Tag Archives: Vladimir Putin

Russia vetoes probe into Malaysian airliner crash

So far as admissions of guilt are concerned, this one ranks with the best of them: Russia, one of the five permanent members of the United Nations’ Security Council, vetoed the idea of creating an investigative tribunal to probe the Malaysian airline flight MH17 catastrophe.

The aircraft was shot down while flying at about 11,000 kilometres above the Donbass region of Ukraine. Most of the evidence available thus far points to Russia’s involvement.

The incident cost the lives of 298 people. Vitaly Churkin, Russia’s Security Council representative, was the only person present to reject the tribunal plan out of hand. He didn’t have to explain anything. Neither do China, France, the United Kingdom and the United States have to explain why they veto any so-called “substantive” Security Council resolution, and the decision which resolution is substantive and which isn’t is theirs, too.

Here are the rules: the permanent members can abstain (not vote, that is), or make themselves scarce while a vote is underway (thus, not vote, again), but these moves haven’t got the effect of a veto. Only a majority vote against it or a veto can stop a Security Council resolution in its tracks.

And only the five permanent members, as established at the creation of the United Nations in 1945, have the right of veto.

Well, nobody has ever said that the United Nations is a democratic body, after all.

Here are the basic facts: 11 of the 15 Security Council members voted for the resolution submitted jointly by Malaysia, Australia, the Netherlands and Ukraine. China, Angola and Venezuela abstained. Russia had been saying all along that the resolution would not pass. Now, it made sure of it.

Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte went so far as to telephone Russia’s president Vladimir Putin, to ask him to reconsider. To no avail.

Why, oh why?

Russia’s official reaction is simple: the tribunal would develop into an instrument of anti-Russian propaganda, and besides, you’d have to find the guilty party (parties) first, and judge them only after you’ve found them.

This has been known for decades as the Andrei Yanuarevich Vyshinsky theory of jurisprudence: once you’re brought before a court, it means you’re guilty.

Presumption of innocence? HUH? The accuser has to prove the accused’s guilt? HUH? The accused is innocent until proven guilty? What the heck are you talking about?

Vyshinsky’s approach worked splendidly during Josef Vissarionovich Stalin’s trials. True, some would later claim the trials were only based on occasional errors but, otherwise, Stalin was right, and so was, by extension, Vyshinsky.

Of course, what Russia’s behaviour caused is known as the boomerang effect. Thus Malaysia’s transportation minister, Liow Tiong Lai: “(This) sends a dangerous message about the impunity perpetrators of this heinous crime can enjoy.”

U.S. Security Council Ambassador, Samantha Power, said Russian veto will only bring more pain to victims’ families. Left unspoken: they would logically link their pain to Russia’s unwillingness to help find the perpetrators.

Russia’s Churkin said establishing a tribunal would have been premature. He said his country has always been prepared to cooperate in a full, independent and objective investigation.

Investigators who had been probing the crash since it happened have looked at the latter statement askance. What they have encountered so far has been anything but Russia’s cooperation.

Basic debate

The Malaysian airliner, en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, came crashing down in the area of Ukraine controlled by pro-Russian separatists last July.

Experts say the plane was brought down by a ground-to-air missile launched in a Russian separatist-controlled area. They said it was a weapon nobody else but the Russian army had in its arsenal at the time.

Russia revealed recently a digital video recording that, it says, proves the plane was shot down using an air-to-air missile, launched from a Ukrainian fighter jet.

One minor mistake of major proportions: experts analyzed the digital video file and found conclusive evidence that it was fake.

Another Russian theory: Ukrainian army launched the ground-to-air missile.

Another minor oversight: the Ukrainians had no access to this kind of weaponry.

And, of course, a recently revealed video that shows the pro-Russian separatists inspecting the debris, exclaiming, oh, but we didn’t know this was a civilian plane, and similar words to that effect, isn’t helping the official Russian cause, either.

Ukrainian authorities, aware that the Russians would not accept any evidence they would present, gave up their right of investigation and transferred it to the Dutch. So, the office for airline safety of the Netherlands has received all of the debris, and has been trying to find the reasons for the crash. Its job is not to find the perpetrators. The Dutch attorney general’s office has been trying to find those guilty. It put together a commission that includes experts from Ukraine and the countries whose citizens had been among the victims.

There are no Russians on this body, and this makes Moscow even more paranoid.

Considering Russia has for centuries acted on the premise “it’s us against them,” and “everybody’s against us, and we know it,” no wonder its government is openly suspicious.

It remains to be seen what the Kremlin is going to think, say and do if Ukraine’s government decides to propose the formation of a similar tribunal at its earliest convenience at the United Nations’ General Assembly. To win, they would require just two-thirds of the vote, and Russia would be able to vote in any shape or form, but without the right of a veto.

The only problem: none of this is going to bring the 298 victims back.

Russian doping case just won’t go away

Ben Johnson and Marion Jones, step aside. Your doping scandals have been thrashed through the media left, right and centre. Yet, they can’t even begin to compare to what Russian sports authorities have done to show what can happen when winning (at all cost) is everything.

Russian athletes have been accused of doping on a scale unheard of before. What has happened since?

Not much.

Following the alleagtions published some time ago in various European media, representatives of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) have gone to Moscow and left the Russian capital a few days later with more than 3,000 samples. They took all of it to a specialized laboratory in Köln am Rhein in Germany. Considering Russia’s sports minister Vitaly Mutka told the Reuters news agency on the occasion that his country will provide WADA with everything, it raises a few uncomfortable questions. Such as: who guarantees that the samples WADA has loaded on the plane have never been tampered with? Not that one is paranoid but: the Russians have a history rich on disinformation (bluntly put: lies and obfuscation).

So, here’s the question again: who is making the guarantees everything’s above board and nobody’s trying to make any deals under the table?

It’s not a rhetorical question. And here’s the answer: nobody.

In case you’re wondering: remember, for example, the Chernobyl nuclear station meltdown? The one where everybody all over the world knew there was an unexpected release or radioactive material into the air in the Soviet terrirory (most reports went so far as to pinpoint the location within a few centimetres), and yet, the Soviets kept denying it all for days on end?

Or, to remain within recent memory, remember the Kursk submarine that went down in the Arctic, all and sundry aware of the tragedy and offering a number of helping hands, with the Soviets first denying there even was such a submarine, then, denying that it had some kind of technical malfunction, then, denying that they can’t save it by themselves, and, then, letting the entire crew die while help was just around the corner?

So, one more time: nobody can guarantee that everything’s going to be above board, with no under-the-table deals, so help us Nature. Not with the Russians in on it. Not with their president (a former KGB spy) in on it. Not with his KGB cronies helping him run the country any way they felt was useful – to them.

Here’s what happened

Originally, this scandal involved only the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF). It would spread across the sporting spectrum as a forest fire in no time. Russian track-and-field athletes, swimmers, cyclists, biathlonists, cross-country skiers and weight lifters face charges of doping. Russian sports bodies’ chiefs stand accused of participating in a massive conspiracy that permitted all that.

IAAF President Lamine Diack’s own son, Papa Massata Diack, has been involved personally, too. Young Diack has been IAAF’s marketing poohbah. This gives nepotism a brand new meaning.

Germany’s ARD television network charged recently that young Diack had personally helped Russian marathoner Lilya Shobukhova make her 2009 positive out-of-competition doping test disappear from the record so she could take part in the 2012 Olympic Games in London. She paid 450,000 Euros through her coach Alexei Melnikov.

Not that it helped much: Lilya Shobukhova didn’t finish due to injury.

The French newspaper, l’Equippe, found more documentation. Some of it links Russia’s widespread doping culture directly to the office of then-prime minister (and today’s president) Vladimir Putin.

In fact, decrees authorizing Russian sports bodies to use all means at their disposal (whatever THAT is supposed to mean) to achieve victories have come down under Putin’s own signature.

Russian officials, as could have been expected, denied the ARD and l’Equippe reports as smear campaign filled with innuendo and nothing more. Except, just several months earlier, these same officials had banned that same marathoner Lilya Shobukhova for two years because of doping. To add insult to injury, Lilya Shobukhova now went public, saying that some of the money she had to pay for the cover-up has been refunded to her.

The entire operation was easy enough. The athlete to be tested under the so-called out-of-competition protocol would be notified well in advance that the testers were coming, with precise date, time and place included in the warning. Most of the tests require collection of urine samples. Still, those athletes were allowed the privacy of their own washrooms, with the commissioners waiting (discreetly) outside. That, despite the requirement that the commissioners were supposed to be present at all times when the samples were collected.

Dr. Gabriel Dollé, the director of the medical and anti-doping department at the IAAF, stepped down after he had been interviewed by this august body’s ethics commission.

How perfectly honourable!

The German TV ARD and French paper l’Equippe’s probes found many more details. Not that they had any sporting ideals in mind when they went public with them. Titillating scandals such as these help enhance ratings. Better ratings help enhance advertising. Better advertising helps enhance the health of the bottom line.

Running concern

Sir Sebastian Coe, the legendary British middle-distance runner, boss of the 2012 London Olympic Games and the man expected to become the IAAF chief in the not-so-distant future says track-and-field is facing its worst crisis in the last four decades.

Depends on how you view it.

Canada’s own Ben Johnson had to return his gold at the Olympics at Seoul, South Korea in 1988. He won it in the crowning track-and-field race, 100 metres dash.

America’s own Marion Jones was involved in the doping lab BALCO scandal, and, sportingly enough, was economical with the truth when speaking to U.S. federal investigators. That landed her behind bars.

Johnson’s gold would eventually go to America’s Carl Lewis. This guy distinguished himself by not getting caught. Nobody in their right mind would believe that a human can run at 40 km per hour speeds. Horses can do that. Not humans.

Not surprisingly, the drug Johnson was caught with was Stanozolol, a medication used most frequently to improve muscle growth, red blood cell production, increase bone density and stimulate the appetite of debilitated or weakened (what? yes, you do hear it right!) horses. Stanozolol can be used for people, too, to help treat anemia and similar conditions. But definitely not in doses whose traces were found in Johnson’s body.

The numerous medals won by Marion Jones went all over the place to other female athletes whose medical and coaching staffs knew better than to associate with BALCO too openly.

Sir Sebastian used to face accusations of cheating himself, too.

Again, the point of view depends on the angle.

Having noticed that most African runners spend most of their time training in high altitudes, only to come down to race in lower elevations and beat everybody hands down, Sebastian Coe (as he was then) followed in their footsteps.

Is that cheating?

If you tried to replicate the effect training at high altitudes has on an athlete’s body by injecting oxygen into an athlete’s blood, it would be called blood doping. That’s illegal. If, on the other hand, you were to spend a few months in, for example, the Andes, now, that would be considered an innovative approach to training. Yet, the effect is the same.

Was Sebastian Coe cheating? You be the judge.

That uncomfortable angle might, however, explain Sir Sebastian’s calls for prudence. Still, he said, if the accusations are proven beyond any doubt, the penalties should be harsh enough to deter any followers.

He’s definitely not afraid of the embarassment a proper clean-up job would cause the sports to suffer, Sir Sebastian said. He is scared that if people try to sweep all these allegations under the proverbial rug, spectators would lose any interest they have had so far in watching sports.

Which is all this is about.

Sir Sebastian should have mentioned Russian officials’ penchant for publishing fake information, distributing falsified data all over the place or, to put it bluntly, lying through their teeth. It’s called disinformation, and if anyone’s a past master in this field of human endeavour, it’s the Russians. History proves it beyond any doubt, reasonable or not.

Sir Sebastian didn’t say it. Why not? As mentioned, he’s a presumed heir to the top post at the IAAF. Except, he still would face a vote by the body’s general assembly. Here are the numbers: the IAAF consists of 212 member federations. It used to be 213 but the November 2010 meeting of the IAAF Council found that the Netherlands Antilles was going to cease its independent existence.

Like it or not, the Russians still carry considerable weight within that body. They can have unhealthy influence on the outcome of the voting. So, Sir Sebastian, who used to say the Russians ought to be stripped of all of their medals and let’s be done with it once and for all, is now backpedalling. Ever so gently, but still, distinctly enough.

So, what’s the issue?

The issue is that all this outcry and indignation are hypocritical.

Nothing more, and nothing less, either.

Professional sports are all about business. They are part of entertainment industry. So, they do their utmost to entertain. If they were to manage to find ways for humans to catch lightning with bare hands and twist its shape according to their spectators’ wishes, so much the better.

That people are wiling to pay good money to watch well-trained humans (animals would seem to sound better and closer to the truth) performing acts beyond the limits of human abilities is a strange phenomenon. It’s not particularly new. Attendance at Greek Olympiads, predecessors of the modern extravaganzas, would make today’s organizers turn yellow with envy. Doping and outright cheating were a normal way of doing things then, and nobody would even bother to shrug about it, let alone create expensive bodies to oversee what these bodies call “the cleanliness of the sports.”

That professional sports would develop into a global business of such gigantic proportions is a sign not of the athletes’ godly (or ungodly?) abilities but of pure marketing genius.

It is also a sign of something more sinister. Nobody described it better than the British writer, George Orwell. He wrote an essay for the Tribune newspaper in December of 1945, commenting on the visit of Soviet football team Dynamo. Some people, not so much out of sheer naivete but, rather, knowing a marketing opening when they saw one, would go so far as the herald the visit as a sign of everlasting peace between the democratic (no matter how Royal) Great Britain, and the communist Soviet Union.

After all, who could blame them if “everlasting” didn’t last even till the end of Soviet footballers’ trip to Great Britain? The organizers (meaning: the guys who promised everlasting peace) have collected the spectators’ money and spent the rest of the time laughing all the way to the bank.

That average people in both countries were still going hungry following the war was not much of a concern to them.

Anyhow, herewith a few quotes from George Orwell’s piece.

The Sporting Spirit

I am always amazed when I hear people saying that sport creates goodwill between the nations, and that if only the common peoples of the world could meet one another at football or cricket, they would have no inclination to meet on the battlefield. Even if one didn’t know from concrete examples (the 1936 Olympic Games, for instance) that international sporting contests lead to orgies of hatred, one could deduce it from general principles.

Nearly all the sports practised nowadays are competitive. You play to win, and the game has little meaning unless you do your utmost to win. On the village green, where you pick up sides and no feeling of local patriotism is involved, it is possible to play simply for the fun and exercise: but as soon as the question of prestige arises, as soon as you feel that you and some larger unit will be disgraced if you lose, the most savage combative instincts are aroused. Anyone who has played even in a school football match knows this. At the international level sport is frankly mimic warfare. But the significant thing is not the behaviour of the players but the attitude of the spectators: and, behind the spectators, of the nations who work themselves into furies over these absurd contests, and seriously believe — at any rate for short periods — that running, jumping and kicking a ball are tests of national virtue.

People want to see one side on top and the other side humiliated, and they forget that victory gained through cheating or through the intervention of the crowd is meaningless. …

Then, chiefly in England and the United States, games were built up into a heavily-financed activity, capable of attracting vast crowds and rousing savage passions, and the infection spread from country to country. It is the most violently combative sports, football and boxing, that have spread the widest. There cannot be much doubt that the whole thing is bound up with the rise of nationalism — that is, with the lunatic modern habit of identifying oneself with large power units and seeing everything in terms of competitive prestige.

If you wanted to add to the vast fund of ill-will existing in the world at this moment, you could hardly do it better than by a series of football matches between Jews and Arabs, Germans and Czechs, Indians and British, Russians and Poles, and Italians and Jugoslavs, each match to be watched by a mixed audience of 100,000 spectators. I do not, of course, suggest that sport is one of the main causes of international rivalry; big-scale sport is itself, I think, merely another effect of the causes that have produced nationalism. Still, you do make things worse by sending forth a team of eleven men, labelled as national champions, to do battle against some rival team, and allowing it to be felt on all sides that whichever nation is defeated will “lose face”.

Thus spake George Orwell in 1945. Remember: in 1945. Thus spake George Orwell 69 years ago.

He said it all, and let’s leave it at that.

Western mainstream media play into the hands of Russian police cover-up

The sheer and unadulterated naïveté of western mainstream media borders on – and now we have two options. It’s either a frightful lack of education, or an even more frightful stupidity.

Here’s the case: the most important (and knowledgeable) Russian opposition politician, Boris Nemtsov, is murdered just as he is on his way to a meeting at which he plans to reveal a few of the dirtiest secrets of the current Russian administration. That administration is led by a former high-ranking officer of the former Soviet secret service and espionage agency, the KGB. The agency, by the way, is still well, even though a couple of decades has passed since the official end of communism in the country. It exists under a few different names, but it still keeps the same offices, and its bosses are the same guys who used to work there under the one-party system. These people are all faithful to their country’s president: he’s one of them, always has been, too, after all, and it’s been at his pleasure that they had been allowed them to keep their jobs.

In any crime, investigators ask one simple question first. In Latin it sounds like this: cui bono? English translation (verbatim): to whose benefit?

In the Boris Nemtsov murder, the answer simple and straightforward: Vladimir Putin benefits. Judging by what Boris Nemtsov had already revealed, his forthcoming revelations were expected to mention unmentionable atrocities committed by the current regime. The worst part about it for Putin and his gang: Boris Nemtsov’s accusations have always been perfectly documented. One could not expect it to be otherwise in the current situation.

Whether we’ll ever find out (in general or in any detail) what Boris Nemtsov planned to say remains to be seen. The only thing we know for a fact is that it was explosive enough for someone to risk killing him.

Suspicions turned towards the Kremlin within seconds. But Russian police investigators – all of them in the service of their government and knowing that it is their duty to defend it at all cost – began forwarding all kinds of theories within minutes.

Such as: Boris Nemtsov upset a number of Ukrainian politicians because of his critical views of the developments in that country. They omitted to say, of course, that Nemtsov was against the Russian separatists whom he compared to Konrad Henlein’s Sudeten Germans. That was the group that had helped dismantle the former Czechoslovakia before the Second World War. They also, somehow, forgot that Nemtsov went so far as to compare Putin’s rhetoric to that Adolf Hitler when he defended the Sudeten Germans’ rights.

As soon as someone realized that these omissions weren’t helpful, the theory changed. Muslim terrorists has become the theory du jour. Doesn’t matter whence, and doesn’t matter why, either. Everybody is scared of the Islamists (and rightfully so), why not add some fuel to these flames?

Now, Russian police reports say, they’ve got some people from Chechnya in their hands, and the explanation is obvious: the Chechens hate Putin and they wanted to give him a black eye by murdering his opponent and having the world blame Putin.

How perfectly elegant!

The Chechens, of course, do hate everything that is Russian and everyone who is Russian. And why not? The methods the Russian military use to install Pax Ruthenia, or peace as the Russians prefer it to be, give ruthlessness a brand new meaning. The Islamic State murderers could take their correspondence courses from the Russians in Chechnya.

It is quite possible that the Chechens now in Russian custody will admit to cunningly planning and executing the plan to kill Boris Nemtsov. Russian police do not have to put up with nosy journalists who would expose their torture methods. Most of those who’d dare are either dead, killed in inexplicable circumstances, or silent, or in hiding.

In any case, the Islamist theory doesn’t hold water: this is not their modus operandi. This is not the way they do business. Beheading Vladimir Putin in front of Al-Jazeera television cameras would be the way they would get back at Vladimir Putin. Not murdering his opponent to give him a black eye.

All of this is pretty obvious to anyone with a modicum of knowledge and experience in ways how the Russians do business.

Not the Western mainstream media.

The arrested Chechen guy’s sister says – for the record, too – that all the signs point to the Kremlin. Judging by what she’s saying and how she’s saying it, she seems to know a thing or two about what she’s talking about.

Most Western mainstream media ignore her altogether. Those mainstream media that do not ignore her treat her statement as a biased opinion. We’re all entitled to our opinions, no matter how biased or stupid, right? So, this is the way they dismiss her.

What gets the major play? The Russian police statement.

There’s a world of difference between how the police see themselves in, say, Canada, and what role they have in Russia. In Russia, it is their duty to do their government’s bidding. In Canada, it is their duty to uphold the law, not the government of the day.

Same holds for the U.S.

Is the sheer and unadulterated naïveté of western mainstream media a sign of a frightful lack of education or an even more frightful stupidity?

It seems that it’s the combination of both.

Heavens forbid!

Boris Nemtsov’s assassination bound to remain mystery for ever

It takes a certain amount of stupidity (naiveté for the more polite crowd) for Western commentators to believe that Russian police would ever find the assassins of the country’s former deputy prime minister and president Vladimir Putin’s opponent Boris Nemtsov.

They would have to name one of their own.

And it takes a certain amount of gall bordering on outright chutzpah for Putin to write the murder victim’s mother to tell her he’s going to do whatever to takes to find those guilty of the crime and bring them to justice.

This is not to say Putin himself ordered the murder. As a former high-ranking KGB officer, he’s perfectly aware of the concept known as plausible deniability.

Here’s what’s going to help Russian authorities in their potential cover-up:

In addition to criticizing Russia’s government for corruption that has reached truly Byzantine levels, Nemtsov was also critical of lacking human rights, as well as of misdeeds by local authorities in the Yaroslavl region whence he had come.

Except: all those he had been critical of were linked to president Putin (and his office) in one way or another.

In particular, Nemtsov was highly critical of the expenses brought upon the nation by the Sochi Olympic Games organizers at a time when the majority of the population is close to starving.

Russia’s official investigators have already advanced several theories to explain Nemtsov’s death.

First, they suggested that Nemtsov is a victim of a provocation aimed at causing harm to the Kremlin (and the presidency) itself. It’s an attempt to destabilize the political situation in the country. They have said it with straight faces, pretending the political situation in Russia was indeed stabilized. It’s anything but.

Secondly, they came up with an Islamist revenge angle because Nemtsov had been highly critical of the recent attack against the French satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo. So were many others critical of the attack. Why single out an opposition politician in the distant country of Russia?

No explanation for that, either.

And, of course, the third option’s got something to do with the developments in Ukraine. What exactly, the investigators wouldn’t reveal. Not in any detail, in any case.

Not a word about Nemtsov’s anti-graft campaign.

Former chess champion Gary Kasparov, who’s not on friendly terms with Putin’s administration, either, suggested Russia’s president didn’t necessarily personally issue thee order to kill Nemtsov. No need to. He did create an atmosphere in the country where political assassinations have become the norm rather than an exception.

That contrasts wildly with a statement by a Moscow-appointed ruler of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov. So far as he is concerned, it was the bloody Western imperialists, acting in cahoots with the Ukrainians, who did Nemtsov in.

Considering the series of politically-motivated murders, one wonders. All of the victims attracted Putin’s wrath in one way or another, and all of them were dangerous to him.

How about the former Soviet (and, later, Russian) spy Alexander Litvinenko? Responsible for investigations of what the Russians call euphemistically “organized crime,” Litvinenko said the government was responsible for the murder of Boris Berezovskii, a Russian oligarch whose commercial interests interfered with commercial interests of those in Putin’s circle.

A couple of Russian intelligence agents paid a visit to Litvinenko in London. Shortly afterwards he died of cancer caused by a dose of radioactive polonium these two somehow introduced into his cup of tea.

Or how about the murder of a fascinating Russian reporter, Anna Politkovskaia? She reported on Russian atrocities in Chechnya. She also exposed a number of illegal deals in which money flowed into the Kremlin and into Putin’s pockets.

Russian police said it was several people who had been guilty. Judging by their names, all of them are of Muslim origin. That still doesn’t even begin to explain why the Politkovskaia was murdered on Oct. 7 (in 2006). The day just happens to be Vladimir Putin’s birthday.

Russian courts sentenced the five alleged culprits to a variety of prison terms. They all appealed. Nobody knows what’s going to happen next.

Sergei Magnitskii, a lawyer who exposed massive corruption that involved a private investment fund and several high-ranking Russian government officials, was arrested on trumped-up charges of tax evasion. He died in prison. Pancreatic complaint was the official reason. Marks of severe beating found on his body suggest otherwise.

Alexander Perepilichnyi, another Russian entrepreneur who dared expose the Kremlin’s financial misdeeds, died in circumstances similar to Alexander Litvinenko’s premature demise.

One of the few things that seem to be certain is that Boris Nemtsov is dead and that the killing weapon was a Makarov nine-millimetre gun, a pistol in use in the Russian army and popular with the country’s police.

And the other thing we know for sure is that Vladimir Putin has one less dangerous opponent to contend with.

Russians release doping test samples – they claim

Ben Johnson and Marion Jones, step aside. Your doping scandals have been thrashed through the media left, right and centre. Yet, they can’t even begin to compare to what Russian sports authorities have done to show what can happen when winning (at all cost) is everything.

Representatives of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) have gone to Moscow and left the Russian capital the other day with more than 3,000 samples. They took all of it to a specialized laboratory in Köln am Rhein in Germany. Considering Russia’s sports minister Vitaly Mutka told the Reuters news agency on the occasion that his country will provide WADA with everything, it raises a few uncomfortable questions. Such as: who guarantees that the samples WADA has loaded on the plane have never been tampered with? Not that one is paranoid but: the Russians have a history rich on disinformation (bluntly put: lies and obfuscation).

So, here’s the question again: who is making the guarantees everything’s above board and nobody’s trying to make any deals under the table?

It’s not a rhetorical question. And here’s the answer: nobody.

In case you’re wondering: remember, for example, the Chernobyl nuclear station meltdown? The one where everybody all over the world knew there was an unexpected release or radioactive material into the air in the Soviet terrirory (most reports went so far as to pinpoint the location within a few centimetres), and yet, the Soviets kept denying it all for days on end?

Or, to remain within recent memory, remember the Kursk submarine that went down in the Arctic, all and sundry aware of the tragedy and offering a number of helping hands, with the Soviets first denying there even was such a submarine, then, denying that it had some kind of technical malfunction, then, denying that they can’t save it by themselves, and, then, letting the entire crew die while help was just around the corner?

So, one more time: nobody can guarantee that everything’s going to be above board, with no under-the-table deals, so help us Nature. Not with the Russians in on it. Not with their president (a former KGB spy) in on it. Not with his KGB cronies helping him run the country any way they felt was useful – to them.

Here’s what happened

Originally, this scandal involved only the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF). It would spread across the sporting spectrum as a forest fire in no time. Russian track-and-field athletes, swimmers, cyclists, biathlonists, cross-country skiers and weight lifters face charges of doping. Russian sports bodies’ chiefs stand accused of participating in a massive conspiracy that permitted all that.

IAAF President Lamine Diack’s own son, Papa Massata Diack, has been involved personally, too. Young Diack has been IAAF’s marketing poohbah. This gives nepotism a brand new meaning.

Germany’s ARD television network charged recently that young Diack had personally helped Russian marathoner Lilya Shobukhova make her 2009 positive out-of-competition doping test disappear from the record so she could take part in the 2012 Olympic Games in London. She paid 450,000 Euros through her coach Alexei Melnikov.

Not that it helped much: Lilya Shobukhova didn’t finish due to injury.

The French newspaper, l’Equippe, found more documentation. Some of it links Russia’s widespread doping culture directly to the office of then-prime minister (and today’s president) Vladimir Putin.

In fact, decrees authorizing Russian sports bodies to use all means at their disposal (whatever THAT is supposed to mean) to achieve victories have come down under Putin’s own signature.

Russian officials, as could have been expected, denied the ARD and l’Equippe reports as smear campaign filled with innuendo and nothing more. Except, just several months earlier, these same officials had banned that same marathoner Lilya Shobukhova for two years because of doping. To add insult to injury, Lilya Shobukhova now went public, saying that some of the money she had to pay for the cover-up has been refunded to her.

He entire operation was easy enough. The athlete to be tested under the so-called out-of-competition protocol would be notified well in advance that the testers were coming, with precise date, time and place included in the warning. Most of the tests require collection of urine samples. Still, those athletes were allowed the privacy of their own washrooms, with the commissioners waiting (discreetly) outside. That, despite the requirement that the commissioners were supposed to be present at all times when the samples were collected.

Dr. Gabriel Dollé, the director of the medical and anti-doping department at the IAAF, stepped down after he had been interviewed by this august body’s ethics commission.

How perfectly honourable!

The German TV ARD and French paper l’Equippe’s probes found many more details. Not that they had any sporting ideals in mind when they went public with them. Titillating scandals such as these help enhance ratings. Better ratings help enhance advertising. Better advertising helps enhance the health of the bottom line.

Running concern

Sir Sebastian Coe, the legendary British middle-distance runner, boss of the 2012 London Olympic Games and the man expected to became the IAAF chief in the not-so-distant future says track-and-field is facing its worst crisis in the last four decades.

Depends on how you view it.

Canada’s own Ben Johnson had to return his gold at the Olympics at Seoul, South Korea in 1988. He won it in the crowning track-and-field race, 100 metres dash.

America’s own Marion Jones was involved in the doping lab BALCO scandal, and, sportingly enough, was economical with the truth when speaking to U.S. federal investigators. That landed her behind bars.

Johnson’s gold would eventually go to America’s Carl Lewis. This guy distinguished himself by not getting caught. Nobody in their right mind would believe that a human can run at 40 km per hour speeds. Horses can do that. Not humans.

Not surprisingly, the drug Johnson was caught with was Stanozolol, a medication used most frequently to improve muscle growth, red blood cell production, increase bone density and stimulate the appetite of debilitated or weakened (what? yes, you do hear it right!) horses. Stanozolol can be used for people, too, to help treat anemia and similar conditions. But definitely not in doses whose traces were found in Johnson’s body.

The numerous medals won by Marion Jones went all over the place to other female athletes whose medical and coaching staffs knew better than to associate with BALCO too openly.

Sir Sebastian used to face accusations of cheating himself, too.

Again, the point of view depends on the angle.

Having noticed that most African runners spend most of their time training in high altitudes, only to come down to race in lower elevations and beat everybody hands down, Sebastian Coe (as he was then) followed in their footsteps.

Is that cheating?

If you tried to replicate the effect training at high altitudes has on an athlete’s body by injecting oxygen into an athlete’s blood, it would be called blood doping. That’s illegal. If, on the other hand, you were to spend a few months in, for example, the Andes, now, that would be considered an innovative approach to training. Yet, the effect is the same.

Was Sebastian Coe cheating? You be the judge.

That uncomfortable angle might, however, explain Sir Sebastian’s calls for prudence. Still, he said, if the accusations are proven beyond any doubt, the penalties should be harsh enough to deter any followers.

He’s definitely not afraid of the embarassment a proper clean-up job would cause the sports to suffer, Sir Sebastian said. He is scared that if people try to sweep all these allegations under the proverbial rug, spectators would lose any interest they have had so far in watching sports.

Which is all this is about.

Sir Sebastian should have mentioned Russian officials’ penchant for publishing fake information, distributing falsified data all over the place or, to put it bluntly, lying through their teeth. It’s called disinformation, and if anyone’s a past master in this field of human endeavour, it’s the Russians. History proves it beyond any doubt, reasonable or not.

Sir Sebastian didn’t say it. Why not? As mentioned, he’s a presumed heir to the top post at the IAAF. Except, he still would face a vote by the body’s general assembly. Here are the numbers: the IAAF consists of 212 member federations. It used to be 213 but the November 2010 meeting of the IAAF Council found that the Netherlands Antilles was going to cease its independent existence.

Like it or not, the Russians still carry considerable weight within that body. They can have unhealthy influence on the outcome of the voting. So, Sir Sebastian, who used to say the Russians ought to be stripped of all of their medals and let’s be done with it once and for all, is now backpedalling. Ever so gently, but still, distinctly enough.

So, what’s the issue?

The issue is that all this outcry and indignation are hypocritical.

Nothing more, and nothing less, either.

Professional sports are all about business. They are part of entertainment industry. So, they do their utmost to entertain. If they were to manage to find ways for humans to catch lightning with bare hands and twist its shape according to their spectators’ wishes, so much the better.

That people are wiling to pay good money to watch well-trained humans (animals would seem to sound better and closer to the truth) performing acts beyond the limits of human abilities is a strange phenomenon. It’s not particularly new. Attendance at Greek Olympiads, predecessors of the modern extravaganzas, would make today’s organizers turn yellow with envy. Doping and outright cheating were a normal way of doing things then, and nobody would even bother to shrug about it, let alone create expensive bodies to oversee what these bodies call “the cleanliness of the sports.”

That professional sports would develop into a global business of such gigantic proportions is a sign not of the athletes’ godly (or ungodly?) abilities but of pure marketing genius.

It is also a sign of something more sinister. Nobody described it better than the British writer, George Orwell. He wrote an essay for the Tribune newspaper in December of 1945, commenting on the visit of Soviet football team Dynamo. Some people, not so much out of sheer naivete but, rather, knowing a marketing opening when they saw one, would go so far as to herald the visit as a sign of everlasting peace between the democratic (no matter how Royal) Great Britain, and the communist Soviet Union.

After all, who could blame them if “everlasting” didn’t last even till the end of Soviet footballers’ trip to Great Britain? The organizers (meaning: the guys who promised everlasting peace) have collected the spectators’ money and spent the rest of the time laughing all the way to the bank.

That average people in both countries were still going hungry following the war was not much of a concern to them.

Anyhow, herewith a few quotes from George Orwell’s piece.

The Sporting Spirit

I am always amazed when I hear people saying that sport creates goodwill between the nations, and that if only the common peoples of the world could meet one another at football or cricket, they would have no inclination to meet on the battlefield. Even if one didn’t know from concrete examples (the 1936 Olympic Games, for instance) that international sporting contests lead to orgies of hatred, one could deduce it from general principles.

Nearly all the sports practised nowadays are competitive. You play to win, and the game has little meaning unless you do your utmost to win. On the village green, where you pick up sides and no feeling of local patriotism is involved, it is possible to play simply for the fun and exercise: but as soon as the question of prestige arises, as soon as you feel that you and some larger unit will be disgraced if you lose, the most savage combative instincts are aroused. Anyone who has played even in a school football match knows this. At the international level sport is frankly mimic warfare. But the significant thing is not the behaviour of the players but the attitude of the spectators: and, behind the spectators, of the nations who work themselves into furies over these absurd contests, and seriously believe — at any rate for short periods — that running, jumping and kicking a ball are tests of national virtue.

People want to see one side on top and the other side humiliated, and they forget that victory gained through cheating or through the intervention of the crowd is meaningless. …

Then, chiefly in England and the United States, games were built up into a heavily-financed activity, capable of attracting vast crowds and rousing savage passions, and the infection spread from country to country. It is the most violently combative sports, football and boxing, that have spread the widest. There cannot be much doubt that the whole thing is bound up with the rise of nationalism — that is, with the lunatic modern habit of identifying oneself with large power units and seeing everything in terms of competitive prestige.

If you wanted to add to the vast fund of ill-will existing in the world at this moment, you could hardly do it better than by a series of football matches between Jews and Arabs, Germans and Czechs, Indians and British, Russians and Poles, and Italians and Jugoslavs, each match to be watched by a mixed audience of 100,000 spectators. I do not, of course, suggest that sport is one of the main causes of international rivalry; big-scale sport is itself, I think, merely another effect of the causes that have produced nationalism. Still, you do make things worse by sending forth a team of eleven men, labelled as national champions, to do battle against some rival team, and allowing it to be felt on all sides that whichever nation is defeated will “lose face”.

Thus spake George Orwell in 1945. Remember: in 1945. Thus spake George Orwell 69 years ago.

He said it all, and let’s leave it at that.

Like hippos in a china store

The government of Hungary is considering kicking U.S. chargé d’affaires André Goodfriend out of the country. It is of the view that the American diplomat is poking his nose into matters that are none of his business.

The country’s State Attorney has asked the foreign ministry to initiate stripping Goodfriend of diplomatic immunity so this office can prosecute him based on a legal action started by Hungary’s taxation administration chief, Ildikó Vida.

The foreign minister, Péter Szijjártó, said he’s sending an official request to the State Department. Whether he’ll succeed is more than questionable: the stuffed shirts at Foggy Bottom would go through the roof and describe Hungary’s request impertinent to nth degree, while President Barack Hussein Obama is expected to go ballistic.

Except: if the Americans, as is expected, tell the Hungarians to go and fly a kite, Goodfriend will be flying first: he Hungarian government will designate him as persona non grata, and if they are kind and generous, Goodfriend will have 48 hours to pack up and leave. If not, he’ll have to leave forthwith.

First, a bit of a definition: a chargé d’affaires represents his or her nation in the country she or he is accredited to. That means, this diplomat has to receive le agrément from the host government (for whatever reason, French is still the language of diplomacy). This means that the host government can always withdraw its agreement with the diplomat’s continued stay.

The chargé d’affaires enjoys the same privileges and immunities as a regular ambassador. In most cases, the chargé d’affaires only serves on a temporary basis, while the ambassador is away. Still, these diplomats can be appointed for longer periods of time, something that seems to have happened in Goodfriend’s case. As diplomatic protocol rules, a chargé d’affaires could be appointed also when the two countries disagree on something and they prefer to be represented by lower-ranked diplomats, basically in order to save face.

Now that we have the niceties behind us, here’s the scoop: several governments’ diplomatic representatives (including Canada’s) went public with their masters’ displeasure about what they described as corruption running amok in the countries where they are stationed. Not that it had the desired effect. General populations in these (mostly post-communist) countries are perfectly aware that their governments’ standards of honesty and decency are nothing to write home about. Still, they detest it when foreigners wag their fingers and tell them this isn’t cricket.

In the Hungarian case, the country’s chief taxation official, Ms. Vida, and five of her subordinate officers were denied entry visas into the U.S. this past November, based directly on accusations of corruption as expressed by none other than Goodfriend himself. Ms. Vida described his statements as slanderous and defamatory and libellous drivel, but her prime minister, Viktor Orbán, said this wouldn’t be enough. Sue the bloody Yankee, he told Ms. Vida, or I’ll fire you.

Wonderful. Except you can’t sue a diplomat who’s protected by immunity. You can only ask her or his government for permission to strip her or him of that immunity, and if no agreement is forthcoming, you can kick her or him out.

And this is where it seems to be headed.

President Obama, whom most of the post-communist countries’ citizenry detest about the same they used to detest their communist leaders, didn’t help matters when he announced that in Hungary, in his esteemed opinion, the something he calls “civic society” is in danger. What he had in mind precisely remains unclear, but Hungarian officials figured out that the U.S. commander-in-chief was unhappy because they refused to blindly follow his lead and call Russia and Russian president Vladimir Putin all kinds of names.

That the Hungarians might have a reason for a more nuanced view is something Obama has never considered. In fact, he seems to be frightfully unaware of this.

On the other hand, post-communist countries have been up in arms lately. They have detected that U.S. embassies in their countries have been interfering with their internal affairs. They are quite sensitive about these things: they’ve had their share of being ordered about by the communist leadership in Moscow. Bad enough that the European Union bureaucracy has been trying to replace the communist economic community system with a similar structure of their own. Post-communist countries, one and all, view this kind of behaviour askance.

For example, the Czech Republic is livid because the U.S. embassy has been supporting (financially) a movement to teach Islam in Czech schools.

Now, Canada’s ambassador Otto Jelínek has joined forces with his U.S. and Norwegian colleagues, trying to tell the Czechs that corruption is bad. The Czechs are perfectly aware of what kind of swindlers and fraudsters they have in their government. But they still feel that young Jelínek would do better tending to his knitting or, even better, to his family business that produces the finest plum brandy (slivovice) in the world.

What angers them even more is the gall with which the Americans and Canadians invited the Norwegians to join them in the chorus of anti-corruption condemnation. The Czechs and the Norwegians have been at swords drawn lately. A Norwegian social worker has taken away children from a Czech family that was in the northern country, citing abuse, without providing single proof. The Czech government has been trying to reason with its Norwegian counterpart, to no avail, thus far. And these busy beavers are going to tell us how to behave? is the tenor of the Czech public reaction.

That the Americans didn’t notice they were entering a minefield is behaviour typical for this administration. That ambassador Jelínek, who speaks and reads and writes Czech, was not aware of the backlash this step would create in his parents’ homeland is beyond shameful.

And most of the post-communist countries’ public opinion agrees: the Americans don’t like Putin. Not that we love him. In fact, not that we love the Russian bear, period. But, they say, nobody, and least of all Obama, is going to tell us what to do, what to think, and how to act.

They’ve been there, done that, got the t-shirts.

To heck with the Americans. Let them eat cake. But Canada’s government – of all governments in the world – should know better.

Doping scandal of major proportions rocks the world’s sports community

Will most of Russian athletes be stripped of their Olympic and other international championships medals and banned from competition for some pretty considerable time?

What began as a scandal involving only the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) has now spread across the spectrum. That Russian track-and-field athletes, swimmers, cyclists, biathlonists, cross-country skiers and weight lifters now face charges of doping is one matter. That Russian sports bodies chiefs now stand accused of participating in a massive conspiracy that permitted all that, is another matter.

And that IAAF President Lamine Diack’s own son, Papa Massata Diack, has been involved personally, too, makes it the mother of all sporting scandals.

Young Diack has been IAAF’s marketing poohbah, a position that gives nepotism a new meaning.

Germany’s ARD television network charges that young Diack has personally helped Russian marathoner Lilya Shobukhova who paid 450,000 Euros through her coach Alexei Melnikov to make her 2009 positive out-of-competition doping test disappear from the record so she could take part in the 2012 Olympic Games in London.

Not that it helped much: Lilya Shobukhova didn’t finish due to injury.

Help from up top

That, of course, is not all. ARD and l’Equippe, the French sports newspaper, have unearthed more documentation, and some of it links Russia’s widespread doping culture directly to the office of then-prime minister (and today’s president) Vladimir Putin.

In fact, decrees authorizing Russian sports bodies to use all means at their disposal to achieve victories have come down under Putin’s own signature.

Russian officials, as could have been expected, denied the ARD and l’Equippe reports as smear campaign filled with innuendo and nothing more. Except, just several months ago, these same officials banned that same marathoner Lilya Shobukhova for two years because of doping. To add insult to injury, Lilya Shobukhova now went public, saying that some of the money she had to pay for the cover-up has been refunded to her.

What’s fair is fair, right?

How did the cover-up work? Could have hardly been more simple: the athlete to be tested under the so-called out-of-competition protocol would be notified well in advance that the testers were coming, with precise date, time and place included in the warning. Not only that: as most of the tests require collection of urine samples, those athletes were allowed the privacy of their own washrooms, with the commissioners waiting (discreetly) outside. That, despite the requirement that the commissioners were supposed to be present at all times when the samples were collected.

Meanwhile, Dr. Gabriel Dollé, the director of the medical and anti-doping department at the IAAF, stepped down after he had been interviewed by this august body’s ethics commission.

Doping: what else is new?

ARD, an abbreviation for Arbeitsgemeinschaft der öffentlich-rechtlichen Rundfunkanstalten der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, a.k.a. Consortium of public broadcasters in Germany in English, has been known for its hard-hitting documentaries. Besides, it is precisely the Germans who ought to know whereof they speak when it comes to doping. A sports medicine institute in Leipzig in the former East Germany has been in the forefront of the doping science for a very long time. Some of its leading researchers have spent the last couple of decades or so working with athletes in China. Doing what?

Meanwhile, l’Equippe newspaper has been known as the publication of record when it comes to investigating doping in cycling, during the Tour de France, in particular.

Not surprisingly, a huge number of international sports officials have been expressing shock bordering on outright dismay, as if they hadn’t known for decades that this has been going on in one form or another. The chest-beating has been coming loud and clear, from former fencer and now head of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Thomas Bach, all the way to the founder of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and IOC member, Canada’s own Dick Pound.

Pound comes the closest to saying “I told you so,” an expression he would have done better keeping to himself.

Meanwhile, Sebastian Coe, a former British runner, later the boss of the 2012 Olympic Games in London and now a leading candidate for the IAAF presidency, is on record as saying that there should be a widespread redistribution of medals. This promises a fine spectacle, with officials going back – well, Sebastian Coe hasn’t said yet how many years back – to double-check ancient doping test results. What will the IAAF officials do if the samples no longer exist? How will they prove the old samples, if and when found, haven’t been tampered with?

According to some British sources, the Olympic poohbahs are now considering banning Russian athletes from all competitions. As if the Russians were the only ones doing this. They were the only ones caught, for the time being, that’s all.

Why the crocodile tears?

Of course, it’s all hypocrisy.

Sprinters running at speeds reaching 40 kilometres an hour speeds, even if only for less than 10 seconds, aren’t normal human beings. Marathoners getting close to covering this distance in less than two hours aren’t normal human beings, either. We can consider one sport on the Olympic schedule after another to see that it’s been artificially created bodies who have performed these achievements.

Yes, yes, yes, some say it’s the diet, others say it’s the new training methods, still others say it’s all of it combined.

But the conclusion is simple and straightforward: what these athletes are (and have been) achieving is not normal.

But, of course, viewers all over the world are fans who want to see such out-of-this-world achievements. They are paying good portions of their hard-earned money (in whatever currency) to see the modern gladiators ply their trade. It has become an industry on its own: without viewer interest, there wouldn’t be so much coverage that pretends it’s news. Without so much coverage that pretends it’s news there wouldn’t be so many dollars invested in advertising. Speaking of which, when a sprinter shows that this or that running shoe is the best, it’s still within the boundaries of the understandable. But when, for example, a weight-lifter promotes products of female hygiene, it becomes a comedy.

And yet, the solution is simple. If you asked the athletes whether they would digest something that would guarantee them Olympic gold and, at the same time, premature death within five years of victory, an overwhelming majority would go for the doping.

It’s perfectly irrelevant if they would agree in the wild hope that, within those five years, a cure would be developed for whatever they had brought upon themselves, or because their imagination doesn’t stretch that far, or that they are of the view that, at least, they had taken care of their families.

What matters is: they would do it.

So, why not let them?

Why not realize that even the original Olympiads in ancient Greece were filled with not only outright doping, but blatant cheating, too? (If you let me win this race, my sponsor will guarantee you a job at so many drachmas a year, plus room and board.)

Why not admit that the anti-doping crowd has been playing catch-up all along, never really getting even close to the level of those who’d been using performance-enhancing drugs?

Just drop the pretence, leave (taxpayer-supported) Olympic organizations and sundry sports bodies out of it, pass the deal over to pharmaceutical companies, and change the slogan. Get rid of the ancient Citius, Altius, Fortius (Faster, Higher, Stronger). It’s Latin, anyway, and how many people speak (or, at least, just understand) Lingua Latina these days? Replace it with “My drugs are better than yours, nyanyanyanahnah,” and be done with it.

Of course, we won’t have titillating stories of athletes who wouldn’t pass the normal sobriety tests to enjoy any longer.

Will it be such a huge loss?

Did Picasso support Russia’s bid for World Cup of soccer?

Nothing beats a good bribe if and when you’re after the right to host a World Cup of football (soccer for North American readers).

According to intelligence sources, FIFA vice president and UEFA president Michel Platini’s personal collection now features a painting by Pablo Picasso that used to be hidden in Russia’s national archives.

FIFA is football’s (soccer’s) governing body all over the world. UEFA’s fiefdom includes all of Europe.

These allegations of bribery, of course, neatly fit the allegations of a massive vote-buying scandal involving bids for the two forthcoming World Cups: the 2018 in Russia, and the 2022 in Qatar.

A report out of Great Britain lists a Picasso painting (or Picasso paintings) as having been removed from Russia’s national archives – either from the Hermitage Gallery in the Palace Square in St. Petersburg or from the Kremlin in Moscow itself. Of course, one wonders: has there been an art archive hidden in the Kremlin? Or did the report mean the Tretyakov Gallery on Lavrushinsky Lane in Moscow, and it only wanted to say the painting was removed on orders from the Kremlin?

Cloak-and-dagger operation

The British House of Commons Media and Sport committee claims it got its information from what it called “high-level intelligence gathering and surveillance on the other countries bidding to host the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.”

It is good to remember in this context that the British did submit their bid for the 2018 World Cup, too, but were not successful. The 2018 and 2022 bid situation was somewhat convoluted: FIFA told its members they can bid on either event or on both of them. The British first tried bidding on both, and then concentrated on 2018. It didn’t do them much good.

Russian authorities, as could (and should) be expected, hotly denied any underhanded skulduggery, bribes included.

Now, of course, this particular denial is coming from a country that gave birth to the rule that one oughtn’t believe any rumours until they’d been officially denied. So, Russia’s denial doesn’t prove anything.

What did not help matters was what happened after FIFA ordered an investigation. Some 18 months later, it received the Adjudicatory Chamber’s report. FIFA said the report cleared both Russia and Qatar of any wrongdoing. No need to start the bidding charade again, FIFA said. But the language of its statement that announced FIFA’s decision was somewhat involved for a layperson (and convoluted for experts in legalese, too): “The various incidents which might have occurred are not suited to compromise the integrity of the FIFA World Cup 2018/2022 bidding process as a whole.”

Huh?

What didn’t help matters, either, was the strange fact that FIFA’s lead investigator dissented and said so publicly. Michael Garcia announced he would appeal.

What?

Yes.

Garcia went so far as to issue a statement saying, verbatim: “Today’s decision by the Chairman of the Adjudicatory Chamber contains numerous materially incomplete and erroneous representations of the facts and conclusions detailed in the Investigatory Chamber’s report.”

Here’s the translation: the final report is a bloody lie. The winners cheated. And cheating happens to be unsportsmanlike.

Garcia, a former U.S. federal prosecutor, examined the 2010 vote. The funniest part: Garcia submitted his still unpublished report to criminal authorities in Switzerland. That’s where FIFA is based.

Oh, those nosy reporters!

It all began with reporting in The Sunday Times of London.

These stories, the paper said, were based on what it described as a secret “database” put together by English soccer officials as they were bidding unsuccessfully to host the 2018 tournament. British embassies and former intelligence officers unearthed and collected the information used in the allegations of bribery-induced vote rigging.

Not unexpectedly, Michel Platini of France, a member of the powerful executive committee of FIFA, denied receiving the gift, calling the report a “ridiculous rumour.”

Besides, Platini told the French news agency AFP, “The allegations in The Sunday Times are completely fictitious. This case is now in the hands of my counsel for possible libel.”

Why Platini? Could it be a typical example of the traditional love that has existed through centuries between the French and the English?

Not really. This is far too important. It is also good to remember that Platini leads UEFA, the European soccer authority that oversees the Champions League. Many consider him as a possible successor to FIFA president Sepp Blatter, who is up for re-election next year.

Aiming high

The Sunday Times 15-page statement submitted to the Culture, Media and Sport Committee of the British House of Commons goes so far as to name Russia’s president Vladimir Putin as having been personally involved in the bribery scheme.

It took one single vote in 2010 by the FIFA executive committee members to decide the winning bids of both 2018 and 2022 tournaments.

This is highly unusual in and of itself.

This kind of voting also suggests that the numerous reports saying the bidding process was rife with opportunities for bribery, kickbacks and voting pacts couldn’t have been too far off the mark. Especially because investigators associated with England’s unsuccessful bid for the 2018 Cup uncovered evidence that Russia and Qatar had joined forces to influence votes in a pact “seemingly brokered through a major bilateral gas cooperation agreement.”

In another interesting twist, the FBI and IRS took an interest in FIFA’s executive committee. The two bodies turned Chuck Blazer – the lone American on the committee in 2010 – into a cooperating witness in a federal criminal probe based in the Eastern District of New York.

Meanwhile, the New York Daily News reported that Blazer had met personally with Putin in the lead up to the World Cup vote, posting photographs of himself with the Russian president on his blog.

Later, after FBI and IRS confronted Blazer with evidence of unpaid taxes, he agreed to go undercover for the feds, secretly recording his meetings with soccer officials during the London Olympics in 2012.

Why is all this important?

All of this serves as yet another proof (as if one was still needed) that the gigantic sports events have turned into moneymaking machines for groups of well-connected entrepreneurs.

These things are no longer about sports, no matter how you look at it.

Populations all over the world are massaged by mass media to become supporters of the various Olympic Games, World Cups and other such gatherings of professional athletes. What they do not realize is that – as faithful taxpayers – they pay for most of the costs. The money ends in the pockets of those who build the sites and those who grant them the right to stage these events.

So, it’s not so much megalomania as it is a money grab.

If private entities were to stage such huge events, there would be no special reason to complain that they ended up with a profit. They risked, they won. What’s wrong with that? Nothing.

It’s when taxpayers pay for the dance and private businesses win the door prizes that these things begin to smell funny. When, on top of it all, all kinds of officials get to share in the proceeds without sharing a cent with those who had originally paid the piper, the whole scenario begins to stink to high heaven.

How long will it take before taxpayers see the light?

Will Russia honour its former criminal leaders?

Who cares that Vladimir Lenin and Josef Stalin have committed crimes against humanity?

Vladimir Putin, their successor in the Kremlin, certainly doesn’t.

Talking to a Soviet war veteran during D-Day commemorations in Normandy, Putin said it would be a good idea to have a referendum to decide whether to rename Volgograd to its original historic name of Stalingrad. That it used to be Tsaritsyn before it would become Stalingrad never seemed to have crossed his mind.

The communists in St. Petersburg (or Petrograd in Russian) happily jumped on board. Vladimir Dmitriyev, their leader at St. Petersburg city hall, said it would be a splendid idea to rename his city, too. It would become Leningrad once again. Russia’s communit leader Gennadii Zyuganov agreed wholeheartedly.

The movement to name those cities after two of the three greatest war criminals (Adolf Hitler was the third one) of the 20th century has begun gaining strength. The forthcoming celebrations of the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, coming next year, have given the plan yet another impetus.

“Two hero-cities, Leningrad and Stalingrad, aren’t on the maps of the world,” said Dmitriyev, the communist fraction chief in the St. Petersburg city hall. “It is necessary to renew the historical justice.”

Putin’s office would try to soften the impact Putin’s words had. His spokesman, Dmitriy Peskov, said Putin never said it was his wish to have those two cities renamed. This contradicted his chief’s outspoken statement to the effect that it would be worth the country’s while to put the question to the citizenry in a referendum. The backpedalling was understandable. Several influential parliamentarins in the Russian Duma expressed outrage over the idea. Except: some of the local politicians have already announced they were planning to use the “historic” names on some occasions, especially those that are linked to the war in one way or another.

It was Peter the Great, Russia’s Tsar at the time, who founded St. Petersburg in 1703. The name was translated into its Russian version (Petrograd) in 1914, and in 1924, following communist leader Vladimir Lenin’s passing, it became Leningrad. When the Soviet Union disintegrated in 1991, the authorities of the day brought the original name back.

It would take several years for Stalingrad to become Volgograd. Then-Soviet leader, Nikita Khruschev, revealed that Stalin was a mass murderer in a then-secret speech at the communist party congress in 1956. Stalingrad, the place that saw one of the major battles waged during the World War II, became Volgograd only in 1961.

Why is this an important issue?

Vladimir Lenin brought the criminal ideology of Marxism to Russia and led the overthrow of a democratically elected government in October of 1917.

Some people believe to this day that he was a relatively benign ruler, that it was Stalin who turned the Soviet Union into one great death camp.

Not so.

It was Lenin who instituted state-sponsored terror in his country. In fact, Lenin said publicly he would do it. And he did. The so-called Extraordinary Commission to Fight the Counter-revolution was his invention. It was the infamous Cheka, that would develop into GPU (Glavnoie politicheskoie upravlenie – Main political administration), then NKVD (Narodnyi kommissariat vnutrennikh del – National commissariat of internal affairs), through the ministry of state security (MGB) all the way to the still-feared KGB (Komitet gosudarstvennoi bezopasnosti – Committee for state security).

It was Lenin who personally ordered that his new government start building concentration camps all over the country. Under Lenin’s specific orders, they were supposed to deal with those who had the gall to look askance at the new rule and rulers. In fact, Lenin coined the name, too.

It was Lenin who personally ordered the massacre of the last Tsar’s entire family in what used to be Ekaterinburg, Sverdlovsk under the Soviet rule, and Ekaterinburg now again.

Stalin, Lenin’s successor, would oversee the deaths of more than 20 million people, most of them perfectly innocent of any crime.

Stalin was the guy who ordered that, in order to subdue Ukraine, the country be exposed to a famine that would kill millions.

The list of crimes against humanity perpetrated by these two would take volumes of historical data to describe. Suffice it to say that calling them criminals is the nicest thing one can say about them.

And yet, here come efforts to rehabilitate them, to make them look like great leaders whose lives’ deeds have put the world on the path to progress.

Progress, indeed.

The strangest thing about it all is that not many people elsewhere in the world would murmur a single word in protest. That is, if they even ever registered the strange goings on in Russia.

Just imagine the uproar if someone suggested that Braunau am Inn, a small Austrian town that had the misfortune of being Hitler’s birthplace, be renamed into, say, Hitlerstadt.

I spy, you spy, everybody’s spying

This is not to say that Russian president Vladimir Putin suffers from paranoia.

This is to say that he believes that everybody’s against him. Not even that: Vladimir Putin is perfectly convinced of it.

This can be the only explanation for his statement that the Internet is the brainchild of the U.S. espionage agency, the CIA, and that the American spooks have been controlling it all along, since its inception, all the way up to today.

One wonders what former U.S. vice-president, one Al Gore, would have to say about that. After all, Gore has become famous (or infamous, depends on your point of view) when he announced to the world that Internet was his brainchild, and nobody else’s.

If one were Al Gore, one would demand explanations from Vladimir Putin, and pronto.

One wonders, however, whether Putin’s answers would be forthcoming any time soon. The guy is extremely busy so far as the Inernet is concerned. First, he had his people infiltrate the management of VKontakte, a Russian version of Facebook. Then, he had his intelligence service people demand that Pavel Durov, the founder of VKontakte, share his network users’ information with them. In particular, Durov would reveal later, they were interested about the accounts of those who hadn’t been happy with Vladimir Putin’s works and had enough courage to say it publicly.

Durov, quite properly, turned the Russian intelligence service down, was kicked out by Putin’s management crowd, told his programmers he was leaving, the programmers said they would be leaving with him and, for the time being, Durov and his group are somewhere else, but definitely not in Russia.

To make everything look and sound legal, Russian parliament (Duma) voted in a new law, one that says that foreign social media networks must have their servers in Russia, as well as keeping their users’ data for six months.

Governments’ control manias

Not that this is anything new. The European Union (EU), obsessed as it is with controlling everything that exists wherever it can look, has been trying for years to get control of the Internet (and Internet-based communications especially). The Bruxelles bureaucrats base their demand on security, just as the Chinese government has done some time ago, when it demanded control over anything Google did in their country, including censoring some parts of the search engine’s results that could be accessed by Chinese citizens.

As it is, some of the most important parts of the Internet are controlled by ICANN. What the heck is THAT?

Here’s your answer: is is the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers. It is anon-profit public-benefit corporation with participants from all over the world. ICANN says it is dedicated to keeping the Internet secure, stable and interoperable. As it says itself, ICANN promotes competition and develops policy on the Internet’s unique identifiers.

Through its coordination role of the Internet’s naming system, it does have an important impact on the expansion and evolution of the Internet.

Why is there nobody else?

One reason: size of the North American market.

The other, just as important: the International Telecommunications Union, a United Nations body, hasn’t been able to come to an agreement how to operate the Internet. That led to fractioning of the entire thing, with ICANN sitting on top, but with an ever-growing number of other non-governmental (and non-profit) groups taking part in operating it.

So far as the Internet is concerned, this is a much better state of affairs than having governments making sure nobody’s able to stir the stagnant waters of their governing by being too nosy.

A spy is a spy is a spy

Of course, it is quite logical that Russia’s Putin would believe an opponent’s intelligence agency is behind everything he cannot control. Himself a former rather high-ranking KGB officer (and a spy), this kind of thinking is in his blood.

Putin is not alone. German chancellor Angela Merkel and Brazilian president Dilma Rouseff  want to get the Internet out of American control, and take it straight under their respective governments’ control. They are both perfectly livid – to the point of hysteria – about U.S. spy agency NSA’s monitoring of their own communications.

All of this flies in the face of what the Internet is and is supposed to be.

Granted, the networking projects – spawned originally in very individualistic minds of computer scientists – got a boost when U.S. military became interested enough to fund the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network, a.k.a. the ARPANET. The network would, first of all, link a number of universities. That would eventually get it from under U.S. government control.

Government control, or, rather, financing, helped get the fledgling computer networking off its diapers, out of the world of fantasy not even the most imaginative computer scientists of the time would dare think of. It made it reality.

Anything wrong with that? Well, that would be another topic for another day.

Government control as some governments like to achieve it now, is all about George Orwell’s 1984 and its concepot of Big Brother.

Not so shocking in Brazilian president Rousseff’s case. Her father, Petar Rousseff, fled Bulgaria when, as an active member of the local communist party, he was justifiably afraid of prosecution. On arrival in Brazil he’d become an entrepreneur. His family would move up the social ladder. His daughter Dilma, as has been usual in such and similar cases, would return to leftist politics, and she wouldn’t abandon them even after becoming rich herself.

Bluntly: governments have the right to control everything, including people’s thoughts. That would be as natural to Dilma Rousseff as breathing in and breathing out. She would couch it all in anti-American propaganda which only goes to show that she knows what’s fashionable these days amongst the intelligentsia.

It’s funnier in Angela Merkel’s case. A former research scientist in the field of physical chemistry, she spent her youth in the frightful atmosphere of her communist homeland, the GDR (German Democratic Republic). What was so democratic about the GDR, one fails to figure out.

But if you decide to learn more about Frau Chancellor’s past, you won’t be as surprised.

A few details: her father was a pastor, yet, the family not only could travel (and travelled) frequently from the East to the West, but did so using one of the two automobiles it owned. Both situations unheard of. Travel, especially travel between the East and the West, was strictly under the control of Stasi (secret police and intelligence service). Automobile ownership was under strict control, too. Owning a car was a sign that the person who had received the voucher to buy one was a reliable comrade. Owning TWO cars? This has had led to a few eyebrows shooting up. Some went so far as to conclude that Merkel’s father had a “sympathetic” relationship with the communist regime. Such freedom and privileges for a Christian pastor and his family would have been impossible in the GDR otherwise.

Angela Merkel was a member of the Free German Youth (FDJ), a body under the strict control of the ruling Socialist Unity Party (SED), a communist party under any other name. It would be difficult to hold this membership in and of itself against her. While voluntary on paper, membership or lack thereof would open (or shut) doors to education beyond grade eight.

Except: Merkel became a member of the FDJ district board and secretary for “Agitprop” (Agitation and Propaganda). She would claim later that she was secretary for culture, something her former chairman contradicted with passion deserving of better things.

Not that she’d be a dissenter of any kind. Her science was what mattered, and if it involved membership in this or that communist front organization, so be it.

Why ought one wonder that Angela Merkel has no issues with government snooping all over Internet servers that it has under its control? Is she not aware of what such approach cost most people who used to live in what used to be the communist GDR?

Yes, it is true that the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) used the Internet’s social media networks to gather information on what they termed “people of interest.”

This hasn’t got as much to do with those networks as it has with the NSA. Would you punish a hammer because it gave a nail such a terrible headache?

Gone are the times – if they ever existed – when it wasn’t sporting for gentlemen to read others’ mail.

We can debate ad nauseam to what degree it is kosher and to what degree it is not, to cast vast surveillane networks all over the place, in the hope that such nets may help catch fish that one’s been chasing all over the place. Whether it’s permitted is one thing, whether it’s done is another matter altogether.

And, by the way, if the Brazilian and German spy agencies hadn’t been spying in the U.S., they weren’t doing their job.

Calling the Internet a CIA invention and tool, as Russian president Putin is doing, that would be hysterically funny. If he didn’t mean it, that is.

The tragedy is, he means it.