17 September 2018

A compromise likely to reveal little

Over the weekend, the Compliance Review Committee (CRC) recommended that the Executive Committee of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) should reinstate the Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA) as compliant with the World Anti-Doping Code when it meets on 20 September. The recommendation was conditional on:

• RUSADA and the Russian Ministry of Sport providing to WADA the authentic Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS) from the Moscow Laboratory by a set date; and
• RUSADA and the Russian Ministry of Sport ensuring that re-testing of samples stored at the Moscow Laboratory required by WADA following analysis of the LIMS data is completed no later than six months after the set date referred to above.

WADA’s climbdown

WADA also published a series of letters between the CRC and Russia’s Minister for Sport, Pavel Kolobkov. These illustrate how WADA has climbed down from the remaining two requirements outlined in its initial Roadmap To Compliance, published on 2 August 2017. These were:

• That the responsible authorities for anti-doping in Russia publicly accept the reported outcomes of the McLaren Investigation, including RUSADA, the Ministry of Sport and the Russian Olympic Committee. A 19 June 2018 letter from the CRC clarified that it considered this as acceptance of the existence of ‘an institutionalised doping scheme involving named individuals from the Ministry of Sport, the Centre for Sports Preparation, RUSADA, the FSB, and the Moscow anti-doping laboratory’.
• That the Russian government must provide ‘access for appropriate entities’ to the samples stored at the Moscow Laboratory. The 19 June 2018 CRC letter clarified that it considered this as provision of access to all samples stored at the Laboratory, as well as access to all of the Moscow LIMS date concerning tests conducted from 2011 to 2015.

WADA & Kolobkov’s agreement

Pavel Kolobkov

The agreement that WADA and the Russian Ministry of Sport has come to is rather different. Kolobkov has acknowledged that ‘a number of individuals within the Ministry of Sport and its subordinated entities’ were involved in ‘manipulations’ of the anti-doping system in Russia. The CRC has accepted that this amounts to acceptance of the findings of the Schmid Report, however it is a far cry from the original requirement for a public acknowledgement of Richard McLaren’s findings by the Ministry of Sport, RUSADA and the Russian Olympic Committee.

It would also appear that WADA has consented to the Investigative Commission of the Russian Federation (SKR or Sledcom) managing WADA’s access to both the Moscow LIMS database and the urine samples still stored at the Moscow Laboratory. In a 13 September letter to WADA, Kolobkov outlines that: ‘After the re-instatement of RUSADA and the consent of the Russian Investigative Committee, we will provide as soon as possible to an independent expert, agreeable to WADA and the Investigative Committee, the access to the analytical equipment to retrieve (under the supervision of the Russian Investigative Committee and under conditions that preserve the integrity of the evidence) an authentic copy of the LIMS data and of the raw analytical data mentioned in your letter’.

Kolobkov is referring to a 22 June letter from Sir Craig Reedie, President of WADA, in which he requests access to ‘a copy of the raw analytical data which is linked to the initial and confirmation testing procedure on those samples contained in the LIMS data […] This raw data will allow identification of any true Adverse Analytical Findings and will eliminate many of the LIMS suspicious results. This will resolve any questions on the number of Russian athletes who may have doped and will remove the cloud of suspicion that currently exists […] In a second step, WADA will then ask for access, for re-analyses purposes, only to those samples which have been identified by the raw data as being true Adverse Analytical Findings. This number is likely to be very limited and once again can be done jointly with the Investigative Committee. If any adverse findings are established, the Results Management can be conducted by RUSADA.’

There are a number of points to note from Kolobkov’s letter:

  1. Kolobkov has dictated that access to the Moscow Laboratory’s stored samples and LIMS database is conditional on RUSADA being reinstated. No RUSADA reinstatement? No access.
  2. Even if RUSADA is reinstated, Kolobkov outlines access to both the samples and the LIMS database depends on the ‘consent’ of the SKR.
  3. The Russian Ministry of Sport will be providing the independent expert used to analyse the LIMS data and samples, which WADA will be required to approve or reject.
  4. Kolobkov only commits to providing an independent expert with access to analytical equipment to retrieve the LIMS data and urine samples – not access to the data and samples themselves, and not the full access to both originally sought by WADA.
  5. The independent expert’s access to the analytical equipment must be supervised by the SKR.

Even under such limited access, conditions are specified by Kolobkov in his letter. He outlines that if adverse analytical findings (AAFs) are discovered, ‘we will work in a spirit of cooperation with WADA and the Investigative Committee and in compliance with the Russian Criminal Procedure Code to enable the independent re-testing of these samples in accordance with the International Standard for Laboratories’. 

As ongoing investigations into Russian doping by the Investigative Committee have prevented access to the samples stored at the Moscow Laboratory in the past, it will be interesting to see what happens should such an eventuality play out. Who will independently test the samples held at the Moscow Laboratory, should analysis of the LIMS database point towards AAFs within those samples?

WADA recognition of shortcomings

To be fair to WADA, the CRC recognises some of these shortcomings. As such, it recommends that RUSADA be reinstated ‘subject to the following post-reinstatement conditions’:

• The data requested in Reedie’s 22 June letter is received by WADA by a set date;
• RUSADA and the Ministry of Sport ensure that re-testing of any samples required by WADA is completed no later than six months after the above date.

Ironic or comical?

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

The main finding of WADA’s four investigations into Russian doping was that individuals within State institutions had subverted the doping control process. Therefore, it is perhaps ironic that WADA is allowing a State institution to manage WADA’s assessment of whether RUSADA has met its conditions for reinstatement. 

It is also ironic that the CRC states that there is a ‘clear urgency’ as to the date by which Russian authorities should supply WADA with its requested data. Russian authorities have been holding on to the LIMS data and the urine samples held at the Moscow Laboratory since it was suspended on 10 November 2015. Russian authorities have consistently pointed to a criminal investigation launched on 8 June 2016 as the reason for such a continued delay. No end date to such investigations has been specified, nor has such an end date been requested by WADA.

A further irony is that the IOC and WADA sought to implement four year bans against any Russian athletes implicated in their investigations into systemic doping in Russia. As per the World Anti-Doping Code, such athletes had to prove they were innocent in order to escape a four year ban. RUSADA has been suspended for less than three years, and looks set to be reinstated despite Russia failing to prove that those in charge of anti-doping were innocent and despite the extensive weight of evidence against them, as outlined in Dr. Rodchenkov’s affidavit.

Such justice is not the ‘level playing field‘ that the IOC and WADA continue to venerate. Athletes such as Beckie Scott, a former member of WADA’s CRC, have every right to resign in protest.

The CRC’s recommendation is also comical because the SKR is also the authority that charged Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov, former Director of the Moscow Laboratory, with obstructing the above investigation by offering financial rewards to Russians in return for the supply of the Moscow LIMS to WADA. The same SKR will be managing WADA’s access to the Moscow Laboratory LIMS and the urine samples still held there.

A 19 June CRC letter states that a copy of the LIMS database held by WADA reveals 9,453 ‘suspicious findings’ that were not reported in WADA’s Anti-Doping Administration and Management System (ADAMS). It said that some of these relate to the 2,867 samples still stored at the Moscow Laboratory. 

Firstly, it is questionable how many of the 2,867 samples stored at the Laboratory will be of use to WADA. Part 2 of the Independent Person Report produced for WADA by McLaren revealed that after receiving a December 2014 letter from WADA announcing a ‘surprise’ inspection, a large number of samples taken prior to 10 September 2014 were destroyed, and only around 3,000 remained. Of the samples that remained, the ‘dirty’ ones underwent the sample swapping system outlined by McLaren in his Reports.

In that Report, WADA stated that it removed 3,571 samples from the Laboratory in December 2014 and during two subsequent visits. ‘The IP has identified over 300 samples remaining at the Moscow Laboratory to be targeted for forensic and laboratory analyses’, it reads. ‘Approximately 58 relate to high profile athletes’. 

As previously mentioned, the Moscow Laboratory was suspended in November 2015. Irrespective of whether we are dealing with 2,867 samples or 300, such samples have been under the protection of Russian State authorities for almost three years. If McLaren’s conclusions are correct and individuals within Russian State authorities were involved in manipulating the doping control process, can the integrity of such samples be relied upon to bring forward AAFs against athletes? Especially as such access is managed by the SKR?

Have the samples that remain at the Laboratory been stored at optimum conditions? Have they been opened? Have the samples degraded during the three years they have been stored there? If any anti-doping rule violations (ADRVs) are brought forward on the basis of such samples, arbitrators at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) would face a difficult task, should any athlete choose to appeal.

The waiting game

Russia is the largest country in the world in terms of land mass, and the ninth largest in terms of population. It has been without a functioning anti-doping agency for almost three years, during which the personnel resources of other anti-doping agencies (such as UK Anti-Doping) have been stretched in order to ensure adequate testing takes place in Russia. 

Kolobkov’s letter reveals that Russia’s perception as to what occurred has barely shifted. It maintains its original line that corrupt individuals were responsible for subverting the doping control process. 

Russia pilloried its ‘OAR’ designation at PyeongChang 2018…

Russia stuck to its ground, safe in the knowledge that for the International Olympic Committee (IOC), Summer and Winter Olympics without one of the world’s largest consumers of sport would be a disaster. The IOC obliged, allowing Russians to compete as neutrals at Rio 2016 and as ‘Olympic Athletes from Russia’ at PyeongChang 2018.

WADA proved a tougher nut to crack, but it has now also shifted its demands in Russia’s direction. The financial and political demands of maintaining RUSADA’s suspension have proven too much for an Agency whose annual budget is less than the annual wage of the world’s best paid footballer. 

After RUSADA’s reinstatement on Russia’s terms, its politicians and sports administrators can save face and say – at least privately if not publicly – that State doping did not take place. “I was sure that sooner or later, the WADA Compliance Review Committee would recognise the tremendous work that has been done in Russia in the fight against doping”, Kolobkov said in an interview published on the Ministry of Sport’s internet site. “We have always sought to constantly cooperate in dialogue and do everything that we can, while at the same time taking into account the rules of our law. We are fully open, because we have nothing to hide.”

In that statement, you can almost hear a smug grin.

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