THE BIG PICTURE: WADA announces new “mission to Moscow”

The dance between the World Anti-Doping Agency and the Russian government will continue on Wednesday, as a three-person WADA team will make another trip to Moscow.

Once again, the goal will be to extract a comprehensive copy of the testing database of the Moscow Laboratory which was at the center of Russia’s state-run doping program from 2011-15 that led to Russia topping the medal table at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games.

WADA’s announcement noted that “Access to, and subsequent authentication and analysis of, the data remains crucial in order to build strong cases against cheats and exonerate other athletes suspected of having participated in widespread doping on the basis of previous WADA-backed investigations led by Richard W. Pound and Professor Richard H. McLaren.”

The bet here is that this trip will be “successful” and that the data files desired by the WADA team will be provided. But that’s only the start:

● By allowing WADA in now, nine days past the 31 December deadline to provide the data, the Russians have placed WADA in the difficult position of potentially penalizing Russian athletes because they missed the deadline … but have the data they want.

● The timing makes perfect sense for the Russian to make WADA look bad, because its Compliance Review Committee will meet on 14-15 January, and is expected to make a recommendation as to whether Russia should be declared non-compliant because they missed the deadline, or just waive it off because they have the data.

● The head of the Compliance Review Committee, Jonathon Taylor (GBR) stated in the WADA announcement that “ all stakeholders were very keen to ensure that declaring a Signatory non-compliant was a last resort, to be pursued only after the Signatory has been given every opportunity to comply and failed to take them. …

“As a result, the CRC regularly receives late information from Signatories ahead of its meetings, which may or may not demonstrate compliance with the outstanding requirements. It will treat this case no differently …” Translation: don’t be surprised if Russia gets no more than a slap on the wrist for being late, IF the data provided is complete and correct.

● While the WADA team may get the data files they are looking for, will they be authentic and complete, or corrupted? WADA won’t know until it runs a comparison – no doubt after leaving Moscow – between the data they receive and a copy surreptitiously sent to it some months ago. How long will that process take?

In its statement, WADA President Craig Reedie (GBR) noted that “While WADA is obliged under the ISCCS to give every opportunity to [Russian Anti-Doping Agency], we are continuing to act on the basis of the 31 December deadline having been missed, with all the consequences that failure could bring.

“This week’s mission to Moscow is not only about us following due process and precedent. If the mission is successful in acquiring the data, it will break a long impasse and will potentially lead to many cases being actioned. Regardless, in the short-term, the ExCo will be considering whether RUSADA should maintain Code-compliance status alongside anti-doping organizations of other major sporting nations that enjoy the same.”

If the Compliance Review Committee does recommend that Russia again be classified as “non-compliant” under the Anti-Doping Code, and the WADA Executive Committee agrees, the process will then proceed as:

● WADA must notify RUSADA immediately.

● If RUSADA wishes to dispute the finding of non-compliance, it would have 21 days to notify WADA of its appeal, and

● The matter would then be referred to the Court of Arbitration for Sport for a final decision.

The retrieval of the database is not the final step for the Russians to become fully compliant. The data will be used to figure out if additional athletes may have been doping and ask for their stores samples from the Moscow Lab, to be re-tested outside of Russia. Additional sanctions could then be imposed on those athletes – including revocations of medals – and possibly on one or more national federations.

Two international federations are also watching events closely, as they have demanded their own access to the data and to the stored samples as necessary. Those would be the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) and the International Biathlon Union (IBU), both of which have sanctions in place against Russia.

The IBU sanctions are only political and do not directly impact athlete entries. The IAAF has suspended Russia entirely and allows only Russian athletes who obtain approval from an IAAF panel – upon application each year – to complete internationally.