The Olympics start up in a few weeks and there is a very real chance that the entire Russian Olympic team will be banned because of doping allegations. The Track and Field team is already banned from Rio, but with the mounting evidence of a state-sponsored doping program in Russia, the IOC is considering banning the entire Russian delegation.
The allegations are serious. There appears to be substantial evidence that this was not merely the work of a few lone individuals working to circumvent the anti-doping rules, but that this was an orchestrated program involving government officials and agents, including the FSB, and a large number of athletes, coaches, and trainers throughout Russian sport establishment.
An Olympic ban for the entire delegation is also quite serious. Such a move would be unprecedented in the modern history of the games. It would send shockwaves through the Olympic movement and throughout Russia.
The full ban is also quite the moral quandary. It’s a conflict of two important aspects of justice: never harm an innocent and always punish the guilty.
Banning the entire delegation means that many Russian athletes with no involvement in the doping program will not be allowed to compete and fulfill their life’s dream and work. For many, Rio is their only Olympic opportunity. The ban would be inflicting a harm on these innocent athletes.
Allowing the Russian delegation, however, suggests that nations (if they are powerful enough) can get away with bypassing the anti-doping rules with little consequence. If the reports and allegations are true, then a large number of the doping Russian athletes would still be competing in Rio. It seems to allow the guilty to get away with, even profit from, their wrongdoing.
While I can imagine scenarios where collective punishments are the only or all things considered best option, prima facie they are unjust because (1) they minimize individual responsibility and (2) they sweep in innocents and punish the undeserving. In a conflict between harming innocents and letting the guilty go free, it is better to err on the side of letting the guilty go free. The harm done to an innocent person can never fully be repaired or restored. Furthermore, you will likely have an opportunity in the future to get the guilty person.
For this reason, I think it would be wrong for the IOC to flat out ban all Russians from competing in Rio. One compromise position might have been to retest Russian athletes and only allow those who pass the tests to compete. Unfortunately, there probably isn’t time for that. A second compromise position, one more feasible, is to ban any one—coach, athlete, official, etc., implicated in the investigations, but allow the others to compete. This appears to be the current status of things unless the IOC decides to go the route of the collective ban.
The flat out full ban on Russian athletes would harm the athletes and the spectators the most. The athletes might have had little choice in being part of the doping program and the spectators had no role. Moreover, the full ban wouldn’t really hit the government officials and leaders who orchestrated the doping program. A punishment that might, however, would be to pull all major sporting events from Russia. The IOC statement on July 19, 2016 already called for this. If major events, like world championships, qualifying events, or even the World Cup, where pulled from Russia, that would be a significant blow to Russia prestige. Since the whole doping program came into being to increase Russia prestige, this punishment fits the ‘crime’ better. It also wouldn’t harm clean Russian athletes who would still be able to compete in such events.
So after the IOC makes its decision about the Russians in Rio, the pressure will shift to FIFA and the possibility of pulling the World Cup.