SII Focus 17 May 2016

Analysis: links between Moscow & Lausanne labs need investigating

Last week, former Director of the Moscow Laboratory, Grigory Rodchenkov, made astonishing claims that Russia had switched the samples of at least 15 medal winners during the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics. The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) has pledged to investigate his allegations, which have been denied by Russia.

‘During the period of the Olympic Games in Sochi, specialists from different countries under the constant supervision of foreign independent observers were at testing stations and in the laboratory’, read a 13 May statement from the Russian Ministry of Sport. ‘The allegations made by G. Rodchenkov are likely to be an attempt to justify his actions and to shift responsibility on to others’.

The Kremlin told news agency R-Sport that it would support any lawsuit launched by the Ministry of Sport against the New York Times, which published Rodhenkov’s claims. Vitaly Mutko, Russia’s Minister for Sport, is so confident that the Sochi 2014 anti-doping process was correctly conducted that he told R-Sport that all Sochi 2014 samples held in the Lausanne Laboratory should be retested.

Laboratory connections

In its first report on allegations of systemic Russian doping, the WADA Independent Commission found that the Lausanne laboratory had acted contrary to specific instructions by destroying 67 samples WADAprofiles_MSaugysent from Moscow in 2012. It was severely critical of the Director of the Lausanne laboratory, Martial Saugy, reporting that it had ‘not discovered evidence that would support otherwise culpable conduct on the part of the Lausanne laboratory in relation to the destruction of the samples’, but also emphasised that it ‘was not satisfied with’ and ‘did not believe’ the explanations provided by the Saugy as to how the samples came to be destroyed.

Saugy later acted as a paid consultant to the Organising Committee of the Sochi 2014 Olympic Games and/or the Russian Ministry of Sport. As reported by The Sports Integrity Initiative last November, he is pictured at Sochi during the Games alongside Professor Arne Ljungqvist and Dr. Richard Budgett of the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) Medical Commission, with Natalia Zhelanova of the Russian Ministry of Sport.

Russian federal security service (FSB)

Another startling claim from Rodchenkov in his New York Times interview was that a Russian federal security service (FSB) agent began working at the Moscow Laboratory in 2013, and showed him how to open and re-seal the tamper-proof sample bottles. ‘If the statement of Grigory Rodchenkov is correct, the published case shows a professional, from long hand planned, Russian Secret Service involving, criminal act which has implications not only on the security bottles however affects the entire chain of custody and the related operations’, read a statement from Berlinger, which produces the bottles.

This was not the first time that Rodchenkov had alleged FSB involvement in the Sochi 2014 testing programme. In a 60 Minutes documentary by CBS News, conversations recorded between him and former Russian Anti-Doping Agency employee Vitaly Stepanov allege that the FSB managed the entire testing process, with agents working as Doping Control Officers (DCOs).

His allegation that a rogue FSB agent was working in the Moscow laboratory appears to be corroborated by the WADA Independent Observer (IO) report for Sochi 2014. It found that while all Sochi laboratory staff ‘had been identified in the Laboratory Games Staff list under their ISO 17025 accreditation’, a ‘representative of the Ministry of Sport of the Russian Federation’ who ‘was not a part of the Laboratory Games staff and the IOC Medical Commission’ and ‘whose role was unclear to the IO’ was also present.

Can the Lausanne samples be relied upon?

This is the question that WADA and the IOC will have to ask. Russia has not been alone in calling for the re-testing of Sochi 2014 samples sent from Moscow to Lausanne. Rodchenkov’s revelations came from interviews conducted with Bryan Fogel, who is making a film, Icarus, about doping in sport. Both have written to the IOC and WADA asking them to retest the samples.

However, given the connections between the Moscow and Lausanne laboratories highlighted in this article, can the Sochi 2014 samples held in Lausanne be relied upon? It would be questionable as to whether the strict chain of sample custody required by WADA regulations has remained intact.

The Sochi 2014 IO report found inconsistencies with that chain of custody. ‘During the Sochi Games it was observed that the stickers could be removed from the Sample Collection Forms, indicating a possibility that the sample code could be transferred to another athlete, potentially seriously compromising the integrity of the process’, it reads. ‘The chain of custody process in Sochi, including the transfer of samples to the Laboratory reflected the practice adopted at previous Games. All samples and paperwork were transported and centralised at one of three logistics depot (the ‘Hub’) where they were then redirected to the Laboratory. There were deviations to this agreed approach in that on occasion samples were shipped directly to the Laboratory without going through the Hub.’ Given Rodchenko’s revelations about ‘room 124’ being used to switch samples of listed Russian medal winners through a hole in the wall, these findings now appear damning.

Under Article 6.3.5 of the 2012 International Standard for Testing (IST), which was in force at the time, the anti-doping organisation (ADO) of the country hosting an international event is responsible for the chain of custody. The ADO for the Sochi 2014 Olympics was the Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA), which was deemed non-compliant by WADA on 18 November 2015. As previously reported by The Sports Integrity Initiative, RUSADA appears to have manipulated its testing figures over a number of years.

Implications for other sports

Dick Pound, WADA’s founding President and head of the Independent Commission that produced two reports into allegations of systemic doping in Russia, has said that Rodchenkov will be interviewed and retesting is on the cards. ‘Dr. Rodchenkov’s allegations go far beyond mere presence of the FSB in the Sochi laboratory and point to actual involvement in tampering with test samples’, reads an article he wrote for the Globe & Mail.

While he warns against a witch-hunt against Russia, he also recognises that if Rodchenko’s allegations are found to be true, this could have implications for other sports. ‘While it may be tempting to extrapolate to all other sports, even-handedness requires more substantial proof’, he writes. ‘It is the role of WADA to determine whether such proof exists. On the assumption – and I stress that at this stage it is only an assumption – that WADA is satisfied that Dr. Rodchenkov’s allegations are true, the real challenges begin. WADA will report accordingly to the IOC and to any international sport federation whose athletes may have been involved […] The current elephant in the room is, on the same assumption, what the IOC will decide regarding Russian participation in Rio. This will be a major credibility issue for the IOC and, indeed, for the Olympic Movement as a whole. Will the philosophy of fair play, honesty and the protection of clean (non-doping) athletes prevail? Or will those principles be sacrificed on some “political” altar? Do the rules of sport apply to major countries, or only to smaller countries? Does integrity matter?’

It is understood that the samples were shipped to Lausanne after the Sochi Games had finished. Rodchenko claimed that he manipulated samples of Russian medal winners during the Sochi Games, resealing sample bottles. If this is true, then the samples held at the Lausanne laboratory may also have been manipulated, and re-analysis would only serve to support the Russian assertion that nothing untoward has occurred. Therefore, in order to clear Russian athletes to participate in the Rio 2016 Olympics, a full investigation into the links between the Moscow and Lausanne laboratories is required.

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