SOCHI, Russia – In Canada, where everyone was rightfully tied up celebrating another golden hockey moment, it barely rated as news. But it still needs to be said.
The decision by the International Olympic Committee to rule Swedish centre Nicklas Backstrom out of the gold-medal game on Sunday was shameful. It was unsporting. Unolympic.
The mere fact that the organization had allowed Lubomir Visnovsky to compete in the Vancouver Games after committing the same small violation only underscores what a fiasco this was. Here are the facts: Backstrom took allergy medication, the same one he has taken during seven years’ worth of negative drug tests, and properly alerted the IOC about it.
He was subjected to doping control last Wednesday after a quarterfinal win over Slovenia and was only notified that there was a problem two hours before Sunday’s game with Canada. The poor man had to stop his pre-game warmup at Bolshoy Ice Dome and bike frantically across the Olympic park for a last-minute hearing with the IOC.
It was there that he was told he was ineligible to play in the biggest game of his life.
"We’re all upset by this," Swedish general manager Tommy Boustedt said after what became a 3-0 loss to Canada. "Our opinion is the IOC has destroyed one of the greatest hockey days in Sweden."
The NHL quickly put out a statement saying that the Washington Capitals centre hadn’t violated any of its rules. The International Ice Hockey Federation wisely distanced itself from this inexplicable decision as well.
"He’s an innocent victim of circumstances," said Dr. Mark Aubry, the IIHF’s chief medical officer. "There is no doping in this instance."
And thus, Backstrom’s name was cleared about three hours after it was smeared. What a thing.
The Olympics are about gold medals, yes, but they’re also about experiences. Backstrom almost certainly wouldn’t have changed the outcome of Sunday’s game, but he had more than earned the right to play in it.
Shame on the IOC for denying him that opportunity.