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The manure of skiing scandal fertilizer for clean Estonian sport

Raul Rebane.
Raul Rebane. Source: Kairit Leibold/ERR

I hope that people have realized by now that no amount of missed sponsorship can outweigh the damage the almost decade-long doping scandal has done to Estonia and Estonian sport. It has affected our image, financing and future worse than anything else in the history of Estonian sport, Raul Rebane says in Vikerraadio's daily comment.

Businessman Toomas Annus' announcement that he will stop sponsoring Estonian sport sparked an extraordinary public debate and storm of emotions. Because the statement followed suspicions voiced on the "Pealtnägija" investigative journalism program according to which Annus is involved in the doping scandal of Estonian cross-country skiers, his move hit two birds with the same stone – sports and media. And it has taken off. I would take this opportunity to thank Annus as it will become much clearer what is what and who is who after this debate.

The first reaction came from current and former top athletes who threw their weight behind Annus and were very cross with the media. This was also the reaction of Estonian Olympic Committee (EOK) President Urmas Sõõrumaa who opined that the media has done irreversible damage to Estonian sport. Positions have become more balanced by today and the entire picture is seen as more than who missed out on funding.

Sport in Estonia is in the middle of a restart following the skiing scandal right now and we are witnessing the last breaths of the Soviet way of thinking in sports. The change has already taken place for the majority of Estonian athletes and coaches to whom using doping no longer even occurs.

However, the process has been more difficult for the public as former medals are bittersweet and the public shame of national heroes painful to bear. Let us recall if only the public campaign "We Believe Andrus Veerpalu" that ended in stark disappointment for tens of thousands of people.

I hope that people have realized by now that no amount of missed sponsorship can outweigh the damage the almost decade-long doping scandal has done to Estonia and Estonian sport. It has affected our image, financing and future worse than anything else in the history of Estonian sport. Its pedagogical effect has caused a lot of talents to abandon sport and affected the decisions of parents and sponsors.

What Toomas Annus does with his money is up to him and this is what he decided. It is a shame, and we can hope most current and future sponsors will not follow his lead, while I'm sure some are thinking about it.

The manure of the scandal has already become fertilizer for new and clean Estonian sport. There is nothing more beautiful than watching a talented child develop and having a hand in it is pure joy. That is usually the main motivation of sponsors as opposed to praise from the media. The role of sponsors is great in the current system as many talents find it difficult to progress without help from volunteers.

However, conclusions the media can draw from this scandal go far beyond social media exclamations calling for the termination of [host of "Pealtnägija"] Mihkel Kärmas. What were we really told?

We were told that sponsorship will be withheld if the media can't keep its mouth shut. This position was elegantly summed up by the Conservative People's Party (EKRE) media portal Uued Uudised by attaching to the incident a broader media-philosophical meaning. Jaak Tali wrote on January 30: "Perhaps people will now realize on the backdrop of this collapse of our sports activities that this kind of blossoming of the 'speech is free' ideology will only see even bigger collapses in the future." In other words, it would be better if speech was not free. I cannot agree in what is a democratic country in 2021.

The Estonian media is not better or worse than we are. The media makes mistakes just as we do. There are numerous structures from the press council to courts through which to correct such mistakes. If one feels their actions have been wrongly interpreted, one is free to turn to the aforementioned organizations.

However, media silence will bring new and bigger problems. The problem with coverage of the doping scandal was not talking about it but rather the fact it was not talked about for years. It clearly prolonged our current agony.

Luckily, this silence did not befall all of our media. Let us recall how Mati Alaver's court files were classified and the power brought to bear in order to drown the entire scandal. Only media pressure and seeking access to the materials in court has led to the healing process that is now underway and "Pealtnägija" has been instrumental in this.

Therefore, it is a struggle between two ways to see the world – to talk or to keep silent. Those who support the position that the media should "keep quiet or otherwise keep singing our praises" should not be surprised if things get rowdy. Whereas things would be bad indeed if that wasn't the consequence.

I urge people to look beyond the money in this debate, to the life and ethics of the new generation, including the new generation of athletes, to see people. Otherwise, we will be left with what the Chinese proverb warns against: "Those who chase moose, fail to see the mountains, while those who chase money, fail to see people!"


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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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