Opinion 15th August 2017

Russia still not acknowledging past doping in athletics

At the end of last month, the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) refused to readmit the Russian Athletics Federation (RusAF) to international competition. An IAAF Taskforce said that RusAF had still not provided an ‘appropriate official response’ to the Independent Person (IP) Reports produced for the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) by Richard McLaren. In addition to this, a number of issues still remain with Russia’s acknowledgement of past doping, which risk further delaying its return to international competition.

Return of medals

In February, RusAF warned 19 athletes to return 23 medals from the Beijing 2008 and London 2012 Olympics, after retests of their samples by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) resulted in adverse analytical findings (AAF). ‘Disregarding the rules of the Olympic Charter and the IOC’s rules by failing to return the medals has a negative impact on our recovery process and the restoration of RusAF’s membership for our athletes to take part in international competitions’, read a RusAF statement.

At that time, just one medal had been returned. Despite six months having passed, that number has grown to just three, reported Russian news agency Tass. Tatyana Firova, who took silver in the 4x400m in both Beijing and London, has said that she will not return her medals, arguing that none of her competitors deserved them either.

Under Rule 59.2.2 of the Olympic Charter, it is up to the disqualified athlete to return a medal to the IOC. IOC decisions on disqualification of athletes who won medals require the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) to secure the return of the medal ‘as soon as possible’. However, as there is no penalty mandated in the Charter, athletes are under no obligation to return their medal.

‘Neutral’ athletes

A total of 19 ‘Authorised Neutral Athletes’ competed in the IAAF’s London 2017 World Championships, finishing ninth in the medal table. “Russian athletes performed well at the World Championships in London”, said Russian Minister of Sports Pavel Kolobkov in a statement. “We have taken ninth place in the overall standings. We are ahead of Germany, and almost performed as well as China. If the team was at full strength, I’m sure we would have fought to finish in the top three.”

National Anti-Doping Plan

At the start of July, Russia approved its National Anti-Doping Plan (NADP). The English version of the NADP still denies that institutionalised doping has ever taken place in Russia. ‘The Russian federation has never had an institutionalised and government-operated system of manipulating doping control processes’, it reads.

This appears to be a translation of the Russian version of the document, which reads: ‘There was no State system for manipulating the results of doping tests of athletes in the Russian Federation’  (При этом в Российской Федерации не было и не существует государственной системы манипулирования результатами допинг-проб спортсменов). Both versions mention that an International Paralympic Committee (IPC) decision to ban Russian athletes from the Rio 2016 Paralympics was ‘completely without factual grounds’.

At WADA’s March Symposium in Lausanne, Richard McLaren clarified that the second of his Independent Person (IP) Reports into systemic Russian doping had only mentioned ‘institutionalised’ doping because he had “redefined his terminology” following conversations with Russia’s Ministry of Sport, as ‘State sponsored’ doping is understood to mean that which is ordered by Russian President Vladimir Putin and his inner circle. The NADP casts doubt on this assertion, as it appears that ‘state sponsored’ and ‘institutionalised’ could translate into Russian as the same thing.

WADA insists that this issue has been addressed, however Kolobkov denies State involvement. “No, nobody is talking about State participation”, he said in an interview published by the Ministry of Sport. “Even McLaren is no longer talking about State participation. There are no requirements regarding recognition of State participation”.

Icarus

One of the most illuminating sections in Bryan Fogel’s ‘Icarus’ film concerns the release of Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov, former Director of the Moscow Laboratory, from a mental health institution. In the film, Rodchenkov tells Fogel that his release was personally ordered by Putin due to an invitation to visit the London 2012 laboratory and in return for Rodchenkov’s running of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic doping programme.

Rodchenkov claims that the invitation to visit the London laboratory was only applicable to him. “You can imagine how important this was to Russia”, says Rodchenkov. This resulted in the dropping of criminal charges against him. “It was my redemption”, he says. Rodchenkov points out that his boss was Russia’s former Deputy Minister of Sport, Yuri Nagornykh, who reported to Mutko, who reported to Putin.

Blood & urine

WADA confirmed that it has not been able to access blood and urine samples held at the Moscow laboratory since it was suspended on 10 November 2015. Access to the samples has been under the protection of the Investigative Commission of the Russian Federation (SKR), which launched an investigation on 8 June last year. The SKR is a different body from the FSB, the successor to the KGB that was found to be involved in sample manipulation at the Sochi 2014 laboratory in both the Icarus film and McLaren’s IP Reports.

WADA has told the Russian government that it must allow access to the samples held at the Moscow laboratory before the Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA) can be reaccredited. The reinstatement of RUSADA was also specified as one of the conditions that must be met before the IAAF can reinstate the RusAF to international competition.

A fine

It is understood that the two IOC Commissions investigating and interpreting McLaren’s IP Reports will report their findings in October. A Press Association report that the IOC was considering issuing a fine to Russia has been dismissed as pure speculation.

Criticism was launched against Beckie Scott, Chair of the WADA Athlete Commission, for suggesting that a fine would be inappropriate. WADA’s Founding President, Dick Pound, also supported Scott.

“We believe the comments made by the Chair of WADA’s Athlete Committee are inappropriate at this time”, read a statement signed by Angela Ruggiero, Chair of the IOC Athletes’ Commission and a member of the WADA Athlete Committee; and Tony Estanguet, Vice-Chair of the IOC Athletes’ Commission, and a member of WADA Athlete Committee and WADA Executive Board. “We do not wish to speculate, and we hope that other Athletes’ Commissions will refrain from comment until the full facts of the case emerge and the investigations are completed. We believe speculations about possible outcomes without knowing the result of the work of the two IOC Commissions is creating confusion to athletes. Therefore, we are all urgently awaiting the two IOC Commissions to complete their work ahead of the upcoming winter season so that athletes are accurately informed about the facts, the actual situation and resulting decisions, ultimately leading to cleaner sport for all.”

Failure in governance and regulation

The situation in Russia highlights a major failure in the current system used to govern and regulate sport. The IAAF and the IOC are happy to investigate what has occurred in Russia, yet they do not want to be the ones to take action. Commercially, they are keen to welcome Russia back into the fold, as this will generate revenue. Yet they find it difficult to reconcile what has occurred in Russia with the ethics of sport. WADA, on the other hand, can only make recommendations from the sidelines.

The result is the sort of infighting highlighted above, as well as nebulous statements on progress made by Russia that do not appear to be based on fact. Yes, access has been granted to blood samples in the new laboratory in Moscow, but samples relating to the period in which systemic doping is alleged to have taken place are still under State protection. Yet sport attempts to argue that the State is not involved. The FSB, which was found to have interfered in the Moscow laboratory, is a State organisation. Athletes and Ministers still deny WADA’s findings.

Questions also remain about how sport’s governing bodies interact with each other when faced with such a crisis. In the Icarus film, Fogel and Rodchenkov provide WADA with a list which they claim lists what every Russian athlete was taking at London 2012. WADA had this list ahead of the Rio 2016 Olympics. Yet the IOC decision was to allow Russian athletes who could demonstrate they were clean to compete. If the IOC had this list, then why was this decision made? The Sports Integrity Initiative has asked both the IOC and WADA about whether the list was passed on, yet neither has responded.

The Russian situation has revealed how sporting governance has too many conflicts of interest to be able to cope with such a situation. The IOC also faces a difficult conundrum. Should it decide to do issue a fine or a similar sanction, it will be accused of being too soft on Russia. If it does ban Russia from the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, which take place in February next year, it will face accusations that it should have done the same thing ahead of Rio. Sport is at a crossroads. How it navigates its way across them will be interesting to watch.

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