Opinion 7th September 2017

How Russia’s National Anti-Doping Plan hampers its return to international competition

Russia is currently fighting to return to international competition ahead of the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics, however the government’s National Anti-Doping Plan (NADP) is likely to hamper sport’s efforts. The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) has been reluctant to comment on its view of the NADP, other than stating that it is subject to review. This could be because whilst the publication of the NADP does make changes within Russian sport, its contents also appear to codify Russia’s previously held political position. This is:

• That State-sponsored doping never took place in Russia;
• That the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) decision to ban the Russian Paralympic Committee (RPC) was not based on facts.

The NADP also makes a number of promises that its contents fail to deliver. For example, whilst promising to protect whistleblowers who expose doping in Russian sport, it fails to explain how this will be done. Whilst promising that Doping Control Officers (DCOs) will be allowed access to closed cities to test athletes, details reveal that only DCOs who are Russian citizens will be permitted access.

Codified denial of State involvement

Both the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) and the IPC require an appropriate response to the findings of Richard McLaren in his two Independent Person (IP) Reports into systemic doping produced for WADA. Unless the Russian Athletics Federation (RusAF) and the Russian Paralympic Committee (RPC) provide such an appropriate response, their athletes will not be permitted to return to international competition. Unfortunately for them, through its approval of the NADP on 10 July, Russia’s Federal Government codified its position that State-sponsored doping never took place in Russia. This will make the provision of such an ‘appropriate response’ very difficult.

The English version of the NADP (PDF below) 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).

However, whilst the NADP appears to be allowed to confuse ‘State’ doping with ‘institutionalised’ doping, Richard McLaren was not permitted the same luxury. Vitaly Smirnov, Chair of the Independent Public Anti-Doping Committee (IPADC) which put together the NADP, recently claimed that Richard McLaren had dropped his accusation that the Russian State was behind the doping programme outlined in his reports. McLaren has denied that his position has changed. The reasons why Smirnov pushed for this change in terminology now appear clear.

It appears that a discussion took place in Zurich in October 2016, and McLaren agreed to change his terminology. McLaren’s focus on ‘institutionalised’ rather than ‘State-sponsored’ doping in the second IP Report allows the Russian State to deny involvement, as codified in the NADP above. This would allow Smirnov to move forward with reinstating Russian sport into international competition, conveniently allowing the State to absolve itself of any responsibility.

However, McLaren’s statement denying that his conclusions have changed perhaps indicate a reluctance at having made that decision. ‘Since Professor McLaren’s evidence stopped short at the Minister of Sport and Deputy Minister, he accepted – even though he did not necessarily agree with the Russian interpretation – to modify his characterisation of the Russian doping scheme to an “institutional systematic evasion of doping control procedures”’, it reads [emphasis added].

The WADA IP Report found that Mutko ordered the covering up of a Russian footballer’s positive test…

McLaren’s apparent frustration is perhaps understandable. As The Sports Integrity Initiative has consistently pointed out, McLaren’s second report directly implicated former Minister for Sport, Vitaly Mutko, in covering up the positive test of a Russian footballer. Mutko has since been promoted to Deputy Prime Minister, and is President of the Football Union of Russia (FUR) and Chairman of the Local Organising Committee for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia. It could be argued that Mutko’s involvement shows that the Russian State was directly involved in directing the systemic Russian doping programme outlined in McLaren’s reports.

Codified non-acceptance of IPC decision

Unfortunately for Russian para-athletes, their government’s NADP also codifies non-acceptance of the IPC’s decision to ban the RPC from international competitions. Both the Russian and English version of the NADP mention that the decision was ‘completely without factual grounds’.

The reason that this has fallen into sharp focus is that the IPC has delayed a decision on whether the RPC will be reinstated until November, allowing Russian athletes to compete in Pyeongchang 2018 qualifying events as neutral athletes as an ‘interim measure’.

“The remaining two criteria – the full reinstatement of the Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA) by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and the acknowledgment and acceptance of the McLaren Report – are interlinked and now extremely critical”, said IPC President Sir Philip Craven in a speech to the IPC Governing Board. “In all three reports it has submitted to the IPC Governing Board and the RPC, the Taskforce has raised its major concerns as to the lack of any material progress regarding the provision of an official response from the Russian authorities that adequately addresses the findings made by Professor McLaren. This is a requirement of the WADA roadmap for the reinstatement of RUSADA and a reinstatement criterion for the RPC.”

Once again, the NADP hampers the RPC by not allowing it to give such an ‘appropriate response’. To do so, it would have to go against the position outlined in the NADP, that the IPC decision to ban Russia was without factual grounds.

Whistleblowers

The NADP promises to ‘promote the use of whistle-blowers – i.e. persons who will provide timely information about any anti-doping violations by athletes, support personnel, other sport stakeholders and sporting organisations’. However, it does not provide any detail about how this promise will be implemented.

An ‘implementation plan’ (PDF below) for the NADP published by the Russian Federal Government on 10 July tasks RUSADA with developing measures to protect informants. A deadline of 1 August is specified within the implementation plan, however details on how whistleblowers will be protected have yet to be published.

Closed cities

In June last year, a WADA Report outlined how Doping Control Officers (DCOs) were having difficulty in testing athletes in ‘closed cities’, where Russian military or nuclear facilities are located and public access is restricted. Athletes were often listing themselves as located in such cities, and national championships were often held there, which meant that testing could not be conducted.

A Taskforce Report produced by the IAAF on Russian reinstatement (PDF below) reveals that WADA has agreed that if an athlete declares a ‘closed city’ to which access has not been granted on their ‘whereabouts’ form – which indicates where athletes in the Registered Testing Pool (RTP) will be available for testing – then that will be considered a ‘filing failure’. Three filing failures in a year constitutes an anti-doping rule violation (ADRV).

It has also been agreed that RUSADA will monitor athletes that are not in the RTP but locate themselves in ‘closed cities’ that DCOs cannot access. It will attempt to target test such athletes, or even move them into the RTP so that their location in such a ‘closed city’ will constitute a filing failure.

Whilst this is to be welcomed, the ‘implementation plan’ shown above indicates that only DCOs who are Russian citizens will be permitted to access ‘closed cities’, and even they will have to apply for special permits. Point 15 of the plan outlines that the Russian Ministry of Transport will be responsible for drawing up measures that will allow for ‘adoption of measures for issuing special permits to Doping Control Officers who are citizens of the Russian Federation for multiple visits to close territorial and administrative entities for the doping control of athletes’ (Принятие мер по оформлению специальных разрешений инспекторам допинг-контроля, имеющим гражданство Российской Федерации, на многократное посещение закрытых территориально-административных образований для проведения допинг-контроля спортсменов).

Compromise

It is telling that sport has not taken a stronger stance on Mutko’s apparent involvement in the systemic doping outlined in the Independent Commission (IC) and IP Reports produced for WADA into systemic doping in Russia. The NADP appears to illustrate that as far as the Russian State is concerned, little has changed. State-directed doping never existed in Russia (despite the apparent involvement of its Deputy Prime Minister, Vitaly Mutko).

That the NADP codifies this position is perhaps unsurprising. The IPADC Commission includes two members of the State Duma (Russian Parliament) and a Director of Russia’s Federal Medical & Biological Agency (FMBA), which is working with Russian sport to ‘optimise’ the performance of athletes.

Whilst it appears that McLaren is reluctant to accept the Russian State’s attempt to absolve itself of any responsibility for systemic doping in Russia, sport may be prepared to compromise. WADA has previously told The Sports Integrity Initiative that the NADP’s codification of non-acceptance of State involvement in systemic Russian doping has been addressed directly with Vitaly Smirnov. Yet the contents of the NADP have not been changed.

Whether this means that sport has accepted the Russian State’s stance is debatable. Nobody appears to know what an ‘appropriate official response’ to the findings of Richard McLaren means.

Other issues also remain. WADA has also confirmed that it still doesn’t have access to urine samples stored in the Moscow laboratory that it shut down in 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. Russian State authorities have been blocking access to this potential ‘smoking gun’ for almost two years (if stale urine can be described in such a way).

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 State that it must allow access to the samples held at the Moscow laboratory before RUSADA can be reaccredited.

Russia is the largest country in the world in terms of land mass, and is the ninth largest in terms of population. Its continued exclusion from sport’s major events is hurting the pockets of sport’s governing bodies. How far sport is prepared to compromise on these issues remains to be seen. Perhaps ironically, nothing illustrates the Russian State’s involvement in dictating sporting policy better than the NADP…

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