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For WADA, Another Crucial Discussion About Russia

Category: Other Sports,Sports

MONTREAL — The World Anti-Doping Association’s compliance review committee will meet in Montreal, the organization’s home city, on Monday and Tuesday to discuss a problem that will not go away — Russia’s antidoping laboratories, and what to do about the country missing a key end-of-year deadline.

No matter what the committee recommends, and the possibilities range from competition bans to mere slaps on the wrist to nothing, the long-running story of Russia’s antidoping laboratories is bound to continue.

Hanging in the balance is the credibility of the world’s foremost antidoping watchdog, which has endured withering criticism from athletes in recent months who say the organization has allowed a rogue nation to run roughshod over its attempts at enforcement.

In an open letter last week to Jonathan Taylor, the chairman of the compliance review committee, the Swedish biathlete Sebastian Samuelsson wrote, “Given that this doping crisis involving Russia is the biggest in history, and the fact that many athletes have so shamefully been cheated out of podium positions not to mention financial rewards by the state-sponsored doping system, this issue requires proper leadership and good, honest communication — two things that have been very neglected by the current WADA Leadership.”

WADA leaders have said they remain committed to clean sport and holding Russia to account.

Roughly four years after Russia’s corruption of the drug-testing process first came to light, WADA’s executive committee voted 9 to 2 in September to allow Russia to resume testing its own athletes for performance-enhancing drugs, even though it had not fulfilled every requirement of a compliance agreement.

Russia’s drug-testing agency had been banned since 2015, after a vast state-sponsored doping scheme was uncovered. While 160 Russian athletes were cleared to compete in the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, they competed under the banner of Olympic Athletes From Russia, and Russia remains a controversial member of the international sports world. In 2016, Russian athletes had to receive special permission from the international federations governing their sports to compete at the Rio Games.

Individual federations have handled the situation differently. Some, like the International Association of Athletics Federations, which oversees track and field, have barred all Russian athletes from competing since 2015. Others, like soccer’s governing body, FIFA, have allowed them to compete.

The reinstatement of the Russian Anti-Doping Agency’s laboratories came with a number of conditions attached, all of which Russia agreed to. The most significant condition compelled Russia to hand over data from its corrupted antidoping laboratories by the end of the year. Numerous WADA teams sent to Russia were rebuffed, and Russia missed the deadline.

Last week, a three-person WADA team in Moscow was finally allowed into the laboratory to begin collecting data. The computer data sought by WADA investigators had been sealed off by Russian law enforcement, leading to the bizarre circumstance of the Russian Anti-Doping Agency urging the Russian government to cooperate with WADA on an investigation of the Russian Anti-Doping Agency’s own laboratories.

It was unclear whether the work would be completed before the compliance review committee began meeting at WADA’s headquarters on Monday, or if Russian law enforcement would impose any more hurdles. But even if the work is completed, it is highly unlikely that WADA officials will quickly be able to certify that the data is complete and authentic, and some skeptics will not trust the data no matter what because Russia missed the deadline.

“On Monday, I will be asking, ‘Have we got the data?’ and if the answer is no, it will be a short discussion,” said Taylor, a lawyer based in London. His implication was that if the data was incomplete, the committee would have no choice but to recommend Russia be declared noncompliant.

If that happens, the future participation of Russian athletes in international competitions will once again be in doubt, a situation that major sports organizations like the International Olympic Committee are desperate to avoid.

A number of sporting figures have called for Russia to be declared noncompliant for missing the deadline. Most prominently, WADA’s own athlete committee has said it expects Russia to be declared noncompliant, and that anything less “will be considered a failure by WADA to act on behalf of clean athletes.”

Travis Tygart, the head of the United States Anti-Doping Agency and a vocal critic of how WADA has handled Russia, sounded a cautious note on Friday.

“Of course, if accurate, it is a good thing that the signals emerging from WADA are that its group has been allowed into the Moscow laboratory,” he said in a statement. But in the meantime, he believes Russia should be declared noncompliant.

Even if WADA obtains all the data, managing the process remains complicated. “The question will be how do we move forward, what do we do about the fact that they are late, what do we do about the fact that we don’t know yet that the data are authentic,” Taylor said.

The committee will make a recommendation and send it to WADA’s executive committee, which is expected to meet later in January.

The executive committee, which generally follows the recommendations of the compliance review committee, can choose to do nothing, and allow Russia’s reinstatement to remain. If it decides to once again seek the suspension of Russia’s antidoping laboratories, it will send a letter asserting noncompliance laying out a set of recommended consequences. Russia would then have 21 days to decide whether to agree, or to challenge the noncompliance in front of the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

If WADA declines to seek noncompliance, the next deadline is June 30. By then, Russia must submit any stored athlete samples that, based on the data, WADA wishes to examine.

The data WADA seeks consists of about 10,000 suspicious doping samples. Assuming WADA finds that a number of them contain evidence of doping, it will be up to the dozens of individual sports federations to bring cases and charge the athletes.

In other words, whether Russia is declared noncompliant or not, the continuing fallout from the country’s doping scheme is likely to stretch deep into 2019, especially with the world track and field championships set for September in Doha, Qatar.


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