22 September 2018

WADA states it ‘is much stronger’ as result of Russian doping crisis

The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) has released an extraordinary statement arguing that adaptations WADA had to make to deal with Russian doping have resulted in a stronger Agency. ‘We believe that today, WADA is much stronger and better equipped to pursue its mission as the global independent leader of clean sport’, reads a document (PDF below), released as part of a media release announcing that WADA has approved the 2019 Prohibited List, to be published on 1 October. ‘WADA’s actions in light of these issues […] have led to a strengthened anti-doping system’.

WADA’s claim is likely to put further strain on relationships with the national anti-doping agencies (NADOs) it regulates, as well as on athletes. Statements released by the Institute of National Anti-Doping Organisations (iNADO); the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Agency (ASADA); Sport Ireland; the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA); and UK Anti-Doping (UKAD) appear to disagree with WADA’s assessment that it is in a stronger position.

State cheating

The Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA) was reinstated by WADA on 20 September. WADA decided that a letter from Russian Minister for Sport, Pavel Kolobkov, stating that: ‘The Russian Federation fully accepted the decision of the IOC Executive Board of December 5, 2017 that was made based on the findings of the Schmid Report’ amounted to ‘acceptance of all of the findings of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Schmid Report (which itself endorsed the core findings of the WADA-commissioned McLaren Investigation reports), including that “a number of individuals within the Ministry of Sport and its subordinated entities” were involved in the manipulations of the anti-doping system in Russia’.

Taken at face value, Kolobkov’s statement only accepts the IOC decision of 5 December 2017, which was to suspend the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) and to allow certain athletes to compete in PyeongChang 2018 under the Olympic flag. Kolobkov has not said that Russia accepts the Schmid Report, only the IOC’s decision to suspend the ROC based on the findings of the Report.

Despite the fact that Russia has not acknowledged that the State was behind the systematic doping system outlined by McLaren in his two Reports for WADA, WADA’s statement reasserts that the Russian State was responsible. It states that the Moscow and Sochi Laboratories were ‘institutionally controlled’ and ‘protected’, and that cheating involved ‘parties of the State such as the secret services (FSB [Russia’s Federal Security Service])’. How this will go down with Russian authorities remains to be seen.

WADA has stipulated that the Russian Ministry of Sport must provide a copy of the Moscow Laboratory’s Information Management System (LIMS) to WADA by 31 December. RUSADA and the Russian Ministry of Sport must ensure that any re-analysis of samples held in the Laboratory since November 2015 required by WADA must be completed by 30 June 2019. 

Russian authorities have consistently argued that they cannot provide either to WADA due to an investigation launched by the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation (SKR or Sledcom) on 8 June 2016. Whether the reinstatement of RUSADA will change this remains to be seen.

WADA’s lack of action

The document also attempts to explain why WADA did not tackle Russian doping before Hajo Seppelt’s team published its first documentary in December 2014. It admits that it was aware of what was going on in Russia in 2010, after speaking to Vitaly Stepanov, but argues that it did not have the tools it needed to deal with the information that he provided about his wife, Yuliya Stepanova, being subjected to systemic doping and corruption.

‘In 2010, WADA was first approached by Russian whistleblower, Vitaly Stepanov’, reads WADA’s statement. ‘At the time, Mr. Stepanov told WADA that he had yet to tell his wife that he was in contact with the Agency; and that he had no concrete evidence whatsoever to support his statements’.

Yuliya Stepanova was suspended for an anti-doping rule violation in 2013, after which WADA argues that the Stepanova’s went to Seppelt, in order to gather ‘evidence that could lead to a meaningful investigation with meaningful outcomes, as WADA did not have the power to investigate under the 2009 Code […] WADA’s role and authority under the 2009 Code was clearly designed as a facilitator, to pass on information to relevant organisations and to facilitate the conduct of investigations.’

WADA argues that the information from the Stepanovs was insufficient, and that the wording of the 2009 Code required it to pass information to RUSADA and the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF). ‘Because the Stepanovs’ information included allegations of doping cover-ups against RUSADA and the IAAF, WADA determined that passing such information along would have led to negative consequences for the Stepanovs’, reads its statement. ‘We believed and we still believe that, if we had exposed the initial information provided by Vitaly Stepanov between 2010 and 2013, it would have been dismissed as being the words of one individual against the strong denial of Russia. We are convinced that we would not have had anywhere near the success that we ultimately had; in fact, we believe that the international community would not even be talking about doping in Russia today.’

This claim completely ignores the fact that WADA had received corroborating information on what was going on in Russia from other sources. In July 2013, the Mail On Sunday published an exposé backed by detailed corroborating information on the systemic doping system that was operating within Russia. WADA also received a letter from discus thrower Darya Pishchalnikova in December 2012 (PDF below) outlining the same systemic doping system outlined by the Stepanovs and corroborated in the Mail On Sunday’s article. Pishchalnikova’s letter is available through Richard McLaren’s Evidential Disclosure Package (EDP), which was published alongside his Reports.

There was evidence of doping issues in certain countries (Country A) in 2001…

There is also evidence which suggests that WADA should have noticed what was going on in Russia well before 2010, and that WADA management delayed action on Russia. WADA’s former Chief Investigator, Jack Robertson, has said that he was forced to leak information to Seppelt in order to force WADA to act. It therefore remains to be seen whether WADA’s action on Russia will be viewed as the ‘success’ that WADA’s statement claims.

Independence and new funding

WADA is big on independence. The two Reports into Russian doping produced by Richard McLaren were described as Independent Person (IP) Reports, despite McLaren also being a member of the Independent Commission (IC) first tasked with examining Russian doping, chaired by WADA’s Founding President, Dick Pound.

WADA’s statement reveals that the four Reports produced by Pound and McLaren cost it US$3.9 million. Its 2017 budget was $29.7 million, less than the $36.2 million annual wage of Neymar. Its statement reveals that its Intelligence & Investigations Department has run one long-term project, ten sophisticated cases, one global operation with Interpol, and has processed 214 cases. The Speak Up! whistleblower programme launched by WADA in May 2017 resulted in 209 reports by the end of 2017, which averages out at just under one report per day.

The WADA statement also makes note of the numerous changes and new measures that WADA has put in place following the Russian doping crisis. Of course, all of this costs money. However, given WADA’s focus on independence, it is perhaps surprising that it is considering accepting funding from donors. WADA’s statement outlines that WADA has engaged management consultants Boston Consulting Group to explore ‘an additional funding strategy that would target contributions from the likes of corporations, foundations and private donors’. 

Universally panned

WADA’s decision to reinstate RUSADA has been almost universally panned. Why? Because WADA sets strict criteria for athletes who test positive for a prohibited substance. They face a four year ban unless they meet the stringent requirements set out in the World Anti-Doping Code that require an athlete to demonstrate how a prohibited substance ended up in their physiology. WADA regularly appeals to extend decisions against athletes which it feels have been too lenient.

In contrast, it appears to have let Russia off the hook, adapting its own stringent requirements to allow for the reinstatement of RUSADA. Whilst it is understood that sport needs a functioning anti-doping system in place in Russia, there is the perception – rightly or wrongly – that Russia has got away with admitting a State-run system by playing the waiting game. This sends the message to other countries that if they sit tight, WADA will reduce its demands to an level that allows them to save face. Underlying the anger felt by many at WADA’s decision is the perception that this is not the ‘level playing field’ that WADA consistently alludes to. 

WADA’s statement is a lengthly explanation of its action regarding Russia, but with notable omissions, as highlighted above. There have long been allegations that WADA passed information on Russian doping to Seppelt. If this is true, WADA’s continued refusal to acknowledge corroborating information on Russian doping from other sources would appear to suit its narrative that it could not do anything with the information supplied by the Stepanovs, which needed the skills of an investigative journalist to corroborate. Despite what WADA’s statement argues, it held corroborated evidence about what was going on in Russia prior to December 2014.

There are still many loose ends. Given the universal panning of WADA’s decision, why did so many of its Executive Committee vote for RUSADA’s reinstatement (nine in favour, two against and one abstention)? The IOC has had difficulty in finding hosts for the Olympic Games due to cost concerns. Were representatives of the Olympic movement pressured by hints from the Russian Ministry of Sport that St. Petersburg is considering a bid to host the Summer Olympics?

In allowing RUSADA to be reinstated despite Russian authorities not meeting its original requirements, WADA has ensured that an atmosphere of mistrust will continue in anti-doping for years to come. Rather than a stronger WADA, that will perhaps be the most enduring legacy from this week’s Executive Committee decision.

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