31st May 2019

Moscow Laboratory operated whilst RUSADA was suspended

The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) allowed the Moscow Laboratory to resume blood testing under the Athlete Biological Passport (ABP) programme six months after suspending it. Although the Laboratory is now under the control of Moscow State University (MSU), it is in the same building and has many of the same staff that were in place when State manipulation of the doping control process occurred. It is also still financed by the Russian State – albeit indirectly. The Laboratory – and staff employed during the period of State manipulation – continued to operate whilst samples and data required by WADA were sealed off by agencies of the Russian State. 

WADA clarified that although it gave approval for the Moscow Laboratory to resume blood analysis of samples six months after it was suspended, it would be almost impossible for a Laboratory to manipulate the process. WADA suspended the Moscow Anti-doping Centre for subverting the doping control process on 10 November 2015, but reinstated it for blood analysis under the ABP programme on 12 May 2016.

Although the Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA) was not fully reinstated until 20 September last year, WADA permitted it to resume all testing (blood and urine) under the supervision of UK Anti-Doping (UKAD) at its 18 May 2017 Foundation Board meeting. On 27 June, WADA and its Compliance Review Committee (CRC) were satisfied that RUSADA had met the criteria outlined in Part I of its Roadmap to Compliance and allowed it to resume all testing (blood and urine).

Translated screenshot from the website of the Moscow Laboratory…

This was only after RUSADA confirmed that MSU would take control of the Moscow Laboratory from Russia’s Ministry of Sport. The Laboratory involves the same physical building and equipment, as the website of the Moscow Anti-Doping Centre (московский антидопинговый центр) confirms. Its address, 10 Yelizavetinskiy Pereulok, Moscow, matches that of the suspended Laboratory.

WADA did not gain access to 2,262 samples stored at the Laboratory until 30 April this year. The samples had been sealed off due to an investigation launched by the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation (SKR or Sledcom) in June 2016. Its investigation has yet to be completed.

The Director of the Laboratory is Elena Mochalova (Елена Мочалова), who worked alongside former Laboratory Director Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov, who revealed State manipulation of the doping control process. The two, and other Laboratory employees, produced a research paper on anti-doping at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, where such State manipulation arguably reached its zenith.

Although the Laboratory states it is financially and economically independent from the Russian State, the implementation document for Russia’s National Anti-Doping Plan (NADP) reveals that it is financed by the ‘Federal State Budgetary Educational Institution of Higher Education’. In other words, although the Laboratory is no longer under Ministry of Sport control, it is still indirectly financed by the State.

Stand-off

Jonathan Taylor, Chair of WADA’s CRC, admitted that the Agency compromised on its requirements in order to reinstate RUSADA. That compromise was underlined by the publishing of audio recordings of its 20 September 2018 Executive Committee meeting, where RUSADA was reinstated. 

“That is the closet and the clearest [to] full acceptance, without conditionality, of the findings of the Schmid Report”, says Taylor at 1:27:16 in Part 2 of the audio recording. Such comments are not detailed in the meeting’s published minutes. 

WADA was prepared to compromise because it wanted access to the Moscow Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS) and the samples stored at the Laboratory, which date from 2010. It now appears that officials that worked at the Laboratory during the period of State manipulation could have had access to both the LIMS and the samples for four years.

WADA is fully aware of the prospect that both may have been manipulated. It said that if any evidence of tampering is detected, the CRC will immediately reconvene to recommend sanctions under the International Standard for Code Compliance by Signatories (ISCCS), ‘If at any point in this process it is determined that the data provided have been tampered with, or that samples requested have not been provided for re-analysis by 30 June 2019, the CRC will come back to the ExCo, in accordance with the ISCCS process, with a 22 January 2019 Page 4 recommendation that WADA pursue stringent sanctions as set out in ISCCS Annex B, Article B.3.1.’, wrote a WADA spokesperson in an email.

However, a recent statement appeared to back down from that tough stance. ‘The authentication process is still ongoing for some data, but has already confirmed that a very high percentage of the data collected in the Moscow Laboratory is authentic and matching with the copy of the Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS) that WADA’s Intelligence and Investigations (I&I) had acquired through a whistleblower in November 2017’, read a 16 May statement. This suggests that not all the data is authentic, and the CRC has not reconvened as WADA said it would. 

The copy of the LIMS database to which WADA’s above statement refers was given to WADA by Dr. Rodchenkov. The SKR has claimed that this copy of the LIMS database may be unreliable, arguing that it confiscated the authentic version as part of criminal charges against Dr. Rodchenkov and his former assistant, Tim Sobolevsky.

WADA has already clarified that the aim is not to trust one copy of the LIMS database over the other, but to find information that will help it strengthen anti-doping cases against athletes. ‘Our confidence in the veracity of the LIMS data we already have is very high’, wrote a spokesperson in an email to The Sports Integrity Initiative.

If WADA were to claim that the April 2019 LIMS database has been manipulated, Russia has already argued that the November 2017 copy is unreliable. In addition, it could credibly argue that staff who worked alongside Dr. Rodchenkov were responsible. The same argument could be proffered if WADA argues that the stored samples have been manipulated. 

The main finding of Professor Richard McLaren in his two Reports for WADA was that agents of the Russian State had been involved in manipulation of the doping control process. The US Department of Justice (DoJ) found that Russian State agents had manipulated data when illegally accessing the databases of anti-doping organisations using the Fancy Bears monicker. The SKR is a State agency, and has had sole access to both the LIMS and the samples for four years.

As such, it is not hard to see how another stand-off might develop between Russia and WADA, similar to that which occurred over acknowledgement of State involvement in manipulation of the doping control process. Despite WADA’s efforts, Russia has never acknowledged that this occurred.

Hobson’s choice

By suspending RUSADA, it could be argued that WADA shot clean sport in the foot. Russia is a very big country with a huge number of athletes, and RUSADA’s suspension left it without a testing agency, arguably compounding doping problems. However, suspension of RUSADA was the only sanctioning tool available to WADA at the time. Yet having created this issue, WADA faced no choice but to allow the Moscow Laboratory to resume testing in some form, as the alternative was no testing at all.

This problem was recognised at WADA’s 11 May 2016 Executive Committee meeting. Dr. Olivier Rabin, WADA’s Science Director, explained that he had visited the Moscow Laboratory on 18 and 19 April 2016. This was due concerns that because of the size of Russia, there was not enough time to transport ABP blood samples to a WADA-accredited Laboratory outside of the country. This had created an issue for UKAD, which had been appointed to supervise the doping control process in Russia in February, but also for federations ahead of the Rio 2016 Olympics.

‘The laboratory was well established with competent people, and WADA had come away from the visit agreeing that everything was in place for the laboratory to resume its activities in support of the Athlete Biological Passport’, Dr. Rabin outlined in the 11 May 2016 WADA Executive Committee meeting minutes (PDF below). ‘He put the recommendation to the Executive Committee to approve the laboratory, not for the reaccreditation of the laboratory, only for the analysis of blood samples in support of the Athlete Biological Passport’. That proposal was approved without opposition, as the alternative was to abandon blood testing in Russia.

Under the ABP programme, a Laboratory does not know the identity of the athlete concerned, or their blood parameters, which can vary considerably from athlete to athlete. It would therefore be very difficult to manipulate them, as the Laboratory would not know whether to adjust the values up or down. As such, it would be obvious if a Laboratory attempted to adjust an athlete’s blood values. 

This is why WADA permits blood analysis under the ABP programme to be performed by Laboratories that do not have full WADA accreditation. ‘For cost and geographic access reasons, WADA may approve laboratories which are not WADA-accredited to perform particular analyses, for example, analysis of blood which should be delivered from the collection site to the laboratory within a set deadline’, reads a comment to Article 6.1 of the World Anti-Doping Code. ‘Before approving any such laboratory, WADA will ensure it meets the high analytical and custodial standards required by WADA’. A WADA spokesperson explained that these strict standards included ISO accreditation, as well as fulfilling External Quality Assessment System (EQAS) requirements.

‘The work of the Laboratory was scrutinised closely and was directly supervised by WADA’, explained a WADA spokesperson in an email. ‘This included a number of site visits and adherence to the requirements and standards outlined. The blood analysis procedure is conducted with an automated blood analyser that requires careful calibration protocols and is submitted to external proficiency tests conducted under WADA scrutiny’. This suggests that WADA had access to the Laboratory from May 2016 – just not the LIMS and samples it required.

Politics vs. Clean Sport

WADA had never been faced with State manipulation of the doping control process before the situation in Russia developed. Despite knowing about the issues that existed in the country since at least 2010, it lacked the tools to deal with the problem. This resulted in its Chief Investigator passing information to journalists in order to force WADA to act, before resigning.

It is understandable that WADA might not be keen on abandoning Laboratory facilities and staff with expertise in one of the largest countries that falls under its jurisdiction. The suspension of RUSADA was a politically acceptable choice that presented a publicly ‘tough response’ to the situation. That it allowed Russia’s Laboratory to resume testing so soon after making that decision illustrates the quandary this tough stance created.

It resulted in a huge problem for clean sport ahead of its showpiece event, the Olympics. WADA was therefore under pressure to ensure that Russian athletes were tested, especially after the IOC decided that they could participate at the Rio 2016 Olympics. This created chaos for athletes and international federations attempting to uphold clean sport.

In addition, the publication of a Report into allegations made by Beckie Scott and Ed Moses has done little to dispel the view that WADA allowed the Olympic Movement to apply pressure to them to soften their stance against RUSADA’s reinstatement. 

WADA has confirmed that it ‘directly supervised’ staff at the Moscow Laboratory, some of which were the same as those which operated during the period of State manipulation. This conflicts with its public presentations highlighting the difficulties of gaining access to the ‘former Laboratory’. Given the issues highlighted above, claims that WADA prioritises politics over the protection of clean athletes appear to have some credence.

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