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Bruce Arthur: Bless that anonymous Canadian who may have spoken up about doping

If it did happen, it would be an indication of the atmosphere that is permeating these Games: the tension, the unhappiness, the loss of whatever faith was left in the system. And if Canada apologized for doing nothing wrong, well, that would be pretty Canadian, too.

Canadian Speed Skaters sits a table in the dinning hall inside the Athletes Gangneung Village at the 2018 Pyeonchang Winter Olympics on February 8, 2018.  An incident between a Canadian and a Russian in a cafeteria has been reported, but it's not known if the Canadian involved was an athlete, coach or support personnel, or exactly what was said.

Steve Russell/Toronto Star

Canadian Speed Skaters sits a table in the dinning hall inside the Athletes Gangneung Village at the 2018 Pyeonchang Winter Olympics on February 8, 2018. An incident between a Canadian and a Russian in a cafeteria has been reported, but it's not known if the Canadian involved was an athlete, coach or support personnel, or exactly what was said.

PYEONGCHANG, SOUTH KOREA—OK, here is what we know. Russia is a pariah here at the Pyeongchang Olympics, with the cloud of the most flagrant state-sponsored doping system in history hanging over their near-featureless uniforms. Canada arrives in Korea boasting about both winning and about virtue, and it is arguable that no country has been as outspoken, at least recently, when it comes to doping.

And at a press conference Thursday Russian chef de mission Stanislav Pozdnyakov — or rather, the chef de mission for the de-flagged and defrocked Olympic Athletes from Russia — was asked if the Russian delegation had experienced any issues at these Games with other athletes or countries. And Pozdnyakov said, yes, one.

“We had fears that our athletes and trainers could face some kind of negative prejudice,” said Pozdnyakov, as translated by Reuters. “There has been only one case involving a representative of Canada. But the incident has been resolved. The head of the Canadian mission has apologized for the behaviour of this specialist.”

Some Russian media described it as “discrimination.” Russian TV described it as “verbally abused.” It apparently happened in the cafeteria of the athletes village. A Russian spokesman told The New York Times the Canadian offender was a coach, though this could not be confirmed.

Questions to the Canadian Olympic Committee’s Eric Myles, the COC executive director of sport, only produced more confusion. Myles said the COC learned of the alleged incident from the International Olympic Committee, and sent a note to its entire Canadian team about ensuring its conduct remained focused on competition during the Games.

“Honestly, we never had all the complete facts around all this,” said Myles. “We were informed . . . that it could be Canada. And from there we took it seriously enough to send a note to the (Russian) team, and this morning we said, “Hey, sorry if it happened.” It was all good, and now we’re moving to the Games.”

So first, it is not impossible that Canada has apologized for something it is not at all sure it did. That would be, as they say, on brand.

But in this instance, let’s take the Russians at their word. It’s hard to mistake a Canadian in our loud red, black and white uniforms for somebody else. So let’s say a Canadian said something that a Russian found derogatory.

And presumably, any war of words at these Games — where Russia is competing despite a systemic doping program that spanned 2011-15, covered both the Olympics and the Paralympics, and corrupted the Sochi Olympic lab — would be over doping. After all, it’s the dominant theme of these Olympics, even before Friday morning’s decision by the Court of Arbitration for Sport on whether to allow 47 more Russian athletes who had been banned or not invited to these Olympics into the Games.

If that is the case, bring this Canadian forward, and let he or she be hailed for saying what everyone else thinks. There is a lot to say about the Olympics and its ability to bring people together, and to celebrate the commonalities of the human spirit. It’s probably the best part about the Olympics.

(Left to right) COC president Tricia Smith, CEO Chris Overholt, executive director Eric Myles, and Chef de Mission Isabelle Charest, and bobsledder Cam Stones, during a news conference at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympic Games, in Pyeongchang, South Korea, Thursday, February 8, 2018.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson

(Left to right) COC president Tricia Smith, CEO Chris Overholt, executive director Eric Myles, and Chef de Mission Isabelle Charest, and bobsledder Cam Stones, during a news conference at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympic Games, in Pyeongchang, South Korea, Thursday, February 8, 2018.

But Russia — and not just Russia, of course — has abused this trust. The World Anti-Doping Agency still considers the Russian Anti-Doping Agency to be in noncompliance, because it has neither accepted the results of the reports detailing the extent of its scheme, nor opened up the Moscow laboratory that still houses suspect samples. The world is not so simple that Canadians are heroes and Russians are villains, and nobody should pretend that. There are Russian athletes here who didn’t choose their system of government, or of sport. The world is greys.

But already at these Games, Canadian Dick Pound has been the most outspoken IOC member when it comes to doping. Professor Richard McLaren of Western University in London, Ont. was the author of the initial and subsequent report into Russian doping. The Russian hack collective Fancy Bear has even released some less-than-damning information about Canada, accusing it of trying to overturn the Russian sports system to its own advantage. That’s probably when you know you’re doing something right.

Canada comes into these Games with a real chance to have its finest Olympics ever in the medals table, besting the 26 medal in Sochi, and also comes in proclaiming that Canada as a nation stands on the side of clean sport and ethical competition. That could be embarrassing if and when we slip up. But maybe it’s worth standing, loud and proud, on the right side of a fight, even if it’s doomed to fail.

“We will be leaders in this,” said COC president Tricia Smith. “But we’re not alone. The rest of the sport community that wants to protect clean athletes are in this with us. We’re not perfect. We’re not perfect either. But we’ve got to work together to protect the sport that we care so much about.”

And if a Canadian snapped and told a Russian coach that what the country did was shameful, that it was cheating, that it was wrong, well bless that anonymous Canadian. We don’t know that, of course. It might have been boorish, crude, nothing, less than nothing.

But if it did happen, it would be an indication of the atmosphere that is permeating these Games: the tension, the unhappiness, the loss of whatever faith was left in the system. Smith, a former rower, said: “Look, we’re in this difficult position now because we’re catching athletes who are doping. That’s a good thing, that we’re catching them. When I was competing, we didn’t catch anyone.”

Except that with 169 athletes here and more who could arrive, there is no indication the IOC is truly bargaining in good faith, any more than Russia is. So if a Canadian was the one who spoke up, who said what so many people here are thinking, then it’s a pretty good example of what we like to tell ourselves we are, right now.

And if Canada did apologize for doing nothing wrong, well, that would be pretty Canadian, too.

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