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Oscar Winners and ‘Contaminated’ North Koreans as Fight Against Doping Continues

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A fan walks through the stands during the third period of the men's gold medal hockey game between the Olympic athletes from Russia and Germany at the 2018 Winter Olympics, Sunday, Feb. 25, 2018, in Gangneung, South Korea. Photo: AP / Jae C. Hong

It was back to business as usual in Olympic towers for all matters anti-doping last week. Russia’s suspension has been lifted, a line was drawn, and everyone can move on and refocus on sunnier topics such as peace through sport.

Or not. Firstly, Britain is awash with scandal following the publication of an explosive Parliamentary Report entitled Combating Doping in Sport.

A yet-to-be-confirmed fresh doping scandal has reportedly emerged surrounding reigning Olympic 3,000 meter steeplechase champion Ruth Jebet, while we are still trying to get to the bottom of a troubling North Korean failed drugs test incurred by a female ice hockey player before or during Pyeongchang 2018, but swiftly dismissed as “contamination.”

Oh, and the Icarus documentary on Russian doping was named Best Documentary Feature at the Oscars

Barely had the film’s director Bryan Fogel made Olympic history by calling for the resignation of the “crook” Thomas Bach as IOC President in a red-carpet interview than Kremlin-linked television station RT was slamming the “highly politicized awards ceremony.”

Messier than a botched blood transfusion.

Grigory Rodchenkov, the former head of Russia’s anti-doping laboratory and the subject of the Academy Award winning documentary “Icarus.”  Photo: Emily Berl for The New York Times

There are two ways of looking at the British Parliamentary report published today.

On the one hand, it is largely reciting old news and its major conclusions about British sporting luminaries such as Sir Bradley Wiggins, Sir Mo Farah, Sir David Brailsford and Lord Sebastian Coe have long been drawn by journalists and members of the public.

There were not really any new revelations and I would be interested to hear what the constituents of Folkestone and Hythe think about how their Member of Parliament, the Department of Culture Media and Sport Select Committee chair Damian Collins, spends so much time acting in his capacity as savior of world sport rather than sorting out local drainage and post boxes…

But, on the other hand, a report like this prevents sporting bodies from sweeping all problems under the carpet and there were some interesting conclusions.

The first of these concerns the funding necessary to improve drug testing procedures.

“These important anti-doping bodies cannot fulfill their mandate with insufficient funding,” concludes page 38 of the report. “An obvious solution is that sports that benefit from their activities – and particularly wealthier sports – should contribute more. We are attracted by the idea of sports contributing a fixed percentage of their income – from sponsorship or overall – to give the anti-doping bodies some security in planning their programs and expanding their resources. We are pleased to note the increase in funding from Government to UK Anti-Doping (UKAD) following the Tailored Review. However, given the pressures being placed on UKAD, it may need even greater resources that these, and there should be a larger contribution from the sports themselves to supporting the enforcement of the anti-doping rules.”

This has already prompted a backlash from some sports officials, who have pointed out that Governments including Britain’s have only donated very modestly to the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). WADA currently operates a 2018 budget of $32.1 million, of which 50 percent is provided by the Olympic Movement and 50 percent by public authorities. They believe they are still around 50 percent underfunded.

Britain only donated $881,000 in comparison with $2.3 million by the United States. This is slightly disingenuous, however, as UKAD are receiving an additional $8.4 million over the next two years on-top of their existing annual budget of $5.5 million.

Governments certainly could and should do more, but are sports authorities and leagues really doing enough? It is they who, when all is said and done, run the product which is being so damaged by doping.

A fan holding the Russian flag at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. Evidence has confirmed a Russian whistle-blower’s claims of government-ordered cheating. Photo: David J. Phillip/Associated Press

We also received the sad news yesterday of the death aged 88 of Sir Roger Bannister, who in 1954 became the first man to run a sub four-minute mile. It is less known, but as chairman of the British Sports Council – the forerunner of UK Sport – in the 1970s, Sir Roger commissioned a group of chemists to develop the first ever test for anabolic steroids.

How sad that these same products are still causing so many problems almost half a century later.

The IOC still only contributes a fraction of its annual budget to the anti-doping effort and what about an organisation like the Premier League in football? It emerged last week that over a quarter of players in the English Football League did not undergo a single drug test last season.

But dedicating a percentage of broadcasting and sponsorship revenue to fund better drugs testing, research and education suddenly does not seem too bad an idea.

I doubt it will ever happen, though, and this brings us on to a second point.

“We note the progress that the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) is making in establishing more independent processes for the investigation of serious complaints brought by whistleblowers,” reads another section of the report. “However, the [Liliya] Shobukhova case [involving the alleged paying of bribes in return for covering -up failed tests] raises concerns about whether national or international sports federations are capable of investigating themselves when the allegations involve senior figures within the organisation itself. There is a real danger that internal politics inevitably plays a part in the process.”

The old argument about the dangers of the “fox guarding the henhouse,”  in other words.

The North Korea ice hockey case is a classic example of this. Un Hyang Kim, a member of the historic unified women’s team, failed a test at a yet-to-be-announced point before the tournament for banned masking agent hydrochlorothiazide. She was allowed to continue playing, however, and the failure was ruled as “unintentional consumption” due to contaminated food. The case was kept private and we only discovered it last week when the International Ice Hockey Federation posted, then deleted, and then re-posted a statement.

The excuse may be genuine, and it was claimed that her samples only had a very low level of the substance, but the sensitivity of the team and the lack of transparency around the verdict does encourage speculation about “politics” being at play.

The Parliamentary Report welcomes the “development of the Olympic Movement Unit on the Prevention of the Manipulation of Competition, the launch of the International Sport Integrity Partnership and the partnership between the IOC and Interpol.” But clearly the establishment of better ethics proceedings, perhaps in a similar vein to the IAAF’s new Integrity Unit, would be a good step, if still an incomplete one.

Patrick Baumann, the President of the Global Association of International Sports Federations (GAISF), has claimed that National Anti-Doping Organisations (NADOs), of which UKAD is one, are just as conflicted. He may have a point in some cases, yet the current system of devolving power to “independent” bodies which are really anything but is not working.

Consider the process when a Russian athlete failed a drugs test in Pyeongchang.

The AAF or PAAF would be first processed by POCOG before being referred to the ITA, GAISF or DFSU for further analysis, with the acronym of choice depending upon what day of the week you asked. If no TUE or explanatory ADAMS analysis could be found, it may be deemed an ADRV and would then be referred to the IOC and the relevant IF who would, if they wanted to, file a case with the CAS ADD. They would then, eventually, pass it back to the IF, so either the WCF or the IBSF, who would then make a further sanction, or, in the case of the WCF, refer it back to the CAS ADD or CAS AHD.

The case would then be considered by the OARIG in their final recommendation to the IOC EB on whether to lift the ROC suspension and disband the OAR team. Their eventual decision would inevitably be criticized by iNADO, NADO, USADA and, in a subtler way, WADA. The IOC would then fight acronym fire with fire by galvanizing allies such as ASOIF, ANOC, WOA, AIOWF, EOC and the IOC AC to leap to their support.

WTF?

No, they no longer exist due to a rebranding to World Taekwondo. Keep up, please.

It is fair to say that the success of Icarus was in the way it made the utter complexity of all things drug testing comprehensible to normal people.

It would have been nice if the IOC and sporting masters had recognized the contribution of this and other journalistic work in exposing the various scandals rather than harping on about the gap between “public and published opinion.”

Or perhaps they simply prefer it if we are all too confused by the avalanche of acronyms?

By Nick Butler

Republished with permission from insidethegames.biz

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