Wada facing crisis after deciding to lift Russia’s three-year ban
Wada announced the news which has already seen organisation heavily criticised
The office of the Russian Anti-Doping agency in Moscow. Photograph: Maxim Shemetov/Reuters
The World Anti-Doping Agency is facing the gravest crisis in its 19-year history after it lifted Russia’s suspension, despite pleas from the rest of the anti-doping community that such a decision would be unwise and premature.
The news, officially announced by Wada on Thursday afternoon after a meeting of its executive committee in the Seychelles, means that Russia will be free to test its own athletes again and issue therapeutic use exemption certificates.
The decision makes it more likely that its track and field athletes will return to competing under the Russian flag, while the country is likely to start bidding for sporting events again too.
However Wada’s critics are furious that it has secretly shifted the goalposts for the return of the Russian Anti-Doping Agency (Rusada) – especially as Russia has still not accepted that it was running a massive state-sponsored doping programme across major events such as the London 2012 Olympics, the 2013 World Athletics Championships in Moscow and the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.
They are also angry that Wada’s president, Craig Reedie, and its director general, Olivier Niggli, offered a secret compromise to Russia’s sports minister, Pavel Kolobkov – which was only revealed when letters were leaked to the BBC – to shift the goalposts to make it easier for Rusada to be let back in.
Ever since Rusada was suspended in 2015 Wada has insisted that Russia had to fulfil two major conditions before its ban could be lifted. First, accepting the McLaren report, which found that more than 1,000 athletes across more than 30 sports were aided by state-sponsored doping. And second, allowing access to the Moscow lab and the data contained therein so that hundreds of outstanding Russian doping cases could be prosecuted.
Instead Russia has merely accepted that “failings” were made and agreed to allow an independent expert access to the Moscow lab at some point in the next six months.
In theory that expert should be able to retrieve all the raw data from the lab, which should reveal which Russia athletes were on banned drugs. However some fear that Russia will backtrack on its promises, or that the raw data may no longer exist.
But in a statement following the vote Reedie insisted that Russia would be declared non-compliant again if it didn’t live up to its side of the bargain.
“This decision provides a clear timeline by which Wada must be given access to the former Moscow laboratory data and samples with a clear commitment by the ExCo that should this timeline not be met, the ExCo would support the CRC’s recommendation to reinstate non-compliance,” said Reedie.
Wada’s decision was greeted with dismay by Jim Walden, the lawyer for Dr Grigory Rodchenkov - the Russian doping whistleblower - who called on the US government to stop funding Wada.
“Wada’s decision to reinstate Russia represents the greatest treachery against clean athletes in Olympic history,” said Walden. “The United States is wasting its money by continuing to fund Wada, which is obviously impotent to address Russia’s state-sponsored doping.
“The only way to stem the tide of Russian corruption is for Congress to pass the Rodchenkov Anti-Doping Act, which will give the Department of Justice the necessary tools to put those engaged in doping fraud behind bars, where they belong.”
Meanwhile Sport Ireland chief executive John Treacy released the following statement on Thursday afternoon: “Wada’s own ‘Roadmap to Compliance’ is very clear. Nothing has changed; the two criteria remain outstanding.
“There are many questions arising out of today’s decision. What evidence has Wada based this decision on? Why has Wada softened its stance on two of the most important criteria in the ‘Roadmap to Compliance’? And, most critically, where does the international fight against doping in sport go from here?
“This is a watershed moment in the fight against doping in sport. Today is an extremely tough day for all of those who believe in protecting the integrity of sport. This has called the credibility of Wada and all it stands for into question.
“Anti-doping leaders must now come together and decide where we go from here. We want, and need, an anti-doping system that is fair and transparent, and free from conflicts of interests. A system that is free from manipulation and subversion. A system where the interest of clean athletes are top priority. We must remember that the most important people in all of this are the clean athletes. They deserve to know they are competing on a fair and level playing field.”