Features 23rd October 2019

PTG2019 – WADA’s Russian data manipulation conundrum

The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) has confirmed that today’s meeting with Russian authorities has been postponed to allow WADA’s Intelligence and Investigations department more time to evaluate their response to WADA’s 31 questions about discrepancies in the data retrieved from the Moscow Laboratory. The situation has become complex, and Yuriy Ganus, Director General of the Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA), appears aware that his Agency could be punished for the actions of others.

Regulatory soup

A ‘formal compliance procedure’ was opened against RUSADA on 17 September, giving it and the Russian authorities three weeks in which to respond to WADA’s questions. On 8 October, WADA received a response from the Russian authorities to the questions about inconsistencies discovered in July between the data WADA retrieved from the Moscow Laboratory in January, and the Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS) provided to it by whistleblowers in November 2017. WADA had opened a ‘fast track’ procedure against RUSADA under Article 9.5 of its International Standard for Code Compliance by Signatories (ISCCS).

‘If at any point in this process it is determined that the Analytical Data provided have been tampered with, or that samples requested have not been provided for re-analysis, the CRC will come back to the ExCo without delay with a recommendation that WADA pursue stringent sanctions’, reads a 17 January recommendation from WADA’s Compliance Review Committee (CRC). Annex B, Article B.3.1 of WADA’s ISCCS sets out that such sanctions could include suspension (of RUSADA); removal of event hosting rights; and suspension from the Olympics. 

Who manipulated the data?

Ganus argued that RUSADA was not responsible for the manipulation of the data in a powerful Open Letter. However, he dismissed the suggestion that his apparent freedom to speak out about the ‘thousands’ of changes to the data – the most recent dating from December 2018 and January 2019 – suggests that he is protected by the Russian State. 

If he is not protected, then his decision to speak out might be considered a brave one. His comments that thousands of changes were made, the most recent being in December 2018 and January 2019, puts him at the heart of the situation. And that could be a dangerous place to be.

In 2014, after a documentary produced for ARD forced WADA and the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) to acknowledge what was going on in Russia, former RUSADA Director Nikita Kamaev and Founding Chairman of RUSADA, Vyacheslav Sinev, died within two weeks of each other. The two had discussed collaborating on an exposé style book discussing doping.

“How can I be controlled by the Russian State if I have been involved in many, many cases and it is easy to see and monitor my entire activity?” Ganus told The Sports Integrity Initiative at Play The Game in Colorado Springs. “It is impossible. The media wrote that Russia is working to meet WADA’s requirements and they agreed that changes were made inside the Moscow Laboratory. We couldn’t have made that change.”

Dr. Rodchenkov has been forced to change his appearance due to fears for his safety…

The Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation (SKR or Sledcom) had sole access to the samples stored at the Moscow Laboratory for over three years, sealing them off after launching a criminal investigation in June 2016. In November 2017, it argued that the LIMS database provided to WADA by Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov – former Director of the Moscow Laboratory – and his assistant, Tim Sobolevsky, was unreliable, as it had confiscated the authentic version as part of its criminal case against the pair. 

Ganus doesn’t think that the SKR manipulated the data, arguing that to do so would undermine its criminal case against Dr. Rodchenkov and Sobolevsky. However, as the SKR was created by Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2007 and is Chaired by his ex classmate Alexander Bastrykin, conspiracy theorists might argue that it is difficult for him to take any other view.

“They continue to have control because they have launched some criminal cases”, said Ganus. “I don’t know when they will be finished. The previous Spring, I had contact with the Deputy Advisor to Mr. Bastrykin [Алекса́ндр Бастры́кин, Chairman of the SKR]. I talked with them about this open process. Now, I am sure that the Investigative Committee didn’t know about the changes.

“As I told them, the changes in the database break their evidence basis against Dr. Rodchenkov and another person [Tim Sobolevsky]. It is therefore not in the interests of the Investigative Committee to do this [make changes to the LIMS database]. The latest manipulations were in January, and there were thousands of changes.”

Ganus agues that he doesn’t know who made the changes to the data. But he suspects that it was manipulated to protect athletes who have been appointed to senior positions, either in sport or government. “Russian sporting organisations provide ‘social lifts’ to loyal athletes”, he said. “When they finish competing, they provide them with new opportunities”.

Ganus said that he had attempted to set up a RUSADA Athlete Committee, but had abandoned the project after 18 months because athletes were not willing to jeopardise such promotions by accepting a post on the Athlete Committee. “What are the forces involved in this?” he asked during his presentation on Wednesday 16 October at Play The Game. “Who are the athletes for whom such large efforts were made? We are now in a worse situation and it is a crisis for all generations of athletes, but especially for future athletes.”

Reforming Russian sports governance

Ganus was appointed as Director General of RUSADA by its Supervisory Board on 31 August 2017. From 2011 until 2016, he worked as an independent anti-corruption expert for Russia’s Ministry of Justice, according to a CV supplied to a Greek conference.

At the time of his appointment, the RUSADA Supervisory Board was headed by Alexander Zhukov, former President of the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) and a member of the Russian State Duma (Parliament) from 1994 until 2004. Today, the Supervisory Board is headed by businessman Alexander Ivlev (Александр Ивлев). However, the Supervisory Board still features Andrew Minyaev (Андрей Миняев), the Director of the Legal Department at Russia’s Ministry of Sports. 

This has led to criticism that WADA should have insisted on the independence of the Supervisory Board before reinstating RUSADA in September last year. Its Roadmap to Code Compliance only instead that the Chair and Vice Chair of the Supervisory Board were independent. Others argue that the two independent members balance out the interests of the ROC and Russia’s Ministry of Sports on the Supervisory Board.

“It doesn’t matter whether I trust Yuriy or not”, said Michael Ask, the Chair of the Institute of National Anti-Doping Organisations (iNADO) and CEO of Anti-Doping Denmark at Play The Game. “What matters is evidence. And I haven’t seen any evidence that RUSADA is manipulating the data.”

One of the issues that Ganus faces is that many of the same people who were active in sport during the Russian doping crisis still hold positions of power, making effecting change a frustrating process. “When I came into this jungle, I tried to understand what pressures I needed to use”, he said in his Play The Game presentation. “We are breaking the ice. The system ice.”

But there is a long way to go. Dmitry Shlyakhtin replaced Valentin Balakhnichev as President of the Russian Athletics Federation (RusAF) in January 2016, after Balakhnichev was sanctioned with a life ban for his involvement in the Russian doping crisis. However, Shlyakhtin remains as Minister of Sport for the Samara Region of Russia, a post he has held since 2012. The Ministry of Sport for the Samara Region is a subsidiary of Russia’s Ministry of Sport, as its website advertises. Shlyakhtin has faced criticism from Ganus and from Mariya Lasitskene, a member of RUSADA’s Supervisory Board, for failing to reform Russian athletics.

“I think that the Russian Athletics Federation needs to rebuild their old management team – and not only the Russian Athletics Federation”, said Ganus. “The head coach of the Russian Athletics Federation and other coaches were involved in the Russian doping crisis [click here for more information]. They have to leave and bring in a new culture.”

Screenshot of Russia’s Ministry of Sport’s internet site, showing Kravtsov as Head of the CSP…

Alexander Kravtsov is Head of the Centre of Sports Preparation (CSP) for the National Teams of Russia, a post he has held since 2009. The CSP has removed his profile from its internet site, however the Russian Ministry of Sport still lists him as Head of the CSP on this page, last updated on 9 October. 

Kravtsov replaced Mikhail Prokhorov as President of the Russian Biathlon Union (RBU) in May 2014, and is implicated in an affidavit provided by Dr. Rodchenkov as initiating discussions about half the Russian biathlon team being under the control of Stanislav ‘Stastik’ Dmitriev, a source of Erythropoietin (EPO) for the Russian national team. Dr. Rodchenkov also mentions that Kravtsov was chief of Russia’s Olympic delegation at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, and told him about the positive tests of Irina Starykh and Ekaterina Iourieva for rEPO ahead of the Games (click here to download decision). 

Detail on Kravtsov from Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov’s affidavit…

There are signs that progress is being made in removing Kravtsov from such a central position. But questions remain as to why it has taken so long. “Yes, he is head of the Russian centre of sports preparation, and I know that a Russian authority has put him at the centre of an internal investigation”, revealed Ganus. “But I don’t have contact with him. We are independent.”

Checkmate 

If RUSADA and the SKR did’t manipulate the data retrieved from the Moscow Laboratory by WADA, then who did and how? For years, the SKR argued that it couldn’t provide WADA with access to the data or samples held at the Moscow Laboratory due to the criminal investigations it had launched against Dr. Rodchenkov and his assistant, Tim Sobolevsky. The investigations have not been completed.

The SKR had sole access to the Moscow Laboratory data and samples for over three years and, as Ganus points out, the most recent manipulations date from December 2018 and January 2019. Dick Pound, Founding President of WADA, suggested that the process is being manipulated in order to avoid a ban on Russia competing at the Olympics.

“My understanding is that while there were 31 replies [to the 31 questions sent by WADA], there were no answers”, he told The Sports Integrity Initiative at Play The Game. “There is now a mechanism in place to make a declaration of non-compliance, which then starts a number of clocks running, ending up at CAS and not in the hands of particular IAAF to prosecute particular doping offences or with the IOC to declare the Russian NOC non-compliant. My guess is that there will be no Olympic sanction for the guilty party.”

It is often forgotten that Dr. Rodchenkov was an agent of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), which was also implicated in the sample swapping process that took place at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics. Pound said that he had asked who gives order to the FSB at a WADA meeting, but did not receive an answer. That unspoken answer is that the FSB receives its orders from the Russian State.

As outlined, WADA’s new ISCCS offers three options for sanctioning a Code signatory. If suspension from the Olympics is not an option, as Pound suggests, then that leaves removal of hosting rights and suspension of RUSADA as the only available options to WADA. And removal of hosting rights would be very unpopular with international sporting federations.

Article 11.1.1.4 of the ISCCS mandates that if a national anti-doping organisation (NADO) such as RUSADA is suspended, then other competent bodies can take over the anti-doping functions of the suspended NADO. Such an option would appear to be sport’s preferred route – an easy way out of the situation. But this would involve suspending RUSADA, despite Ganus convincingly and publicly suggesting that it couldn’t have been involved in manipulation of the data.

WADA is left with a difficult conundrum. If it sanctions RUSADA, it risks alienating the NADOs that fall under its jurisdiction, who have said that they support RUSADA’s position as not being involved in manipulation of the data retrieved from the Moscow Laboratory. The only alternative is to conclude that the data was manipulated by agents of the Russian State. 

This would again focus the spotlight back on WADA’s controversial decision to reinstate RUSADA, despite the Russian authorities not acknowledging the role of the Russian State in manipulating the doping control process in Russia. And that is something that WADA would be keen to avoid ahead of its upcoming World Conference on Doping in Sport. It would appear we are in checkmate again.

• Photograph in header is courtesy of Thomas Søndegaard, PlayTheGame. For originals, click here

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