Monday’s decision by the World Anti-Doping Agency to hold the Russian Anti-Doping Agency to be non-compliant for a period of four years was cheered by some, but was considered too lenient by others who wanted Russia banned completely from the Olympic and Paralympic Games in Tokyo and beyond.
Lost in most of the coverage, of course, was any reference to the regulations under which the Russian sanctions were imposed, namely the International Standard for Code Compliance by Signatories, issued in April 2018.
In it, section 11.2.6 controls the situation; simplified below to show only the pertinent text:
“The consequences should not go further than is necessary to achieve the objectives underlying the Code. In particular, where a consequence imposed is exclusion of Athletes … consideration should be given to whether it is feasible … to create and implement a mechanism that enables … Athletes … to demonstrate that they are not affected in any way by the Signatory’s noncompliance.
“If so, and if it is clear that allowing them to compete in the Event(s) in a neutral capacity (i.e., not as representatives of any country) will not make the … Consequences … less effective, or be unfair to their competitors or undermine public confidence in the integrity of the Event(s) … or in the commitment of WADA … to defend the integrity of sport against the scourge of doping, then such a mechanism may be permitted, under the control of and/or subject to the approval of WADA …”
In order for the decision of the WADA Executive Committee to be upheld at the Court of Arbitration for Sport, it must follow these rules. MUST follow these rules, or have its sanctions reversed by the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
There were some hysterical comments that the sanctions were too light, some very considered views that the Russians simply will not learn from even this level of sanction, and comments from Russian sources that the penalties were too severe.
● The always-thoughtful Edwin Moses, Emeritus Chair of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (and two-time Olympic gold medalist), told the Associated Press on video that he doesn’t feel the penalties will result in a change in future actions by the Russians:
“I’m not optimistic at all that that’s going to change. They’ve had three swings at the bat. Struck out three times. The duplicity, deceit and deception that they exhibited is just beyond the pale, and I think it’s an embarrassment to the athletes in the world that now, at this stage, they’re fighting for the rights of their clean athletes, as they call them. Meanwhile, they’ve destroyed all the data that could either exonerate them of find that they’re guilty. So that within itself is another layer of deception.”
(WADA’s statement disagreed, noting that “WADA now has the names of all suspicious athletes in the LIMS database, and thanks to the painstakingly forensic nature of the investigation, this includes the athletes whose data was manipulated or even deleted” and endorsed a comment on the current operations of the Russian Anti-Doping Agency that “the evidence (including from WADA’s recent audits of RUSADA’s operations) indicates that RUSADA’s work is effective in contributing to the fight against doping in Russian sport.”)
● For its part, the International Olympic Committee issued a statement that underscored that its view of the sanctions had been implemented:
“At the same time, we also note that the report finds that the sports movement has not been involved in any of this manipulation, and that the report does not indicate any wrongdoing by the sports movement in this regard, in particular the Russian Olympic Committee or its members. In this context, the IOC welcomes the opportunity offered by WADA to Russian athletes to compete, ‘where they are able to demonstrate that they are not implicated in any way by the non-compliance’.”
● The response from Russia was predictably furious. The Russian TASS news agency posted 27 stories on the topic of “Doping Scandal in Russian Sports” from Monday through Wednesday, including these headlines:
= “RUSADA’s deputy chief says WADA’s verdict in Russia case was well-expected”
= “Russian athletes’ status in 2020 Olympics depends on length of CAS review”
= “Russian players to fly national colors at 2020 UEFA Euro Cup matches, says official”
= “Medvedev says WADA’s decision is continuation of anti-Russian hysteria”
= “Russian may file appeal to CAS since WADA’s decision violates Olympic Charter – Putin”
= “Collective responsibility must not violate interests of athletes from Russia, says Peskov”
= “Russian chess players to compete in global tournaments under national flag, says official”
= “WADA’s thorough probe into doping abuse in US is needed – Russian legislator”
= “Tretiak says Russia’s ice hockey team may play under national flag at 2022 Olympics”
On Wednesday, Russian Boxing Federation Secretary General Umar Kremlev – the same guy who offered to pay the $16 million of accumulated debt of the International Boxing Federation last May – told the Associated Press that Russian boxers will participate in the 2020 Olympic Games only if the sanctions requiring them to compete as neutrals are reversed.
Moreover, the AP reported in the same story:
“Separately, the speaker of Russia’s upper house of parliament said Russia could create an alternative to the Olympics.
“‘This ruling show the clear crisis in international sports institutions. I believe that Russia could host its own games at home,’’ Valentina Matviyenko said in comments reported by the Interfax news agency.”
So what about all this?
In my view, the sanctions were very carefully crafted to work within the regulations, and therefore withstand an appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport that everyone knows is coming.
That means a “mechanism” to allow a forum for Russian athletes to demonstrate their compliance with the anti-doping rules must be included in the sanctions, and it was.
But the WADA decision had some curious shortcomings, which do undercut its effectiveness.
The most troubling is that the sanctions apply only to the Olympic Games, Paralympic Games and World Championships at the senior level, and not to age-group, cadet or junior (or Masters) events. TASS reported it confirmed this with Jonathan Taylor, the British lawyer who headed the WADA Compliance Review Committee that drafted the sanctions.
Per TASS, “‘Age grade champs not included,’ Taylor said.”
Moreover, the defined events in the sanctions do not include continental or regional championships such as the UEFA Euro 2020 Championship, where Saint Petersburg will host games in Group B and a quarterfinal. No problem for the Russian team there.
Doesn’t this send a mixed message to exactly those athletes who WADA is trying to reach with an anti-doping message. For those younger athletes competing in age-group regional and world events, and for athletes competing in prestigious European Championships of all kinds, the sanctions have no impact.
This is a serious omission, but one which has not been talked about much so far. A blanket ban on Russian athletes would face serious scrutiny from the Court of Arbitration for Sport, and WADA did not want to risk having its most serious sanction blow up. But those athletes who WADA wants to educate most – younger competitors – should be the ones to see the real consequences of doping on both a national and individual scale. Wouldn’t making them do through a personal anti-doping application process be exactly the time of educational tool that would make the biggest impact?
In cases like the Russian doping scandal, a ban from the Olympic Games is always seen as the biggest possible penalty. But if the idea is to change the anti-doping context in Russia, isn’t a program aimed at emerging elite athletes also needed?