LANE ONE: WADA Board holds the line on Russia, expands internal independence drive

There was no clap of thunder or bolt of lightning which came from the World Anti-Doping Agency Foundation Board meeting in Baku (AZE) on Thursday, and in many ways, that’s a good thing.

There were three themes coming into the meeting which needed attention and all were addressed:

• The status of the reinstatement of Russia’s anti-doping agency (RUSADA) according to the conditions stated in September;

• The allegation of bullying made by the head of the WADA Athletes Committee, Beckie Scott (CAN), from the September meetings, and

• The continued call for more independence of WADA to act against doping and free of influence from outside forces, including its funders.

On Russia, the status quo was maintained. The Russians have a 31 December deadline to provide the detailed testing data from the Moscow laboratory, in order to then allow WADA (and others) to single out samples held there for additional testing. There was action announced on this:

“WADA President Sir Craig Reedie informed the meeting that a WADA delegation would visit Russia on 28 November to meet with the authorities and visit the Moscow Laboratory. This meeting has been arranged to prepare for a full technical mission shortly thereafter to retrieve the Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS) and underlying data of the Laboratory before 31 December 2018 as required by the ExCo.”

This all seems to be in order, except that news reports from Russia prior to the meetings sounded an alarm. RUSADA chief Yury Ganus told the TASS news agency, “I am feeling worried about how the situation is developing regarding access to the Moscow lab.”

He told Reuters, “We still have more than a month and a half but I don’t think it’s right to delay the decision until the last days of the year.”

But WADA Chair Craig Reedie (GBR) told the Associated Press that he had received a letter from Russian Sports Minister Pavel Kolobkov while in Baku and that “We have an absolutely written guarantee that this will happen from the authorities in Russia and they have accepted the date of December 31. I find it almost inconceivable to believe that we don’t complete this project in time.

“We will be sending a team of highly qualified experts. Everybody knows what they’ve been asked to provide. The experts will deliver it and I’m perfectly confident that we have the right people going in. This will resolve the situation we have with the Russian authorities.”

It’s worth noting that the 28 November meeting is only to prepare for the turnover of the lab data, not for the turnover itself. The WADA announcement from the Baku session noted as well that “A number of Board members at the meeting stressed again the importance that should Russia fail to comply with its outstanding obligations, then swift action should be taken against RUSADA,” which would start with its re-suspension.

On Beckie Scott’s bullying allegations, the WADA announcement stated: “While the initial findings did not conclude that alleged bullying had taken place, the ExCo agreed that given the seriousness of the allegations, a second phase should take place to allow the many people present at the September meeting to be interviewed so that the matter could be concluded satisfactorily.”

The CBC reported that while additional inquiries into the situation vis-a-vis Scott are merited, WADA spokesman James Fitzgerald also said “the committee rejected a call from U.S. Anti-Doping Agency chair Edwin Moses, who said a more thorough probe be conducted into the culture at WADA.”

Moses sent a detailed letter to Reedie prior to the meeting, asking for interviews of everyone at the September meeting, and that is being done. However, he also stressed that “calls for an investigation into WADA’s culture have not been limited to to the singular event of the September 20, 2018, WADA ExCo meeting. A more thorough review of the internal culture at WADA is needed.” That is not happening, at least not yet.

On the independence front, there was some significant action, including the filing of a 10-page report on new governance activities. An independent Ethics Board will be created, a separate Nominations Committee will be formed to review candidates for WADA staff positions, term limits of up to nine years for all members of the Board, Executive Committee and Standing Committees and an independent Chair and Vice-Chair – not a salaried member of a national government or a “senior” member of a sport institution – with the Chair receiving a stipend of up to CHF 100,000 annually.

Moreover, there were recommendations for further athlete and National Anti-Doping Organization representation, the specifics of which will come when these group decide how to nominate candidates to serve on committees.

Importantly, WADA did not move backwards in Baku. The Norwegian Minister and declared candidate for Chair, Linda Helleland, tweeted that “WADA is going in the right direction. A more independent @wada_ama with improved influence of the athletes is making us stronger.” She may be right, but WADA is not there yet. Now it’s Russia move, coming 28 November.

Rich Perelman