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Armour: In Indicting Russian Spies, Justice Department Shows Guts IOC and WADA Won’t

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The Justice Department building in Washington, D.C. on Thursday, Aug. 27, 2015. Photo: Susan Walsh/AP

By Nancy Armour |

They tried to tell you.

The athletes, the folks who truly care about fair play and clean sport, the countries that haven’t sold their souls for Russia’s almighty rubles — they begged and pleaded with the International Olympic Committee and World Anti-Doping Agency to not give in. They warned of what a horrible message it would send to let Russia back into the good graces of the Olympic movement a mere two years after its widespread and systemic doping program was discovered.

And still the IOC and WADA gave in.

Don’t they feel stupid now.

On Thursday, just two weeks after WADA reinstated Russia’s anti-doping agency, the U.S. Department of Justice announced the indictment of seven Russian spies in connection with the hacking of systems used by international anti-doping officials. The Russians then stole medical records and other data of athletes, including Serena and Venus Williams and Olympic gymnastics champion Simone Biles, and published them through a group that called itself “Fancy Bears.”

These weren’t bored teenagers testing their hacking skills and trying to prove how smart they were. The seven who were indicted were members of the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence, and their sole aim was retaliation against those who had the audacity to believe Russia should be punished for cheating.

“All of this was done to undermine those organizations’ efforts to ensure the integrity of the Olympic and other games,” John Demers, assistant attorney general for national security, said at a news conference to announce the indictments.

It’s nice to see the Justice Department have the athletes’ backs. If only the people in power in the Olympic movement did, too.

Doping is, unfortunately, a part of sport, and it happens in every country. But there is a big difference between individual cheats like Lance Armstrong and Marion Jones, and a program that is imagined and implemented by the state.

A new and improved drug cocktail. Detailed schedules to ensure optimum results. And in the height of audacity, dirty samples that disappeared through a mouse hole in the official anti-doping laboratory at the Sochi Games and were handed to state security agents, who swapped them for clean urine collected before the Olympics.

This is what the Russians did. This is who they are. At the behest of Vladimir Putin, their only objective is to win, and if that requires the aid of chemists and computer geeks, so be it.

“Russia essentially has launched a full-scale invasion of western countries, institutions, and infrastructure — using computers, not rockets. A few court filings will not deter them,” said Jim Walden, the attorney for Grigory Rodchenkov, the scientist who helped coordinate Russia’s doping system before fleeing the country and spilling its secrets in 2016.

“Unless the world comes together to respond forcefully,” Walden added, “the Russians will only be further emboldened and brazen.”

Don’t hold your breath waiting for the IOC and WADA. They’ve had ample opportunities to stand up to Putin and Russia, only to show time and again that they have neither the will nor the spine.

Russia has stubbornly refused to acknowledge its crimes against the Olympic movement or turn over data and stored samples from its anti-doping lab in Moscow. That alone should disqualify them from participation.

Yet Russia’s “ban” from the Pyeongchang Olympics was a joke, and President Thomas Bach lifted it as soon as he possibly could. Late last month, despite the objections of athletes around the world, WADA welcomed Russia’s anti-doping agency back into its fold.

Now their cowardice has been exposed.

“The indictment today shows that there are many people, organizations and countries out there that not only believe in fair play but will remain diligent in pursuing the truth to ensure justice is served,” Travis Tygart, head of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, said in a statement.

With the indictments, the Justice Department showed clean sport is worth defending. If only the IOC and WADA thought so, too.

This article was republished with permission from the original author and 2015 Ronald Reagan Media Award recipient, Nancy Armour, and the original publisher, USA Today. Follow columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.

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