Doping Oversight and the Olympic Blame Games

Every Country and Athlete is Affected By The Lack Of Doping Oversight

Commentary By Craig Lord – Editor of which is currently on hiatus.

Imagine this:

“Milord, the accused objects to the request of the police to run DNA and finger-print testing on the crowbars, hammers and sickles alleged to have been used in the case of a daylight robbery by a collective of signatories to Fair Play on Olympic Heights. My client would like to suggest a compromise in which scrutiny of evidence and exhibits is granted as long as blame can be pinned on a few scapegoats and that we have a say in who investigates the evidence, while those who may or may not have plotted the heist will get off scot-free. How say you?”

Caricatures are meant to cuddle up to reality in uncomfortable and/or funny ways. There is nothing funny about this as it relates to athlete doping in the Olympic sports world.

There was time in recent history when we found ourselves in a similar situation at the court of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) – the independent agency authorized by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to oversee the regulation of athletic doping.

The judges were set to come to a decision on the path to reinstating Russia’s doping lab (RUSADA) after it lost its status due to widespread and verified abuse that benefited Russian athletes. WADA listened for years, months and then weeks of intensive pleading from world-class athletes, their coaches, support teams, peer anti-doping leaders and their own investigators, independent and otherwise.  All of this before setting a very clear and well-supported roadmap of punishment to the Russians followed by a road to healing for their black sheep.  All meant to be a penance before being allowed to return back to the Olympic fold. (Prelude: A quick reminder of the what athletes have dubbed The Sports Crime of the Century.)

There were two clear prerequisites to reinstating RUSADA:

  • One key signpost to reinstate Russia’s integrity and status, backed by the WADA Athletes Commission, called on Russia to acknowledge the systematic and state-linked nature of the offense against fellow members of the Olympic Movement.
  • Another key signpost insisted that there must be a hand over of all remaining samples and data stored at the Moscow laboratory and IOC-accredited facility that had turned to the Dark Side with menacing force.

These requests made sense at the time.

WADA’s executive committee had solid backing from athletes and their entourages around the world in the weeks leading up to the recent September 20 decision that, as things turned out, set fire to the “Olympic Torch of Trust” in the anti-doping agency and perceptions of its independence as the watchdog for doping in Olympic sports.

A New Deal Had Been Done

We thought WADA’s key demand for lifting Russia’s suspension was contrition… (read the decision here).

A pale imitation was what we got: Rather than insist that Russia acknowledge the full findings of the McLaren report, WADA agreed that the summary conclusions of the milder IOC report were enough. Those noted clearly the state connection to the doping scheme but concluded that the IOC could find no evidence of a link to the “highest office” of state. And that despite Russian President Vladimir Putin had in 2009 signed a decree to customs officials, as reported by the ARD TV investigators who blew the whistle on the scandal in late 2014, that no doping samples were to leave the country without being opened and tested, in contravention of the WADA Code.

The resulting form of Russian contrition was to be shared with WADA – the one policing the crime.

The chapter on contrition reads like this: You, Russia, give a bit and we, WADA, will return a little in the form of what might be interpreted as a hint or suggestion that McClaren got it wrong on the scale of the crime and therefore we now agree to water it down both in terms of the conditions of reinstatement and, as a result, in the official version of events.

Questioning whether athletes “fully understand what WADA was doing or what powers WADA has”, the anti-doping outfit’s president Sir Craig Reedie told the BBC: “If you look back at the 21 months since the compliance ‘roadmap’ was put in place there has been complete refusal by the Russian authorities to meet the last two conditions. Now I think athletes maybe just think we should continue with that — but I question that policy. Sitting back, hoping we got the information we wanted and then allowing RUSADA to become compliant doesn’t seem to be a way forward.”

“Sitting back, hoping” paints a false picture of the stance athletes thought WADA had taken and wanted it to keep taking, namely ‘you play ball, we let you back in; you don’t, we won’t — and there will be no return for RUSADA in Russian hands’. Athletes, coaches and others from around the world would have the stand off go on for as long as it takes Russia to acknowledge the truly massive scale of the fraud in focus.

Reedie dangled a carrot at the clean athletes when he added: “The athletes really need to know that in the Moscow lab there are around 2,800 samples which we would very much like to see in terms of completing cases — both ongoing cases and new — against athletes who have cheated.”  All, barring those with something to hide, will surely be with him on that one — but why must it take a carrot for the unclean?

Is it not an unquestionable obligation of all signatories to the WADA Code that they must comply with what they have signed up to — or pay the price? In the case of premeditated assault on the Olympic podium by foul means, should not the punishment fit the crime? “You bet,” say the clean athletes who WADA is supposed to protect.

WADA says it is doing just that: access to lab secrets will unearth more ugly treasure.

A Deal With The Devil

Reedie and WADA entered a plea bargain with Russia. In the context of a horrible history of East Germany’s (DDR) State Plan 14:25 through to Russia’s recent past, some may see it all as doing a deal with the devil. A deal in which there would be no official picture including “state” and “systematic,” no frame marked GDR Mark II (one that has and would raise the question: Did GDR, the Original, include unwritten chapters of systematic Soviet cheating at a time when a certain Vladimir Putin was chief spy based in then GDR at an office down the road from the Kreischa laboratory at the heart of the East German doping machine?). Only then, would Russia agree to hand over almost 3,000 samples and related data for investigation.

In short, we find the world doping police agreeing to a compromise in which the guilty party that has torn trust in Olympic sport to shreds and held back evidence as a bargaining chip to lenient sentencing gets not only to reduce the charges against it but will also have a say in which investigator will take a magnifying glass to the next pile of evidence at RUSADA.

Reedie justified it all when he suggested that what Russia had to say about the scale of its guilt was less relevant in a wider world that had made up its mind based on overwhelming evidence of a state-link to a truly big case of systematic doping.

Jonathan Taylor, the English lawyer who chairs the “independent” Compliance Review Committee (CRC), noted Russia’s promise to allow an expert to visit the Moscow lab and extract from testing equipment the raw data needed to prosecute cases.

“We now have a specific deadline and a specific commitment,” said Taylor. “So it’s not just a CD-Rom.” Failure to comply this time would result in a new filing for sanctions at the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

“Under this approach, we now have a requirement, a deadline and consequences — as opposed to what we had under the old rules, where we would not be able to do anything else,” Taylor added. “We’d have no leverage. We’re in a stronger position and hopefully the Russians will understand this and comply.”

Just why CAS could not force Russia to hand over samples and data related to anti-doping processes under WADA rules is a question yet to be answered.

Also among other critical questions is this: how does banning Russia from international sport and keeping RUSADA locked down amount to no leverage, unless, of course, you cave in and set a new level of compromise and deal for the Russians to make their next move with?

Athlete Outrage

The WADA decision had immediate consequences, including the resignation of Beckie Scott, athletes’ representative, from the CRC.

Scott and the WADA Athletes Commission said they were “devastated” to hear of reinstatement “without the completion of the roadmap” as originally agreed. In a statement, the athletes noted: “We had expected that WADA would stand up for clean athletes and clean sport, instead we have seen nuance and pragmatism overtake justice and accountability. The roadmap that clean athletes and WADA had been relying on ended up with WADA coaching Russia on how to ask for concessions, changing the terms, and the world’s athletes being cut out.”

Truth hurts sometimes — and both Russia and WADA ought to be smarting over this from the athletes:

“Russia has used its athletes, committed the biggest doping scandal of the century, corrupted the anti-doping and sport movements, and has now been welcomed back on a promise, without even complying with the rules. This is not good enough.

Athletes from around the world have spoken up, and yet again they have been shut out and not listened to. We have no vote at the decision-making table that sets the rules for us.”

Where Travis Tygart, at the helm of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), said WADA’s decision “stinks to high heaven,” Ed Moses, the two-time Olympic and twice World track champion and chairman of USADA, went further: “Either we completely overhaul the way WADA is governed, free itself entirely from the International Olympic Commission and other international sports federations, or has WADA’s wayward decision-making made its reputation irrecoverable in the eyes of the athletes and public?”

Mutiny might be the only answer, Moses suggested: “Do we need to replace it with an organization that has the ‘teeth’, authority, determination and independence to act as a strong and robust regulator that will be unforgiving in the war on drugs? With WADA in turmoil, and public belief in the sport they watch fading fast, we must leave no option off the table for how we overhaul the anti-doping system and rebuild confidence. Does that mean WADA now needs to be replaced by another, more effective global anti-doping body? I wouldn’t rule it out. In the wake of this crisis, those conversations are now beginning.”

They even include the former director general of WADA, David Howman, who suggested the doping police body had made a decision based on the financial interests of sports federations, and not for clean sport. Now head of the Athletics Integrity Unit, Howman said: “WADA has gone from being an organization that cared about clean athletes to one that cares about international federations that have not been able to stage events in Russia: it’s money over principle.”

Reedie denied that, saying: “He (Howman) should know WADA would never make a decision based on money over principle … We had a process and we made a democratic decision and that’s the way it should be.”

At Almost No Level Of Olympic Sport Do Democracy and Transparency Thrive

Democratic? Not if you consider that the athletes of the world affected have no vote, neither on reinstating Russia, or not, nor on whether Russians or others who fell foul of anti-doping rules get to compete at the Olympic Games.

The latter comes down to the IOC, a body that has singularly failed to deal with any major systematic doping scandal in history. The result book of swimming alone is stacked high with the names of abuse victims force-fueled with Oral Turinabol and substances that had not been put through clinical trials at the time and the likes of former FINA medical commission member Dr. Lothar Kipke who was administering doping to teenage girls as young as 13 back in the DDR era.

Many victims suffered catastrophic consequences: they were pawns in an Olympic Game of chess still in play today among players who will continue to control the pieces for as long as nations and their athletes, parents, coaches, media and sponsors grant them the power to do so.

Take another of Howman’s conclusions, one that Reedie did not respond too: WADA had, he said, “managed to walk a fine line” between its funders, national governments and athletes, “until Russia came along, because it was too big, too rich, too powerful.”

And WADA knows it. Russia has launched legal action this week against the IAAF in a bid to have its athletics ban lifted. A Court of Arbitration filing seen by The Times in London this week shows that Russia’s athletics federation is arguing that the arguments that kept the WADA ban in place were the same as those that have kept the country off the track and out of the field of play. Now that WADA has eased the test, so should the IAAF, goes the challenge.  WADA’s decision has ripple consequences.

IAAF bosses want their own experts to find the needles in the haystack of troublesome samples and data locked in the Russian lab. WADA, meanwhile, has agreed to allow Russia to have a say in who the “independent” inspector of the samples and data should be.

The latest move by Team Putin is said to have been in the pipeline awaiting a moment of WADA weakness. The IAAF, led by Lord Coe, intends to fight the challenge, telling The Times: “we have led the fight for clean athletes and we will continue to do so.”

FINA, alas, could not claim the same, the swimming federation having let all Russian and Chinese problems, among others, back into the Rio pool. That story is not yet over. In the meantime, FINA’s watchword is denial. Among those at the helm since the 1980s is director Cornel Marculescu and his view that one cannot “condemn athletes for minor mistakes” (meaning, positive doping tests). He was there in 1998 telling us all that “rumors and speculation” of Chinese doping was a “balloon” of media making.

It was still a case of “swimming has no doping problem when we fast forward to 2016 and when The Times revealed five of what would turn out to be six hidden Chinese swimming positives (we reported five, turned out to be six, a seventh case unavoidable later that year, when Chen Yan, age 16, tested positive during Rio 2016). In Rio, Marculescu was to be found hugging Sun Yang, a swimmer back from a ban he never served, on the burning deck of an Olympic Games as the booing rained down from the stands.

Two years before, Sun’s positive doping test was kept from the public domain and the swimmer’s international rivals at the Asian Games on the way to the forced imposition of a retrospective three-month ban that was never actually served.

Such stories are to be found far and wide, alongside tales of uneven treatment, one rule for all, different interpretation for “the stars” and the unknown developer slapped with a ban more than twice the size as the FINA favorite. One on a list of many reasons why the federations cannot be both promoter and policeman. It is an impossible conflict, yet federations are highly reluctant to give up the dual role. Is that because the funding of anti-doping helps keep those non-profit millions rolling through; because they like to control who gets tested when and for what and want to be the first to know of a problem so they can decided what happens next, and even if anything happens next? There are several other possible answers.

The WADA Food Chain By Association

Meanwhile, WADA, as sincere as any who work for it may be, remains a creatures of an Olympic governance system built on old foundations and supported by all, through membership organizations such as USA Swimming, which is connected up the chain to FINA and the United States Olympic Committee. The same significant food chain exists around the world.

It is a chain in need of a date with a cutter. So, when next pointing a finger at WADA, cast your net wider, yet closer to home.

There are two pathways to progress:

1. change the culture and governance structures of Olympic sport in a way that increases democracy and the say of major stakeholders, while imposing the same “no politics” rules that apply to athletes on the sports politicians who set rules they never adhere to themselves. This with independent oversight of all processes, including finances, must be built into a reformed house

2. As part of the reform process or in protest at a lack of reform, ditch WADA and create a new independent anti-doping body completely beyond the reach of the IOC and their federations, who would simply be informed of any adverse findings when they are sent to a Court of Arbitration that must also need to prove and reinforce its independence and be open to independent scrutiny.

The Reaction

The level of disappointment among athletes, coaches and others has yet to reach a tipping point just shy of why swimmers finally recognize the power they have. They’re not there yet.

When Simone Manuel reacted along with other top athletes, the Olympic 100m free champion, spotted Swimming World’s tweet of a post on the World Swimming Coaches Association statement on WADA/Russia developments last week, she noted her own lack of understanding of the wider picture.

WSCA said of Russia/RUSADA reinstatement: “Today’s Decision Could Either Be Viewed as the End of Clean Sport or the Beginning”.

Manuel replied: “Someone please tell me how this is the beginning of clean sport… “

SwimVortex provided these tweets as answers:

1/ In this way… either you all wake up and be the generation that changed rotten governance (WADA=IOC=USOC=FINA etc) or accept business will continue as usual… step 1, via pro legal rep, if any fed / team contract silences you (true for many in swim/even built into rules) resist.

2/ Simone, you, Katie and many others are very bright, seems to me… only way to get this done is to accept that those governing swimming, domestically and internationally are a big part of the problem… they should be changing things for you … but NEVER get to it. Make them…

3/ Generations of swimmers have done what you and others are now, understandably doing: pointing to the surface problem of bad decisions… but how many of you are asking, “in what way is our man at FINA top table fighting this & corruption and bad governance on our behalf?”

4/ The structures of Olympic sport are built to keep governors in place for their lifetimes, which means they go along to get along under almost all circumstances, including doping, cheating, corruption. Nothing will change as long as those structures stand.

For WADA in current form to change, the entire system of governance would have to change, and, as Moses suggests, the alternative is replacement.

There is a divide between the discipline, dedication and determination shown by athletes and the culture of top, well-paid and reimbursed blazers who brandish the title “guardians of clean sport and signatories to the WADA Code” like a cynical, child-averse politician brandishes a bouncing baby on the way to the polling station on Election Day.

It is not hard to see why WADA bosses past and present point to the power play in full flow.

Dick Pound, a former Commonwealth swim champion for Canada and an IOC member who has also served at the helm of WADA, pointed to the same issue in his defense of the decision from Reedie and Co. Pound said: “ … because Russia is a large and important sporting country, it was essential that a revamped and reliable RUSADA be constituted.”

He went on to say: “Nobody wants cheaters at the Olympic Games. Unfortunately, WADA has no legal power to keep them out. That is the responsibility of the IOC, the international federations and the NADOs (national anti-doping organizations) in each country. It is they who need to stand up and be counted. It is they who must ensure that there is Code compliance — by everyone.”

Those sentences speak the truth and hypocrisy at the heart of Olympic culture: when it comes to voting, competing, dinners, honors and more, universality is the buzz word that protects “the autonomy of sport”. When it comes to words, WADA, athletes commissions and the like are all “independent” — until they wish to tackle tricky issues that spill into Olympic politics, invite red faces to the VIP dinner table and award ceremony and make event bidding a somewhat more awkward affair.

In reality, money and power matter, as the competition for them does. If the USA and NBC can turn the Olympic timetable upside down to suit American viewers, Russia can call the shots when it comes to doping, anti-doping and much else, without needing to invest billions in the biggest broadcast rights of all at the Games.

Autonomy, in Olympic context, means “freedom from external control or influence; independence” and is a status that tolerates no “political interference” in such processes as who represents nations at the IOC.

“The Olympics Aren’t Political.” So said then IOC president Jacques Rogge back in 2009, adding: “We do not make political choices, because if we do, this is the end of the universality of the Olympic Games.”

John Hoberman, a professor of Germanic languages within the Department of Germanic Studies at the University of Texas at Austin, points to a different truth: the IOC is “trapped by its grandiose goal of embracing the entire ‘human family’ at whatever cost”. He declares that the IOC has repeatedly awarded the Games to police states bent on abusing athletes to produce results and stage spectacular shows as a way of proving the might and worth of their political ideology.

Be it Pierre de Coubertin, the French nobleman who founded the modern Olympic movement, being nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by the Nazi Foreign Office after the 1936 Olympics as Hitler prepared to murder millions; be it honors from FINA to Putin at a time when Russian swimming had the worst doping record on the book and on the eve of the revelations that led to McClaren; be it the voices calling for Thomas Bach to be put up for the Nobel prize for sitting a democratically elected Korean leader and the like next to the sister of a dictator from across the northern border and hoping for the best: all off it is highly political — and entirely inappropriate if sport is to clean and run in the best interests of athlete welfare.

If the IOC and FINA et al were private companies, the lawyers of #metoo would be having a field day. As things stand, sports autonomy protects the Vatican-style protectorate from outside scrutiny and calls for reform.

The savage culture of Kipke and Co must never be given oxygen in the Olympic arena again, it had long been said. Yet here we are in a world and at a time when a top Russian Olympic official can proclaim that Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov, the former RUSADA mastermind who provided the world with excruciating detail of systematic cheating, should be executed and be met with sage nodding among some of his peers.

“Rodchenkov should be shot for lying, like Stalin would have done,” Russian radio listeners heard from the mouth of Leonid Tyagachev, head of Russia’s Olympic Committee from 2001 to 2010 and was honorary president at the height of revelations about systematic doping.

Tyagachev represented the Soviet Union in skiing. He was born in the last decade of the life of Stalin, a man whose life and works sparked many biographies cited at length in his Wikipedia profile, a good place to start for those seeking reference: “Stalin was ruthless, temperamentally cruel, and had a propensity for violence excessive even among the Bolsheviks. He lacked compassion … derived deep satisfaction from degrading and humiliating people … delighted in keeping even close associates in a state of ‘unrelieved fear.'”

Just the sort of folk you’d want as the guardians of your children in sport.

Little wonder that we find whistleblowers such as former RUSADA agent Vitaly Stepanov and his wife Yulia Stepanova, along with Rodchenkov in hiding places they may never be able to emerge from while they have a breath in their lungs.

Russian authorities have portrayed Rodchenkov as a rogue, an out-of-control maverick whose dark work they knew nothing about. Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, called Rodchenkov’s allegations “slander by a turncoat”.

Tygachev was unrepentant: “We are a strong enough country and we have shown the world how great we are in sport. It all shows that we are decent people on the right path and if people try to offend us unjustly, we don’t need them and we don’t need their Olympics. We are not going to beg on our knees.”

Well, Russia will not have to as long as the IOC and WADA fall shy of imposing the very stiffest of penalties and conditions for being granted a gold card to the Olympic lounge once more.

Tygachev’s call for Rodchenkov to be shot sounded all the more chilling in light of the unexplained deaths of two of his colleagues. The former executive director of the Russian anti-doping agency, Nikita Kamayev, died from an apparent heart attack at 52. He is said to have been writing notes about Russian sport and doping and told a journalist not long before his death that he was willing to speak out. In the same month in 2016 when Kamayev died, Vyacheslav Sinev, Rusada’s general director between 2008 and 2010, also died “of unknown causes.” Not long after, Rodchenko opted for a life in hiding as a whistleblower.

In the background of such events and the worst conclusions of the McClaren report, there are things that WADA has never properly investigated and provided no serious answers too. When Dick Pound suggested of WADA’s latest move that “the first outcome was acceptable” (agreeing to ease the scale and scope of official blame stretching to “state”), he he failed to see the message that sends to the rogue and the conveniently blind involved in the doping of two Russian teenage swimmers with Erythropoietin (EPO) by a doctor working with young athletes and known to the authorities, to Vladimir Salnikov, the head of the Russian Swimming Federation and FINA Bureau member?

Neither WADA nor FINA nor Salnikov nor Russia has answered any of the questions put to them on the issue of two positives returned in 2009 but never reported to WADA. Several sources inside Russian swimming have confirmed the details of the cases to this author. That information was passed to WADA and FINA. Both organizations told The Times in 2016 that they would investigate. There has been no word since, not even to name those who would conduct an inquiry, if there was ever any intention to work on it, let alone act.

At which point it is important to note that there are good folk doing great work at the heart of WADA and hard evidence from this author was indeed used to ensure that Sun Yang‘s doctor, Ba Zhen, was slapped with a second anti-doping suspension for his 2014 failings after he worked with the tainted freestyle swimmer at the Asian Games the same year at a time when he should have been serving time out and keeping well clear of swimmers. China surely knew it too: you don’t get to fly off to Korea and work on deck with Sun Yang at an accredited international event without someone high up the chain of official command knowing about it and approving it.

Good that they took the doctor out for two indiscretions but what about the system, where WADA’s powers all fall down and the IOC, FINA, and the like cannot get past the political cage they have built themselves into, truly autonomous territory in a self-governing realm that lacks independent oversight.

Meanwhile, Rodchenkov tells the New York Times: “WADA and the I.O.C., of which Mr. Reedie is a member and which foots half of WADA’s budget, have a long record of closing their eyes to the misdeeds of powerful sports nations. They seem not to understand that condoning Russia’s cheating does irreparable damage to international sport. WADA must promptly explain how it came to the decision to reinstate Russia and how it will ensure that Russia abides by the new condition. To make sure Mr. Reedie understands, Congress might note that the United States government’s annual check to WADA is for $2.3 million.”

Congress might also notes that USOC and USA Swimming are still going along to get along in international governance of sport when, actually, they could be achieving so much more on behalf of athletes they have been letting down for far too long.

All commentaries are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Swimming World Magazine nor its staff.

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David Abineri
David Abineri
5 years ago

ATHLETES, It sounds like it is now up to YOU.

Do you want to compete in a possibly drug tainted Olympics or do you want create a new venue for only clean athletes?

You have stood by too long and it is time to step up and declare that you will only compete in a verifiably clean competition.

No one else can cause this change as has been show since at least 1964!

David Abineri

Steven Selthoffer
5 years ago

Excellent and thorough analysis and insight. Sound reasoning. A call to action. A must read. Good to see Craig Lord firing all guns and back in the saddle.

Frank Wilson
Frank Wilson
5 years ago

Unfortunately doping in Olympic sports has a long history and that is unlikely to change anytime soon. Both the Russians and the Chinese, which is where many of the East German experts fled to when the Berlin wall fell, have been doing it for years. The Chinese are just better at not getting caught!

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