24th October 2017

Kolobkov interview shows Russia cannot meet WADA’s conditions

An interview with Russian Minister of Sport, Pavel Kolobkov, shows that Russia cannot meet the conditions required by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) for the Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA) to be reinstated. In turn, this means that the Russian Athletics Federation (RusAF) will be unable to meet the conditions required for its athletes to return to international competitions held under the auspices of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF); and that the Russian Paralympic Committee (PRC) will not be able to meet the conditions required by the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) for its athletes to enter the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics.

The interview (video below in Russian) was picked up by the Russian media as evidence that Russia has done everything required by WADA. “We have provided everything that was asked of us”, Kolobkov states in response to a question on whether Russia cooperated with the Independent Person (IP) investigations conducted by Richard McLaren for WADA. “At the same time, not only to him, but also to the World Anti-Doping Agency and the two commissions of the IOC”.

The interview was conducted by RT, an international television network owned by the Russian government, and was published on the Ministry of Sport’s official YouTube Channel. Former RT journalists have accused the State owned network of distributing propaganda. The devil is in the detail of Kolobkov’s interview, which shows that Russia is unable to meet some of the conditions required by WADA.

Accepting the McLaren Report

In its Roadmap To Compliance, the first condition that WADA requires is that ‘the responsible authorities for anti-doping in Russia must publicly accept the reported outcomes of the McLaren Investigation (aka Independent Person Investigation). This includes: RUSADA, the Ministry of Sport and the National Olympic Committee.’

Following an October 2016 meeting with Vitaly Smirnov of the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC), McLaren reluctantly removed the term ‘State sponsored’ from his conclusions. ‘Mr. Smirnov explained that in Russia, the term “State-sponsored” implicated Vladimir Putin and the Russian political leadership’, explained McLaren in an emailed statement. ‘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”. Professor McLaren explained the change upon the publication of his second report in December 2016 and emphasized that there was no change to the facts of the reports or conclusions.’

In the interview, Kolobkov drives a coach and horses through this first requirement. “The main accusation is that in Russia, there is a kind of State system and institutional collusion”, he states. “I can clearly assure you that this is not true”.

One of the IAAF’s requirements for Russian athletes to return to international competition was for Russia to provide an ‘appropriate official response’ to the conclusions of McLaren’s IP Report. In a separate interview with R-Sport, also published on the Ministry of Sport’s internet site, Kolobkov also claims that Russia has provided such a response to WADA and the IOC.

“The roadmap indicates that we can give a detailed explanation on this point, and it was done”, states Kolobkov. “We clearly and explicitly provided all the necessary additional information and have even explained our view of the situation and our attitude to the information provided in the McLaren Report to WADA and the IOC”. However, WADA’s Roadmap does not require such a response, and Kolobkov does not mention whether such explanations have been sent to the IAAF.

Access to stored samples

The second requirement of WADA’s Roadmap is that ‘The Russian Government must provide access for appropriate entities to the stored urine samples in the Moscow Laboratory’. WADA has not been able to access the samples due to an ongoing investigation launched by the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation (SKR) on 8 June last year. The SKR has yet to announce when its investigation will be completed, or when the IAAF and WADA will be granted full access to all of the samples held at the Moscow lab.

In the R-Sport interview, Kolobkov confirms that it is impossible for the Russian government to meet this condition. “As you know, in a criminal case, the investigation is in a very active phase”, he says. “Samples as evidence have been sealed and are in the laboratory. Access to them will only be possible after the completion of the investigation. Neither the Ministry of Sport or other bodies have the right to interfere in the work of investigators.”

The SKR is answerable to the President of Russia, Vladimir Putin. As its history reveals, it is responsible for investigating government departments and agencies. The Russian government cannot therefore grant WADA access to the samples stored in the Moscow laboratory, as required. However, a question remains as to whether Putin could instruct the SKR to grant WADA access to the samples.

Victims of a corrupt anti-doping system

A question posed to Kolobkov illustrates how the State-owned RT paints Russian athletes as the victims of a corrupt anti-doping system that accepts invented stories by athletes whilst punishing Russians. “Some foreigners, when caught for doping invented some fantastic stories”, posits RT journalist Sophie Shevardnadze. “For example, the skier from Norway, Therese Johaug, claimed that banned drugs were contained in sunscreen. And American runner Gil Roberts spoke about contact with doping through kissing his girlfriend. And such statements are believed. At the same time, the most stringent measures are always taken against the Russian athletes, although there is no clear evidence. Is there a bias at WADA?”

Kolobkov states that he does not think WADA is biased, but also references “strange cases”, including “a hockey player with a positive test, also said that he kissed a girl and she had smeared some cream”.

In fact, Johaug’s case involved a lip cream containing clostebol bought abroad to treat blisters caused by sunburn, and she received an 18-month ban, despite both parties agreeing that her behaviour was not intended to enhance performance. The Norwegian Olympic Committee (NIF) has argued that the sanction is unduly harsh.

Roberts’s case included detailed evidence that his positive test for probenecid was caused by kissing his girlfriend, who had consumed medication containing the drug. The amount of probenecid in his sample (9ng/ml) was consistent with his explanation.

In other words, neither story was “invented”, as claimed by Shevardnadze. Kolobkov’s vague reply suggesting other similar cases could allow the Russian public to conclude that there is a bias, of which Kolobkov is aware, but cannot talk about. This theory is supported by the second part of his response to this question. “But I do not want to talk about such things”, he answers. “We have enough problems”.

iNADO snub

Kolobkov also accuses the Institute of National Anti-Doping Organisations (iNADO) of acting “beyond the scope of their authority” by calling for the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to ban Russia from the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics. “Even the head of WADA, Craig Reedie, said that iNADO manifestly exceeded its rights”, said Kolobkov. “Our team continues to prepare for the Winter Olympics […] There is no doubt that the Russian national team will go to South Korea.”

Political checkmate

WADA’s Compliance Review Committee (CRC) is holding a two-day meeting in Montreal today and tomorrow, which will put forward recommendations to WADA’s 16 November Foundation Board meeting on whether RUSADA should be reinstated as compliant with the World Anti-Doping Code. Kolobkov’s interview illustrates that political checkmate has been reached in advance, which should make the CRC’s meeting a short one.

In effect, Kolobkov’s interview has clarified that Russia cannot meet WADA’s first two conditions of WADA’s Roadmap to Compliance. It cannot publicly accept the main finding of the McLaren Report that there was institutional collusion to evade doping control procedures, and it cannot provide access to the urine samples still stored at the Moscow laboratory (although how many samples held there will be of use is subject to debate, as The Sports Integrity Initiative has previously reported).

As such, the CRC cannot recommend that RUSADA be reinstated. A knock-on effect of this is that the IAAF cannot recommend that RusAF be reinstated for international competition, and the IPC cannot reinstate the PRC. In its August progress report (PDF below), an IAAF Taskforce stated as follows: ‘The sixth and final condition is that WADA has determined that all of the conditions it has specified for the reinstatement of RUSADA as a truly autonomous, independent and properly- resourced national anti-doping organisation have been met, and on that basis has reinstated RUSADA as the official, Code-compliant NADO for Russia’.

In the RT interview, Kolobkov states that he is sure that Russian Paralympians will be able to compete at the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics. Yet a May IPC Taskforce Report (PDF below) contains a similar requirement to that of the IAAF regarding WADA approval of RUSADA: ‘The issue of the reinstatement of RUSADA by WADA also remains a key criterion for the RPC’s reinstatement by the IPC’. In other words, if RUSADA is not reinstated by WADA, the RPC remains suspended.

Kolobkov’s interview pays lip service to the idea that Russia is doing everything it can to comply with WADA’s requirements, yet the detail he provides shows that Russia cannot meet them. State owned media is being used to indicate that RUSADA will be reinstated and Russian Paralympians will be off to Pyeongchang, when in fact, neither assertion appears to be true. Kolobkov states that the ‘appropriate official response’ required by the IAAF has, in fact, been provided to the IOC and WADA, who do not require such a response.

Ordinary Russians ought to be very angry about this. Once again, due to political point scoring, Russian athletes and the public that watch them are suffering. The next move in this game of political chess should be interesting to watch.

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