By Richard Pound |
In November 2015, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) declared the Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA) to be non-compliant with the World Anti-Doping Code, the result of a WADA investigation that identified widespread corruption in RUSADA’s activities.
This led to removal of the Moscow Laboratory director, withdrawal of WADA’s accreditation of the laboratory and suspension of the Russian Athletics Federation by the International Association of Athletics Federations.
A subsequent WADA report identified the full extent of cheating in Russia and recommended suspension of Russia from the 2016 Rio Olympics.
In the meantime, however, because Russia is a large and important sporting country, it was essential that a revamped and reliable RUSADA be constituted.
WADA expended much time and effort to bring about the changes necessary to enable RUSADA to regain its code compliance. It is in the interests of all athletes that there be sufficient testing of Russian athletes, an outcome that could not be delivered by “visiting” foreign anti-doping organizations, nor by WADA itself.
These efforts had been largely successful and only two conditions remained. The first was that Russia publicly acknowledge the degree of cheating that had occurred. The second was that WADA be granted access to computer records and samples retained in the Moscow Laboratory. Access had been consistently denied on the basis of an ongoing police investigation.
The Russians did not want to accept the conclusions of WADA’s investigations and expressed themselves as concerned that access to the records might compromise the outcome of the investigation. A solution had to be found.
WADA was prepared to cut some slack on the first condition. The entire world already knew the extent of the Russian cheating and the Russians had accepted the findings of an after-the-fact and parallel International Olympic Committee (IOC) investigation that had confirmed the findings in WADA’s reports.
Regarding the second item, in addition to getting computer files, WADA added the matter of access to the laboratory’s raw data relating to the samples. Such raw data will be needed to assert anti-doping violations. All this is to happen by December 31, 2018.
The first outcome was acceptable. The second materially improved WADA’s ability to follow up on samples to which it has had no access.
On September 20, 2018, the WADA Executive Committee announced that, subject to compliance with specified conditions, RUSADA would be declared code-compliant.
What should have been hailed as a victory by WADA has attracted a firestorm of negative comment, led by a group of national anti-doping organisations (NADOs) that should know better and by athletes who have been provided with misinformation or only partial information.
Media accounts suggest that WADA has caved in on its responsibilities and that Armageddon has occurred with respect to anti-doping. This has generated much heat, but no light. It is also dead wrong.
First, what has actually happened? WADA has not, as bellowed, welcomed Russia with open arms. WADA’s role is to try to ensure that there is a competent and reliable NADO in Russia. It has, therefore, determined that a revamped RUSADA will be allowed, under external supervision, to conduct tests in Russia.
WADA has been denied power by its stakeholders to sanction anyone – it merely reports on code compliance. If there is non-compliance, responsibility for applicable sanctions rests with its stakeholders, including the IOC, international sports federations and Governments.
WADA recommended that Russia be kept out of the 2016 Rio Olympics. The IOC rejected the proposal out of hand, dismissing the reasoned findings of the WADA report as “mere allegations”. It then dumped its own responsibility regarding participation in its event – the Olympic Games – on the International Federations, many of which declined to sanction any, or only token, Russian athletes.
The IOC eventually suspended the Russian National Olympic Committee just before the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Games, once its own investigation duplicated the WADA findings. It nevertheless allowed Russian athletes to participate as “Olympic Athletes from Russia” – hardly an onerous sanction for the egregious Russian misconduct – and lifted that suspension with conspicuous haste at the end of the Games.
With the exception of athletics, no International Federation has targeted Russia. No National Olympic Committee has attempted to exclude or isolate the Russian Olympic Committee. International Federations have continued to allocate their events to Russia. NADOs, many of which depend on funding from their Governments, accuse WADA of conflicts of interest and call for governance reform of WADA, but never, surprisingly, of themselves.
Nobody wants cheaters at the Olympic Games. Unfortunately, WADA has no legal power to keep them out. That is the responsibility of the IOC, the International Federations and the NADOs in each country.
It is they who need to stand up and be counted. It is they who must ensure that there is code compliance – by everyone.
***Editor’s Note: Richard Pound was awarded the United States Sports Academy’s Honorary Doctorate in 1988. The Academy typically awards two honorary doctorates each year — one national and one international. Recipients are presented with a hood, citation, plaque and transcript signifying their honorary degree.***