantasies of those who fabricated information for him about “Russian doping programs” did not rise higher than the ministerial level (“My evidence stopped at the Ministry of Sport”).

Finally, as for the inaccuracies in the translations, it turns out that he had no intention of making those official:

The translations into English by my team… were never intended to be ‘official’. They were provided on the Evidence Disclosure Package (EDP) to assist users and not to certify the translation for some legal purpose.

Incidentally, in later comments with respect to the last passage, de Kepper’s office quite sensibly remarked:

It should be pointed out that the IOC as well as (and maybe even more so) the IFs are being asked to take some very tough decisions, with serious legal and non-legal consequences, on the basis of the Report(s).

In general, de Kepper’s team’s reaction to Prof. McLaren’s letter and their stiff response indicate that the IOC had a pretty accurate picture of both the motives driving the Canadian lawyer as well as the mandate assigned to him:

It seems that Robert (sic) McLaren’s first Report was intended to lead to the complete expulsion of the Russian team from the Rio Games, and the second – to expulse the Russian team from Pyeongchang Games, but not to deal with athletes on an individual basis. Perhaps McLaren and WADA should have thought this through in more detail prior to the Reports being made public – in particular, to themselves to have had the courtesy to discuss this matter of principle with the IOC in further detail, before WADA went down the path of using the (first) Report to try to have the Russian team excluded from the Rio Games, rather than McLaren and WADA considering to go down the path that the IOC intended to take, namely, to deal with the individual athletes on a case-by-case basis. This put the IOC and the IFs, and the Olympic movement in general, in a very difficult position.

It should be noted that the insiders at the IOC Executive Board peppered their letter from McLaren with comments that indicate that the Canadian professor is lying at every turn:

As a result, de Kepper’s response has some harsh things to say about McLaren’s claims that he supposedly always cleared his reports with the IOC in advance:

I am sorry to inform you that this has simply not been the case. We made multiple requests to be allowed to have advanced view of your documents with the promise of total confidentiality ahead of publication but sadly this was never forthcoming. Indeed, in the case of the first interim report you even told us that “this content does not primarily concern you.”

De Kepper even twice transparently drops hints to McLaren, implying that the latter, in his role as a professional lawyer, must, after all, easily be able to see for himself how decisions that will inevitably face a strong legal challenge must be drafted:

As a senior and respected international lawyer, you will certainly appreciate that the process of gathering credible evidence against individuals, sufficiently robust to ensure convictions in a manner which justice is done and seen to be done, is a long and detailed process. It was for this reason that it was felt necessary and important to send a communication to the Olympic Movement on the work by the two IOC Commissions to explain the process and describe the work that was being done. Indeed, it was the very fact that your mandate did not extend to individual cases that impelled us to explain to our stakeholders the process that is underway to complete this work.

This may well be the case – but as a law professor I hope you will agree that this is another instance where the standard of evidence we will need to successfully prosecute cases is higher than the evidence you have provided.

In general, de Kepper’s letter in many places deserves to be quoted verbatim:

As for the matter of you changing your description of the affair from a ‘State sponsored’ system to an “institutional conspiracy” this does seem to mark a change in attitude on your part. However, whatever your final conclusions, whilst your report does indeed uncover a conspiracy there is precious little evidence as to who would be involved in such a conspiracy. Would this again be a case that ‘goes beyond your mandate” or would you be able to indicate and provide evidence of who exactly may have been involved in this conspiracy. At present you have left us with good evidence that a crime has been committed but little evidence of those who were responsible.

Let us both agree that cooperation has not always been what it should have been between the IP team [Independent Person – a sleek euphemism, used by Prof. McLaren to indicate himself in his reports – OR] and the Olympic Movement. You have brought to our attention the limits of your mandate. However, please note that, in view of these limits, the IOC and, in particular, the IFs have ended up bearing a huge and very difficult burden in trying to convert the material/information referred to in your Report into Anti-Doping Rule Violations against individual athletes. A further problem was created by your Report (and the previous Report regarding this subject) seemingly being used to try and justify a total ban of the complete Russian Olympic team from the Rio Games and the Pyeongchang Games when, in fact, the IOC and the IFs are/were simply not of the view that a collective punishment should be, or should have been, imposed upon all Russian athletes [all emphasizes done by OR].

It is clear that such cooperation [between the IOC and IP team – OR] is now needed if we are to do our job and to turn your general conclusions about an ‘institutional conspiracy’ into concrete findings against individuals and organizations and also if we are to successfully prosecute individual cases with at least a chance of success at CAS. WADA has said that International Federations need to contact your team directly to receive materials. It would be good to receive your cast iron agreement that your team will offer this full cooperation and allow us to go beyond your mandate and prosecute successful cases against individuals and organizations based on evidence that will stand up in a court of law.

*****

It is interesting that during those same few days when de Kepper was working with his staff to draft the letter answering McLaren, de Kepper was also corresponding with the chief executive officer of the US Olympic Committee, Scott Blackmun.

Scott Blackmun

That correspondence was in reference to the statement from the US Olympic Committee, circulated on March 10, 2017 by the leading global news agencies, that it was preparing some kind of “position paper” in advance of the March 11-12 World Anti-Doping Agency Symposium in Lausanne (Switzerland), which would include American proposals for reforming WADA, specifically stipulating that “there must also be a clearly independent anti-doping body with overriding global authority of those national anti-doping organization (NADO) programs, with the responsibility to test, investigate, and sanction when necessary – ensuring consistency across countries and sports.”  This was undoubtedly an attempt by the US to head off the initiative announced by de Kepper in his February 23 memo about needing reform and better balance from WADA.  De Kepper’s urgent email to Blackmun leaves no doubt that the USOC statement was entirely unexpected for him:

In his reply, Blackmun feigns surprised innocence:

The IOC’s position could not be clearer, based on the following correspondence:

De Kepper:

My point is rather that USOC had an opportunity also to show unity with the rest of the Olympic movement by openly supporting the IOC/OM positions on reforms and in particular the ITA [Independent Testing Authority – OR].

And the essential:

There is however one problematic point and this is a fundamental one. USOC is pleading for WADA to have sanctioning powers and we strongly disagree with this. The same organisation cannot be legislator, police and judge at the same time. Recent history has shown where this can lead even more so if it is a political body with only limited cultural and geographical diversity in its boards.

Christophe

*****

During those same few days (March 11-12, 2017), battles were raging even at the level of the Athlete Commissions (AC) between WADA and the IOC about the future of the anti-doping system.  Judging by mails coming from the same source, at the March 12 WADA AC meeting, an attempt was made to remove that body from the orbit of the IOC, and the meeting apparently became very heated.  The sponsor of the scandalous initiative was WADA’s Director General Olivier Niggli, and it was prompted by WADA’s dissatisfaction with the IOC’s position on the work of the McLaren commission:

Those who want to get a better feel for the nuances of the disputes between WADA and the IOC regarding the work of the world anti-doping agencies can study the draft presentation paper, which the Athlete Commission of the IOC drafted in the wake of Olivier Niggli’s maneuver. In our opinion, the main correction introduced into the text that day was the recommendation that WADA AC be composed with a majority of elected members and that its Chair should sit on the WADA Executive Committee as a full member:


Perhaps sports-industry insiders will be able to glean other interesting nuggets from this document.

Craig Reedie (right), president of the World Anti-Doping Agency, and Olivier Niggli, its director-general

*****

Here is the picture that is emerging based on the material available to us: There is indeed a conspiracy at the heart of the “Russian doping” scandal, but it’s quite a different one than what the global media has so fervidly described so far.  This conspiracy involves WADA bureaucrats and a few national Olympic committees (the USOC is among them for certain), and their goal is to establish complete control over the system of regulating doping in sports, independent of the IOC.  They need that control, on one hand, to prevent any PR damage from the systematic use of doping by Western athletes, and on the other – to acquire some effective leverage in the form of political and propaganda pressure that can be used on any sport nation they think needs to be hog-tied.

Even more condemning conclusions over the doping deadlock the WADA is leading the international top sport into, were articulated by the late honorary member of the IOC Hein Verbruggen in his letter to Thomas Bach on October 13, 2016. If you haven’t read it yet, we strongly recommend to do it now.

A couple of key quotations:

The dramatic events of the last months in anti-doping have made us all think about WADA’s role and responsibilities. I think we have suddenly all realized that this organisation has in fact during 17 years been in the hands of four people: Mr Pound, Mr Howman, Mr Reedie and Mr Niggli. I left out Mr Fahey who unexpectedly was put into the WADA chair without having any experience in anti-doping (which was perhaps convenient for those who wanted to retain the power but definitely not good for WADA).

With all respect for President Reedie, I think nobody familiar with WADA will contest that Mr Pound still has a dominant position within that organization.

The current WADA has to a large extent failed to be a viable and universally trusted and respected anti-doping organization, because – as well as for genuine anti-doping – it has from the beginning (17 years ago) also been used for politics. We all know – but we usually do not dare to say – that there exists a sound anti-IOC and anti-Europe attitude at the level of the WADA leadership. This WADA-leadership (appointed by the IOC, which is the cynical part of the story) usually teams up with a small group of (mainly) Anglo-Saxon NADO’s (USA, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, United Kingdom and Norway/Scandinavia on the sideline) and this has created a division that has allowed the same people to stay at the helm for a way too long period. This “coalition” can also be seen from the composition of the WADA committees (including panels and expert groups)…

We have to face up to the inconvenient fact that many within the Olympic Movement are afraid of criticism by WADA and Mr Pound in the sensitive and mediatic field of anti-doping. This fear explains in my view why Mr Pound and friends do not seem to worry about not being nominated anymore and why they have been able to maintain their WADA positions for 17 years, as if there were no other competent people and good governance would not recommend a change from time to time. But of course Mr Pound sees that fear also and it explains why he feels so strong in his lecturing (and in my opinion: even insulting, see e.g. his “redemption” article) the IOC.

Even recognizing the work that WADA and its leadership have done for the fight against doping, that does not allow to turn a blind eye on what went wrong. This has recently culminated in WADA arrogating a public call on the IOC to impose a last minute ban on all Russian athletes from the 2016 Olympic Games, whereas it was precisely WADA that largely contributed to this very problematic situation by not following up promptly and adequately the information it had received since 2010.

My battle was, and still is, also for what I consider to be WADA’s genuine mission in an effective fight to protect clean sport, and in support of the IOC that has the moral leadership of the fight against doping and was and still is repeatedly chafed by the WADA leadership.

A harsh critic of WADA and honorary member of the IOC Hein Verbruggen (1941-2017)

*****

As we know, despite the desperate struggle for legitimacy in sports, at least by the Director General of the IOC Christophe de Kepper, the International Olympic Committee was eventually forced to yield to the pressure of the international doping lobby.  The question as to what types of leverage were being used in mid and late 2017 might be the topic of a separate investigation.  It is obvious, for example, that McDonalds’ June 2017 decision to terminate its sponsorship contact with the IOC ahead of schedule, after a 40-year partnership, did not happen in a vacuum, but was instead part of a campaign to exert pressure on the IOC leadership.

It is also symptomatic that in January 2018, United States prosecutors issued grand jury subpoenas against the biggest sports organizations, including the International Olympic Committee, on “racketeering, money laundering, and fraud charges related to various elite competitions.”  An additional juicy detail is that the New York Times story on this subject not only came out within mere hours of the CAS’s verdict exonerating the Russian athletes, but also was written by the same Rebecca Ruiz, who in May 2016 was ordered to draft the fake article that triggered McLaren’s “investigation.”