1 November 2018

WADA Media Symposium: calls for reform are misplaced

Calls to reform the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) were dismissed as misplaced by its Director General, Olivier Niggli, who said that National Anti-Doping Organisations (NADOs) and athletes should be talking to their partners about reform rather than publicly attacking “the driver of the car”. Niggli argued that as WADA’s leadership is not responsible for the structure of the organisation, reform proposals should be put to governments and the International Olympic Committee (IOC), which jointly fund the organisation, as well as staff its Executive Committee.  

Today’s media symposium followed yesterday’s Whitehouse meeting involving athletes and Ministers of Sport and NADOs from seven countries calling for reform of WADA. The meeting was hosted by the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) and the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), after which a Declaration was issued calling for five key reforms. WADA’s Governance Review Committee has suggested reforms, which 18 NADOs and athletes have argued do not go far enough. “If my maths are correct, 178 countries were not in Washington yesterday”, said Niggli.

The US is the largest contributor to WADA’s annual budget, providing US$2.33 million in 2018, 7% of the total $32.9 million received in funding for 2018. The hosting of a Whitehouse meeting calling for reform of WADA has led to speculation that unless WADA implements meaningful reform, the US may reconsider its funding.

Both Niggli and WADA President, Sir Craig Reedie, were critical of US-led initiatives to reform WADA. “The people that we hear from most often are a pretty select group of national anti-doping organisations”, said Reedie. “We have had comment – some of it critical some of it hostile – from Travis [Tygart, CEO of USADA] for two and a half, three years now. We live in a free society, he is entitled to say what he says. In a very complex political situation worldwide at the moment, it seems to me that this follows a kind of formula that the only solution to anybody’s problems are solutions that come from the United States.

“I don’t believe that’s accurate, or correct. I would like to think that at some future date, he might address USADA’s efforts to looking at the large area of American sport which is not Code compliant and events which aren’t Code compliant. And I think that would be a greater contribution to clean sport in the world than continually complaining about what WADA does.”

RUSADA: right decision for clean sport

Reedie also reiterated that its decision to reinstate the Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA) was the “right decision for clean sport”, adding that he “fully understands” objections to it. He again argued that Russian Minister for Sport, Pavel Kolobkov, had agreed to the amended remaining two conditions, enabling RUSADA to be reinstated. As outlined in his 22 June letter to Kolobkov, these were that he ‘confirm in writing the acceptance by Russia of the conclusion from the Schmid report that a number of individuals within the Ministry of Sport and its subordinated entities were involved in the scheme’, and that the Moscow Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS) is provided to an independent expert. 

However, as already reported, whether Kolobkov’s letter met Reedie’s requirements is subject to debate. When pressed on this, Reedie and Niggli reiterated that the decision to reinstate RUSADA was best for clean sport.

Reedie said that “nobody would have benefitted” from continued suspension of RUSADA. He argued that internally, suggestions had been made about changing its Roadmap to Compliance in June. “Nobody said anything”, he added. He also said that when Kolobkov sent his letter of reply to him in September accepting the amended conditions, “nobody said anything”, adding that a “firestorm” only began when the letters were leaked to the media, who were previously not aware of the amended conditions.

“How can you describe it as a backroom deal, if I write publicly to the Russian authorities and I copy that letter to all of my Executive Committee?” said Reedie in response to a question about whether a ‘backroom deal’ had been agreed to reaccredit RUSADA. “Then, we get a letter from Russia, saying ‘we accept’. The Executive Committee knew that, nobody commented on it, and then it went into the media. That’s not my definition of a backroom deal.”

“In June, when the recommendation was made on these two last points, the Compliance Review Committee included athletes who were fully aware of what was going on”, added Niggli in response to a question on why WADA didn’t announce that it was changing its negotiating position regarding the last two points of its Roadmap to Compliance. “The whole thing was sent to the Executive Committee, on which there is also an athlete who was fully aware of what was going on. This was out there. There was nothing hidden. You are saying that every time we do something with Russia we should advertise it to the world? I don’t think that’s how you conduct proper business.”

WADA: we acted on Russia

Reedie also claimed that WADA “uncovered” the systemic doping that occurred in Russia and “fully investigated” all allegations relating to it. “The paradox for us is that we are being criticised when we revealed the problem and dealt with the problem”, added Niggli. “Others are pointing fingers about what we should have done, when in fact, we have done a lot”.

As previously reported, WADA was told about what was going on in Russia in 2010, 2012 and 2013. The Mail on Sunday said it had passed the information behind its 2013 exposé to the IOC in 2013. In 2016, WADA’s Chief Investigator, Jack Robertson, said that he was forced to leak information to German journalist Hajo Seppelt in 2014 to force WADA to act.

WADA argues that the information provided to it was not sufficient to launch an investigation before it did so, in January 2015. It also argued that before changes were made in the 2015 edition of the World Anti-Doping Code, it did not have the power to launch investigations. 

However, Article 20.7 of the 2009 World Anti-Doping Code required WADA to ‘monitor Code compliance by signatories’ and to ‘cooperate with relevant national and international organizations and agencies, including but not limited to, facilitating inquiries and investigations’. WADA has also carried out investigations prior to 2015, such as the one it conducted into Lance Armstrong. Interestingly, WADA’s Director of Intelligence and Investigations, Gunter Younger, revealed that all investigations it has carried out during the last two years have been based on whistleblower information.

Reedie also denied accusations that he got “too close” to Russia, however he did say that with the benefit of hindsight, he might have reconsidered emailing former Russian Minister for Sport Vitaly Mutko, who is now a Deputy Prime Minister. “I might not have written an email to Mutko all those years ago”, he said. “I am sorry that we had to become involved in long term, highly expensive investigations which strained WADA’s finances and budget to the limit and to – I am afraid – watch the world of sport face challenges which were very, very difficult to defeat. Having been involved in all of that for all these years and been bruised by it, I am very keen that we resolve this over the next couple of months.”

Hidden part of LIMS database

Younger also revealed that within the Moscow LIMS database it received from Russia, there is a “hidden” database entitled ‘Found’. He added that unfortunately, the table cannot be read.

Gunter added that his mandate is now to catch athletes implicated in systemic doping in Russia. “I am going to finish this”, he said, adding that as a result of WADA’s efforts, 112 people have been removed from Russian sport in the last two years.

Progress in Russia

WADA remained tight-lipped about whether Russia was making progress towards providing the LIMS to an independent expert, as agreed by both parties. Younger presented details of the LIMS database, written in SQL computer code, in order to explain its complexity, however it was given a copy of the LIMS database (WADA uses the term ‘obtained’), by Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov, former Director of the Moscow Laboratory, last year. 

Reedie explained that an independent expert has yet to be appointed to analyse the LIMS data. “We are in contact with the Russian authorities”, he responded when asked about progress made to date. As previously reported, the exchange of letters between Reedie and Kolobkov outlines – to borrow Niggli’s phraseology – that Russia will be ‘the driver of the car’. Points to note are:

1. Kolobkov outlines access to both the samples and the LIMS database depends on the ‘consent’ of the SKR (Investigative Committee of Russia).
2. The Russian Ministry of Sport will be providing the independent expert used to analyse the LIMS data and samples, which WADA will be required to approve or reject.
3. Kolobkov only commits to providing an independent expert with access to analytical equipment to retrieve the LIMS data and urine samples – not access to the data and samples themselves, and not the full access to both, as originally sought by WADA.
4. The independent expert’s access to the analytical equipment must be supervised by the SKR.

A question that was not addressed was what would happen regarding testing at international sporting events scheduled to be hosted in Russia during 2019, if Russia does not make any progress by WADA’s 31 December deadline. The 2019 Winter Universiade is due to be hosted in Krasnoyarsk from 2-12 March, for example.

‘Clean sport’ and double standards

There is no doubt that having a fully functioning RUSADA in place is best for clean sport, as WADA argues. It explained that it is not a political organisation, but is the compiler and enforcer of the World Anti-Doping Code and its related documents, and herein lies its problem. WADA is set up to enable the prosecution of athletes, not to enable their protection.

The reason that many athletes are angry about WADA’s decision to reinstate RUSADA is that they can see that WADA has compromised. In policing the Code that it created, there are few opportunities for compromise afforded to athletes. When confronted with a positive test, an athlete must provide evidence as to how that substance ended up in their system, otherwise they face a four year ban.

Russia has not provided written confirmation that the Ministry of Sport and its subordinated entities were involved in systemic doping, yet RUSADA has been reinstated. Rightly or wrongly, it is not hard to see how many view this as double standards.

At today’s Media Symposium, WADA shied away from engaging with its problems. It continued to criticise those that propose reforms outside of its internal committees, and didn’t fully address serious questions about issues over the reinstatement of RUSADA. Despite its assertions to the contrary, many would argue that it has become a political organisation.

Underneath all of the politics, WADA faces a serious problem. As yesterday’s Washington Declaration puts it, ‘confidence in clean sport is at an all-time low’. A meeting held at the Whitehouse, home of its major funder was attended by government ministers and NADOs from around the world. WADA today denied that it had instructed its Vice President, Linda Hofstadt-Helleland, not to attend, but did claim that it hadn’t been invited. Responding to calls to attend a Congressional Hearing on anti-doping, WADA said that it had yet to receive an official invitation. 

If WADA is serious about reform, as it claims, then it might consider engaging with its detractors rather than attacking them. After all, some of them are major NADOs and government organisations that fall under its umbrella. The question is – what does it have to fear?

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