Do Russians love their children too?

How is it that some artists produce regular iconic songs and give them global appeal? Catching and riding a current wave helps, though Sting is more than that. His lyrics came to mind after taking part in a local radio show.

Two Russians, both excellent journalists and easily described as Liberal. One of them was at Sokolniki Park on Saturday to take part in the St. Patrick’s Day festivities – he even Vibered me a photo of Timur and I in the parade.

Yet now, with the need for Russians to clean up sport being ordered from the big dog VVP, they both tried to twist the conversation into an “us and them” conflict.

Sting’s song, “Russians”, is over 30-years-old, yet it resonates today with the increasingly fraught row that began long before Crimea’s return to Russia.

The awarding of World Cup 2018 gave a reason for politicians and their media lapdogs to jump on Russia, then recovering from financial crisis, though this was just one of a myriad of East vs West bolloxology.

And while we argue about East and West, we can say for certain that those involved in ISIL and other such groupings certainly do not love their children, or anyone else’s children. (I am writing this on my coffee break minutes after the Brusssels Airport explosion).

But, do Russians love their children too? Yes and no. Here’s a rundown on our radio piece.

1. “Doping scandal is a US/West witch hunt against Russia”

I agree that it has been heralded as a “We told you so” by countries needing political wins (US Economy and Election debacle; UK EU exit etc), which is galling as these same countries harbour no end of dopers and those who dope them.

2. Meldonium was banned to stop Russian athletes being successful

I disagreed, positing that it is dangerously abused by athletes in Russia and elsewhere. I pointed to the fact that it had been on a monitoring list prior to being banned, the same as caffeine and nicotine are now on a monitoring list for In-competition use.

3. Why is it only Russia that is suffering, what about Jamaica, Spain etc.?

I agreed with them that the IAAF should ban those non-compliant countries like Jamaica, Spain. However whataboutery is never going to solve anything, only allow the cheats to prosper.

4. Russian football is clean, always has been – if they are taking something it’s slowing them down, they need to change (lots of studio laughter)

I disagreed, only last week we had it come to light that FC Tom Tomsk of the FNL (second tier) were ordering Mildronat (meldonium) in January 2016. That club doctors were making sure players “were off” mildronat in October.

And that there is a history of doping in Russian/Soviet football going back decades. But that what they’re taking is far less effective than what Pep, and his Doctor, gives his players and what was being doled out in Italy.

The refusal to accept that I didn’t 100% agree with them left me with only the nuclear option. If Sting can sing about it, I could talk about it. I asked, “We know the benefits of mildronat, and other PEDs, would you buy them for your kids so they could excel at sport as Sharapova’s parents did? As many other parents do in Russia? Even knowing the medium to long term damage, would you do that?”

“You’re Western, you don’t understand!” Was the answer from my fellow St. Paddy’s Day celebrant. I asked him to clarify. “It’s important to win and be a success, this is all political.”

“But would you facilitate your children to dope, knowing the terrible physical and mental health cost?” All three turned on me, saying I didn’t understand Russia, sport or children.

In sports schools around Russia there are great coaches, teacher and doctors. They are in the majority in my experience. However, there are unbelievably bad ones from football to tennis to gymnastics to winter sports.

One leading cross country ski coach warns youngsters about going to certain clubs/teams where it is not just suggested that they dope, but insisted upon.

At one football club, now in the Second Division but recently in the Premier, the ex-physical trainer prepared shakes with 500mg of caffeine and when that effect was not enough, a dose of amphetamines. Two former players are now in treatment for heart conditions.

I witnessed first hand the physical trainer from Buran Voronezh hockey club getting players to sniff smelling salts before they jumped the boards for their next shift on the ice.

When I asked about the dangers, one player told me – “We need every edge we can get.” He’d played top level hockey for 20 years, 6 in the NHL, “This stuff”, he said with a grin “is nothing to what we used in the NHL”.

I’ve written about the win-at-all-costs mentality that pervades Russian youth football, where a doctor is willing to play with a child’s health so that a parent can live their frustrated dream through their offspring. I’ve witnessed the appalling lack of quality coaching and nutrition support given to Russians at all levels.

All the while adults and parents are active participants and promoters, encouraging their kids to do what they have to, no matter what the cost.

We’d a tennis player in Ireland preparing for the French Open and Wimbledon. Before I flew to Ireland to organise her media and sponsor blitz in the lead-up to the great annual tennis festival in SW19, I met her mother to collect a package. A book, some clothes and some medicine.

I asked what the packet of tablets were for. “To boost her immune system.” The Russian word “profilactic” doesn’t mean a condom, rather something you take to stay healthy.

I checked that it was okay with WADA and gave them to her in the hotel in Tallaght when we met. She took it before training and during tournaments, she said she needed them to keep her energy up.

I trafficked meldonium from Mother to daughter without thinking that she used it on a constant basis, not just to boost her immune system. It was known, then, that prolonged use is unhealthy, yet from her early years in a leading French tennis academy, she was using it.

I already knew the mother had an overly detrimental effect on her daughter’s life and mental health, though filling her with now banned prescription medicine to succeed I would never have believed it.

Russians do love their children, though the nature of the society here mitigates against healthy development. When there are more than 10 pharmacies, that I know of, within a 400m radius of where I’m sitting, means it’s not just athletes for whom drugs are the solution to all their ills.

Russians are ailing and only a complete change of mentality and culture will see the stigma of doping in sports here eradicated. And that is never going to happen. The replacement for meldonium has been on sale here since last year, yet unlike meldonium, it’s legal to buy abroad.

The Author

Alan Moore

Russian-based sports journalist, commentator, radio host & consultant. Worked with major clubs including Hajduk Split, Eintracht Frankfurt, Lokomotiv and Spartak Moscow. Current host of Capital Sports 3.0, former international boxer and semi-professional footballer and FIFA World Cup commentator.

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