LANE ONE: Russia readmitted by WADA, causing it to split apart

The World Anti-Doping Agency’s Executive Committee did a curious thing on Thursday during its meeting in the Seychelles: by re-integrating Russia into its membership, it set off a civil war.

First, the action. According to WADA:

“The ExCo resolved to reinstate RUSADA, subject strictly to the following post-reinstatement conditions:

1. RUSADA and the Russian Ministry of Sport must procure that the authentic Information Management System (LIMS) data and underlying analytical data of the former Moscow Laboratory set out in the WADA President’s letter of 22 June 2018 are received by WADA (via access to the data by an independent expert agreeable to both WADA and the Russian authorities) by no later than 31 December 2018.

2. RUSADA and the Russian Ministry of Sport must procure that any re-analysis of samples required by WADA following review of such data is completed by no later than 30 June 2019.

In addition, as per the RUSADA Roadmap to Compliance, a successful audit of RUSADA must be carried out within four months to ensure RUSADA continues to meet compliance standards.” 

The vote was 9-2, with only Linda Helleland (NOR) and Grant Robertson, the Minister of Sport and Recreation in New Zealand, voting against; Polish Minister of Sport & Tourism Witold Banka abstained.

The only ones who seemed happy about the outcome were those who voted for it, the International Olympic Committee – which had been lobbying for this outcome for months – and the Russians. WADA chief Craig Reedie (GBR) said in the WADA statement:

“WADA understands that this decision will not please everybody. When cheating is as rampant and as organized as it was in Russia, as was definitively established thanks to investigations commissioned by WADA, it undermines so much of what sport stands for. Clean athletes were denied places at the Olympic and Paralympic Games, as well as other major events, and others were cheated of medals. It is entirely understandable that they should be wary about the supposed rehabilitation of offenders. The pressure on WADA to ensure that Russian sport is genuinely clean now and in the future is one that we feel very keenly and we will maintain the highest levels of scrutiny on RUSADA’s operations and independence.”

OK, so Reedie understands what he’s done. A lot of others were not pleased, no matter what the justification. The most uncompromising statement came from U.S. Anti-Doping Agency chief executive Travis Tygart, which said in part:

“Today marked the biggest decision in the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA)’s history, and it delivered a devastating blow to the world’s clean athletes. By ripping up the very ‘Roadmap’ it created, WADA’s decision to reinstate Russia despite the nation not having met the two remaining Roadmap conditions is bewildering and inexplicable. In its landmark meeting today, WADA sent one clear message to the world: we put the wishes of a small handful of sports administrators above the rights of millions of clean athletes …”

“Athletes from Germany, Australia, the Netherlands, Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States have come out like never before to demand a robust, independent and confident WADA that stands on its own two feet. The world’s athletes want the International Olympic Committee (IOC) – and the conflict that their involvement brings to clean sport – to stay well away from WADA. They want a WADA with teeth, authority, sanctioning power and the determination to get the job done of cleaning up sport and restoring the trust of the billions of sports fans and athletes worldwide. Today, that job must start – and it starts by reforming WADA and giving it the power to regulate as any good global watchdog must do. … It starts by removing the inherent conflict of interest that comes about from the IOC fox guarding the WADA henhouse. The road to the new, stronger WADA must start now.”

The prime Russian whistleblower in the scandal, Russian lab chief Grigory Rodchenkov, said in a statement, “WADA’s decision to reinstate Russia represents the greatest treachery against clean athletes in Olympic history.” U.K. Anti-Doping chief executive Nicole Sapstead’s statement included, “It is clear from the events of the past few days that WADA’s governance system is not sufficiently independent and that the view of athletes and the anti-doping community are not fairly represented.”

So, what happens now?

WADA and the Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA) have their work cut out for them, according to their own terms. The Moscow lab database has to be turned over by the end of the year and the re-testing requested by WADA has to be finished by the middle of next year. Remember that WADA’s own internal expert stated that “the Moscow laboratory’s LIMS database includes 9,453 suspicious findings that were not reported in ADAMS, some of which relate to the 2,876 samples still stored at the Moscow laboratory.” So this is no small task.

But there are other players:

∙ The International Paralympic Committee, which has been much more aggressive than the IOC in suspending Russia from its events, responded to the WADA action by noting its own review committee will decide whether to recommend Russian re-admittance and that (1) the IPC will not be satisfied until Russia reimburses it €257,500 for its costs and (2) “There are many athletes around the world who have concerns with this decision. … The whole world is watching on with great interest.”

∙ The International Assn. of Athletics Federations also has suspended Russia and stated that its taskforce, chaired by Rune Andersen (NOR) will make a recommendation to the IAAF Council at its next meeting in December. The IAAF has its own demands, separate from WADA, that the Russian authorities must acknowledge the McLaren and Schmid Commission reports and provide access to the Moscow Lab’s testing database from 2011-15 “so that the Athletics Integrity Unit can determine whether the suspicious findings reported in the Moscow lab’s LIMS database should be pursued.”

Now let’s talk about money.

According to its latest financial statement, WADA received 46.5% of its $31.96 million in revenue for 2017 from the International Olympic Committee. About 51.4% came from governmental contributions and grants. So without the IOC’s money, WADA would be cut in half.

It would be difficult for the IOC to walk away from supporting WADA and it got its way on the reinstatement of Russia (for now). But an insurgency within the IOC by its Athletes Commission could be effective if well managed. Anything which places the IOC leadership against the clear interests of its athlete constituency will lower public confidence in it further.

Warning sign: look for any significant contribution to WADA by Russia, or an entity controlled by the Russian government. WADA does not list the public authorities which contributed $14.56 million to it in 2017; it should be pressured to at least identify the countries future funds come from.

And the next showdown comes in 2019.

WADA will hold elections next year as Reedie’s term as president will expire. The organization works on a rotating system of Olympic Movement and governmental presidencies and current vice president and Norwegian Minister for Children and Equality, Linda Helleland, has already declared herself as a candidate. She voted against Russia on Thursday, but didn’t come close to carrying the day. Others may now look for a more compelling, charismatic candidate.

The avowed purpose of WADA’s suspension of Russia was to keep the pressure on the country to come clean from its past transgressions. What it has done is turn the pressure on itself. It’s as if WADA’s Executive Committee has turned anti-doping into a dangerous game: Russian Roulette.

Rich Perelman