LANE ONE: Thursday’s decision on RUSADA reinstatement is now about WADA, not Russia

Strange how politics works, turning one thing into another.

The protest by a small number of National Football League players to kneel during the playing of the U.S. national anthem – poorly communicated as a stand against racism – morphed into a question of patriotism and love of country.

Thursday’s meeting of the World Anti-Doping Agency’s Executive Committee in the Seychelles, during which a recommendation from the WADA Compliance Review Committee to reinstate the Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA) as compliant with WADA rules will be considered, is in the same situation.

The question at hand is whether Russia has fulfilled the conditions set before it to be considered compliant. But the issue has turned into a question of confidence in WADA itself.

And WADA has no one to blame but itself.

As explored in detail in Monday’s issue, the Compliance Review Committee forwarded a recommendation for Russian reinstatement based on an exchange of letters between WADA Chair Craig Reedie (GBR) and Director-General Oliver Niggli (SUI) and Russian Minister of Sport Pavel Kolobkov dating back to June. In short, the two sides agreed that the remaining conditions for reinstatement – agreement to the McLaren Reports published in 2016, and complete access to the database and samples in the Moscow Laboratory of RUSADA – would be met by lesser actions:

∙ Instead of acknowledging the truth of the McLaren Reports, the Russians agreed to accept the findings of the International Olympic Committee’s Schmid Commission report, published in 2017.

∙ Instead of turning the Moscow Lab database and samples over to WADA for re-testing, Reedie and Niggli proposed that the database could be shared with a mutually-agreed, “independent expert” and instead of access to all of the samples, a re-analysis of only those samples which are identified from the raw data as having been doping positives would be required.

This has set off a firestorm of protest from within WADA’s own ranks, including the resignation from the Compliance Review Committee of WADA Athlete Committee chair Beckie Scott (CAN), a furious Op-Ed essay published in The New York Times from U.S. Anti-Doping Agency chair Edwin Moses, and blistering statements from the Institute of National Anti-Doping Organisations (iNADO) and individual national anti-doping organizations including the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, U.K. Anti-Doping and many others.

The title of Moses’s critique, WADA’s Credibility Rides on Its Russia Decision, framed the issue perfectly.

The outreach by Reedie and Niggli to the Russian Minister of Sport, was designed – as acknowledged in a WADA statement – “in pragmatism and are nuanced interpretations of the Roadmap in order to bring matters to a conclusion.” That is the point of departure.

In truth, the substitution of agreement to the Schmid Commission Report instead of the McLaren Reports should be enough to satisfy the first requirement of the WADA Roadmap, that Russia take institutional responsibility for its 2011-15 doping scheme. The Schmid Commission Report is quite clear on this.

So we are left with the final requirement, which is access to the Moscow Lab database and stored samples, which have been under the control of an internal Russian “Investigative Committee” for several years. This is where Reedie and Niggli came up short.

The numbers at issue are not small. The WADA Compliance Review Committee recommendation for reinstatement noted 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.”

The iNADO statement, issued on Monday, was clear:

“Given the many months of prior silence it is hard not to be cynical that a proposal, based on weakened terms to accommodate Russia, comes before ExCo at the 11th hour. …

“Both the process and the recommendation itself have been roundly criticized by numerous athlete and anti-doping organizations. Indeed, the fact that these pivotal groups in anti-doping will have no say in a decision which has enormous repercussions for them demonstrates fundamental flaws in the construct of WADA governance. …

“iNADO looks forward to the full return of RUSADA to compliance at the earliest legitimate moment. However, based on the letters exchanged by Russia and WADA, any reasonable person would conclude that Russia has not yet fulfilled its obligations to the global sporting community. WADA must make its decisions based on consistent application of principles and not simply out of expedience pandering to the will of a powerful nation.”

Its call was for the recommendation of the Compliance Review Committee to be tabled.

The statement co-posted by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, U.K. Anti-Doping and others, also asked for the decision on reinstating Russia be postponed:

“Leaders urge WADA not to reinstate RUSADA until such time as it is in receipt of all Moscow Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS) analytical data, allowing anti-doping rule violations to be pursued and justice to be sought for clean athletes impacted by the Pound and McLaren Reports.”

This statement goes further, noting that “Of particular concern is the fact that the Russian Government has yet to provide appropriate access for WADA to the stored urine samples in the Moscow Laboratory.” And:

“For the avoidance of doubt, we, the international anti-doping leaders wish to place on record that the goal posts have been moved. The Roadmap has changed. This is quite simply unacceptable and will not restore confidence in global sport at a time when athletes and sports fans need it most. We implore WADA not to consider reinstating RUSADA until such time as it is in receipt of all Moscow Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS) analytical data, which is essential information and evidence that will help pursue anti-doping rule violations across all sports identified in the Pound and McLaren Reports. Until Russia provides this information and access to samples for reanalysis, unconditionally and within an agreed timeframe, it cannot be deemed to have met this crucial Roadmap requirement. (Emphasis added)

“The global athlete community has taken an unprecedented step to voice their concerns at the WADA Compliance Review Committee’s sudden and new recommendation to reinstate Russia at WADA’s Executive Committee meeting on the Seychelles on 20 September. It sends a message to the world that doping is tolerated at a time when we need to send the entirely opposite message.”

The WADA Executive Committee’s meeting will now be the subject of much scrutiny, as will each of its 12 members. As we noted on Monday, there are multiple options on the table and there will be pressure to give the Russians some relief – remember the IOC reinstated the Russian National Olympic Committee last February – and agreeing that the Schmid Commission Report satisfies one of the two remaining issues could be agreed to.

That would focus the attention on the major issue remaining: access to the Moscow Lab database and the stored samples, which could be re-analyzed by a fully-accredited WADA lab close by; there are two within two hours flight time, in Helsinki (FIN) and Warsaw (POL).

How can Russia be re-admitted without WADA having the Moscow Lab database in hand and access to the 2,876 samples stored there? And if WADA does vote to re-admit Russia, what chance is there that anyone other than the IOC will keep funding it? Maybe Russia will become WADA’s financial backer?!? The discussion should be about Russia, but it’s now all about what WADA will do. Sad.

Rich Perelman