The suspension of Russia’s anti-doping agency (Rusada) has been lifted despite widespread opposition.
The World Anti-Doping Agency is facing the gravest crisis in its 19-year history after it lifted Russia’s suspension, despite pleas from the rest of the anti-doping community that such a decision would be unwise and premature.
The Wada executive committee ended a three-year-suspension which followed a major doping scandal.
Leading athletes, anti-doping bodies and Wada’s vice-president Linda Helleland had opposed the move.
Wada president, Sir Craig Reedie, said the reinstatement was “subject to strict conditions”.
“This decision provides a clear timeline by which Wada must be given access to the former Moscow laboratory data and samples,” the 77-year-old Briton said.
He said the “great majority” of the 12-strong committee had voted in favour of the recommendation at a meeting in the Seychelles.
Should Russia be reinstated without publicly admitting wrongdoing for its state-sponsored doping scheme?
That question has caused ferocious infighting at the World Anti-Doping Agency, the watchdog body tasked with stopping any repeat of the widespread drug use and cover-ups that tarnished a sporting superpower.
WADA’s board is due to vote on the issue on Thursday in the Seychelles. If it votes yes, it might push the International Association of Athletics Federations, which is the world track-and-field body, to welcome back Russia, too.
Russia’s anti-doping agency, RUSADA, was suspended in November, 2015, when a WADA report found top athletes could take banned drugs with near-impunity since RUSADA and the national laboratory would cover for them. Later investigations found evidence that dirty samples were switched for clean ones when Russia hosted the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.
The reinstatement of RUSADA is championed by WADA’s president, Craig Reedie, who has softened two key conditions for Russia, and the move has the tacit backing of the International Olympic Committee.
But despite a recommendation for reinstatement from a key WADA committee, it has provoked anger from other anti-doping figures who feel Russia can’t be trusted to reform without accepting more of the blame.
Athletes on one of WADA’s own commissions, Russian doping whistle-blower Grigory Rodchenkov and WADA vice-president Linda Helleland lead the opposition.
“I am afraid that by opting for the easiest way out, it will ultimately hurt WADA in the future,” said Helleland, a Norwegian politician who is eyeing a bid to replace Reedie as the organization’s president.
On Wednesday, the International Olympic Committee athletes’ commission came out in favour of reinstatement, but that of the IAAF track federation came out against, along with athletes from USA Swimming.
Reedie softened his position on Russia “in the spirit of compromise,” as he wrote to Russian Sports Minister Pavel Kolobkov in June.
That means dropping a demand for Russia to accept a report that accused the state of directing doping, and instead allowing it to accept an IOC document with milder conclusions. Reedie deemed it satisfactory after Kolobkov wrote that he “fully accepted” the IOC report, and Russia won’t be expected to make any public statement or address exactly who in the vast state sports structure was to blame.
Critical of the move toward reinstating RUSADA, whistle-blower Rodchenkov said Russia’s priority is “protecting their top-level apparatchiks who destroyed the Olympic Games in Sochi.”
WADA’s Reedie also accepted Russia can be reinstated without providing some key evidence from the Moscow laboratory at the centre of the allegations. Instead, Russia promises to deliver it only after it’s reinstated.
Russian law enforcement – and President Vladimir Putin – haven’t changed their argument that the main guilty party was WADA’s star whistle-blower Rodchenkov. Russian law enforcement alleges that he tricked clean Russian athletes into taking drugs for unclear reasons, then faked evidence of abuses at the Sochi Olympics.
Rodchenkov is in hiding in the United States, while other whistle-blowers such as runners Yulia Stepanova and Andrei Dmitriev, have been vilified at home after reporting abuses by teammates. They say they have been forced to leave Russia for their own safety.
Putin ordered his own investigation in 2016 and some Sports Ministry officials, including then-deputy sports minister Yuri Nagornykh, were suspended. However, that investigation never reported any public conclusions and the officials quietly resigned later that year. Vitaly Mutko, who was sports minister during the Sochi Olympics, was swiftly promoted to deputy prime minister.
It’s largely a symbolic battle for RUSADA but could set a precedent in track and field, where Russia has been suspended since 2015. RUSADA’s reinstatement is one of the conditions the IAAF set before it will allow Russia’s team back to full strength, rather than its current neutral status.
That status means Russian track-and-field athletes cannot compete in international competitions under the Russian flag and have to be cleared as independent athletes.
If Russia is listed as compliant, WADA is also likely to drop its recommendation that the country shouldn’t be awarded hosting rights for new competitions. Some major sports have already flouted that measure without any apparent consequences.
The small world of anti-doping officials may be in uproar, but at RUSADA itself all is calm.
A WADA decision last year quietly restored almost all of the agency’s powers without a formal reinstatement since the number of test samples taken in Russia had plummeted. Speaking earlier this month, RUSADA CEO Yuri Ganus said just about the only effects of Russia’s “non-compliant” status were extra monitoring of the agency’s work and problems asking for assistance from foreign agencies.
RUSADA is on track to be among the most active agencies in the world this year after collecting 7,013 in the first eight months of 2018. That’s almost as many as RUSADA did in the run-up to the Sochi Olympics, when it’s accused of routinely “saving” dopers.
WADA says this time the Russian doping test results can be trusted.
World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada) vice-president Linda Helleland says she will vote against lifting the suspension of Russia’s anti-doping agency (Rusada) this week.
Wada’s executive committee meets in the Seychelles on Thursday where they are expected to pave the way for Russia’s readmission into international sport after a major doping scandal.
But Helleland has become the first member of Wada’s senior leadership to oppose the move, insisting the country has not yet met key demands.
“I will vote against the reinstatement of Russia,” she said as the issue continued to cause unprecedented division within the organisation.
Last week, Wada’s compliance review committee (CRC) recommended that its executive committee end a three-year suspension of Rusada, saying the country had “sufficiently acknowledged” failures.
Wada had previously insisted Russia meet two criteria as part of a ‘roadmap’ for its return to compliance: accept the findings of the 2015 McLaren report after an investigation revealed an extensive, government-backed cheating conspiracy, and grant access to its drug-tainted Moscow laboratory.
However BBC Sport then revealed details of a compromise suggested by Wada’s president Sir Craig Reedie and director-general Olivier Niggli to Russia’s Sports Minister in June that was eventually accepted.
Wada defended the apparent softening of its position, but the revelation has sparked an outcry from various athletes and national anti-doping agencies.
Now Helleland – who hopes to replace Reedie as Wada president next year – has also broken ranks.
In a statement the Norwegian politician said: “I can see that progress is being made and I acknowledge the efforts done by Rusada, but as long as the McLaren report is not acknowledged and Wada still has no access to the laboratories, I will vote against the reinstatement of Russia.
“I am in no doubt that the tabled proposal is deviating considerably from the original roadmap and hence I feel I am obliged to defend previous decisions at the Wada ExCo (executive committee). This is one of the most critical decisions the anti-doping community has ever faced.
“I will vote for, and support the original roadmap. This is because I believe you should never make any compromises that undermine your credibility.
“If you choose to reinstate Russia, you defy the very wish of the athletes’ committees around the world, who have very clearly stated that they will not accept a reinstatement now.
“This moment will forever define the credibility of Wada as the independent and strong front runner for clean sport.”
Russia has repeatedly denied running a state-sponsored doping programme, and have been approached for comment.
In a letter to Reedie last week, Russian sports minister Pavel Kolobkov said: “I am grateful for your acknowledgement of the significant achievements in rebuilding Rusada.”
Calls for decision to be postponed
Meanwhile, seven members of Wada’s athlete committee – from seven countries – have signed a statement in which they say “any compromise… will be a devastating blow to clean athletes and clean sport”.
Ten members of the Wada athlete committee have not added their names to the statement, although its chair – Canadian Olympian Beckie Scott, who resigned from the CRC in protest – is also understood to be in support.
“It is for Rusada to be compliant, not for Wada to change its conditions to make Rusada compliant,” they say.
“It should not be possible to commit the biggest doping scandal of the 21st Century and then be reinstated without completing the conditions that have been set.
“Any compromise on the road map will be a devastating blow to clean athletes and clean sport.”
As the civil war in global anti-doping has intensified, the UK Anti-Doping Agency has joined with other leading national anti-doping organisations around the world to call for a postponement of any decision by Wada.
In a remarkable joint statement, the bodies said they were “dismayed” at what they called “a shifting of the goalposts” by Wada and accused it of “sending a message to the world that doping is tolerated” over its deal with Russia.
“In the interests of athletes we urge Wada to postpone the decision of its executive committee on Thursday until such time as Russia has clearly and publicly met the outstanding conditions of Wada’s roadmap,” they said.
The US Olympic Committee Athletes’ Advisory Council has offered its “full and unwavering support” to the stance.
“By acting on promises, and not proven compliance, Wada’s decision on reinstating Rusada would weaken the increasingly delicate integrity of international sport. Ignoring the established conditions also ignores the athletes’ voice that has been begging for a fair and even playing field,” it said.