31st January 2018

Fancy Bears again fails to provide evidence to support its allegations

Hacking group Fancy Bears has alleged that Canadian sports officials attempted to cover up a doping violation ahead of the Rio 2016 Olympics to allow an athlete to compete, but its evidence fails to back its claim. The hacking group only published selected excerpts of its own evidence that appear to back its allegations. The full email chain reveals that the sporting organisations would have breached the World Anti-Doping Code, had they announced the adverse analytical finding (AAF) any earlier.

The case involves Shawnacy (Shawn) Barber, who in 2016 was found to be at no fault for an AAF for cocaine. The Sports Dispute Resolution Centre of Canada (SDRCC) accepted Barber’s defence that his AAF was due to a sexual encounter following an advert posted on Craigslist (PDF of decision below).

‘After the Rio Olympics, Canada’s Sport Dispute Resolution Centre announced that the pole-vaulter Shawn Barber had tested positive for cocaine prior to the Games’, allege the illegal hacking group. ‘Despite this anti-doping violation, the athlete avoided a two-year suspension and was permitted to compete. Moreover, this incident became public after the Games i.e. the Canadian sports officials tried to cover it up.’

This is an inaccurate description of what happened. On 26 July 2016, Barber tested positive for cocaine. As shown above, the SDRCC cleared Barber to compete in the Rio 2016 Olympics on 11 August 2016, ahead of the Pole Vault competition on 13 August in which was scheduled to compete. However, as the full chain of emails illegally accessed by Fancy Bears reveals, the Canadian Olympic Committee (COC) was not allowed to announce the case until all involved parties had exhausted their right to appeal.

The appeal deadline for the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) and the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) expired on 29 September 2017, after the Rio Olympics. Neither body nor the International Olympic Committee (IOC) decided to appeal the decision. The Canadian Anti-Doping Programme (CADP) requires an adverse analytical finding (AAF) to be kept confidential until it is publicly disclosed by the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport (CCES). The CCES did not disclose the decision until 6 October, which also permitted Athletics Canada to issue its statement on the case.

‘The recipient organizations shall not disclose this information beyond those Persons with a need to know (which would include the appropriate personnel at the Canadian Olympic Committee, the Canadian Paralympic Committee, the Sport Organization, and team in a Team Sport) until the CCES has made Public Disclosure or has failed to make Public Disclosure as required in Rule 14.3’, reads Article 14.1.5 of the CADP. This is a mirror of the same Article contained in the World Anti-Doping Code. Had any of the organisations involved announced Barber’s AAF ahead of the CCES, they would have been in breach of the Code.

This key principle of the World Anti-Doping Code is designed to protect athletes from being labelled as a doping cheat before a final decision on their case is made. In the emails, the COC expresses concern about the following passage in an IOC letter (PDF below), which reads: ‘We are driving forward to establish an independent testing authority – independent from sports organisations and from national interests. The importance of this body being independent from national interests is demonstrated by recent decisions by national anti- doping organisations concerning athletes of the same nation. This is another reason why sanctioning should be delegated to the CAS as the IOC successfully did at the Olympic Games Rio 2016.’

From the emails, it appears that the COC was concerned that the IOC had claimed that the Barber case is an example of national interests influencing doping decisions in order to push forward plans for an Independent Testing Authority (ITA). Other examples are understood to include the Therese Johaug case, where the International Ski Federation (FIS) successfully appealed to extend her ban to 18 months.

The Norwegian Olympic Committee (NIF) initially issued the cross country skier with a 13 month ban, which meant she would have been able to compete in the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympics. Johaug returned an AAF for clostebol after using a cream to treat sunburned lips, and it was accepted that the concentration (13ng/mL) was too small to produce a performance enhancing effect.

A bad example

It appears that the IOC was prepared to use the Barber and Johaug cases as examples of national interests influencing doping decisions in order to push forward the need for an Independent Testing Authority (ITA). This is despite Barber being cleared and the IOC not appealing that decision. This is despite all parties agreeing that Johaug’s medication was bought for her and was not intended to accept performance. The timing of Barber’s case was unfortunate, but the key point is that he was cleared to compete and nobody appealed.

Fancy Bears’ latest allegations show what can happen when spurious claims are made to back a political objective. An innocent athlete has been cast back into the spotlight and corruption has been alleged, when all that appears to exist is legitimate concerns about the IOC’s political manoeuvring.

In December 2015, the IOC proposed the creation of an ITA, to remove the conflict of interest whereby sport – which is responsible for hosting financially successful events – is also responsible for policing against doping, which can financially damage a sport. The IOC’s suggestion was made on the back of evidence that the IAAF and the Russian Athletics Federation (RusAF) had colluded to delay the announcement of Russian doping positives until after the 2013 Moscow World Championships.

That is reason enough for the establishment of an ITA. However it appears the IOC became frustrated at a perceived lack of action on WADA’s part, which perhaps explains why it felt the need to cite further cases as emphasising the need for an ITA, despite spurious connections. As the above illustrates, this appears to have backfired.

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