Wada gives Russia three weeks to explain missing drug test data

Punishment could see Russia’s ban from next year’s Olympic Games in Tokyo

Rusada chief executive  Yury Ganus declined to rule out the possibility that the data sent to Wada from the Moscow lab at the centre of the 2015 doping scandal had been manipulated. Photograph: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images

Rusada chief executive Yury Ganus declined to rule out the possibility that the data sent to Wada from the Moscow lab at the centre of the 2015 doping scandal had been manipulated. Photograph: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images

 

The World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada) has given Russia three weeks to explain how a number of positive drug tests were deleted from a database sent to the world’s anti-doping regulator as it investigated one of the biggest cheating scandals in sports history.

Any punishment would almost certainly include Russia’s ban from next year’s Olympic Games in Tokyo, but it could extend to competitions in any sport whose governing body that has signed Wada’s doping code, including soccer’s World Cup, track and field’s world championships and dozens of other sporting events.

The chief executive of Russia’s anti-doping agency, Yury Ganus, this weekend declined to rule out the possibility that the data sent to Wada from the Moscow lab at the centre of the 2015 doping scandal had been manipulated. In a text message Monday, Ganus said he was “frustrated” with that possibility, and said the potential consequences for all Russian sports “will be more than serious”.

“I think this situation is the most critical since this doping crisis began,” he said.

Russia’s promise to deliver a database of thousands of athlete records was a key factor in Wada’s decision to lift a ban on the country’s anti-doping agency in late 2018. That determination ended a three-year suspension that had been imposed after the discovery of one of the most audacious and sophisticated cheating schemes in history, one that corrupted a number of major international sporting events, including several Olympics.

The scandal meant Russian athletes were barred from competing under their own flag at the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, and the new investigation most likely means a group of especially vetted Russian athletes will once again compete as neutrals at the world track and field championships that get underway on Friday in Qatar.

Speculation had mounted in recent days about the data set submitted by Russia. At a meeting of Wada’s executive board Monday in Tokyo, the board members were told that a Wada investigative team had found inconsistencies between a data set passed to it by a whistleblower in 2017 and the evidence extracted from the Moscow laboratory in January.

“There were positive findings that were deleted; the question is why,” Jonathan Taylor, chairman of Wada’s committee tasked with overseeing Russia’s compliance, said from Tokyo.

Russia, Taylor, added, needed to “pull a rabbit out of the hat” if it was to avoid facing new penalties, which under new regulations trigger a process that sports governing bodies are compelled to abide by. He cautioned, though, that it was important not to prejudge the final result until Russian authorities had provided a final response.

“We will give them a chance to explain,” he said. Taylor’s committee will convene, probably by phone, on October 23rd to decide whether to recommend to Wada’s executive board that Russia be designated “noncompliant”. If the board agrees, a case most likely will be fast-tracked to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) for a final ruling.

While individual sports, in the past, had it within their power to decide whether to sanction Russia, new rules adopted in April 2018 mean a negative ruling for Russia at the court could trigger an automatic suspension. Under such a ban, Russian teams and athletes would be ineligible to compete in international sporting events, and the country would not be allowed to host them, until the Wada suspension is lifted.

That could lead to Russia’s team missing out on the Olympics in Tokyo, and even put at risk its soccer team’s participation in qualification matches for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

“The situation is very serious,” the president of the Russian Olympic Committee, Stanislav Pozdnyakov, said in a statement. “The Russian Olympic team’s prospects of taking part in the Games in Tokyo next year could be under threat.”

Ganus, the chief executive of Russia’s anti-doping agency Rusada, acknowledged in an interview last week that he could not rule out the possibility that the Russian data had been manipulated before its transfer to Wada.

“I want to hope for the best, but I live in a country where we have to be ready for all possible situations,” he said.

Wada said in a statement Monday that it had sent Rusada and the Russian ministry of sport copies of reports prepared by independent forensic experts “that detail the inconsistencies in question.”

Russian authorities, Wada said, “have been given three weeks to provide their comments, together with answers to a list of specific questions”.

If Russia is found to have violated anti-doping rules again, it will once again bring focus – and possibly embarrassment – on sports bodies that were quick to try to move on from the 2015 scandal. Those include, most notably, the International Olympic Committee and its president, Thomas Bach, who restored Russia’s membership only days after the conclusion of the 2018 Winter Olympics even though it remained under Wada suspension.

Under Ganus, Rusada has made strides in moving past the 2015 scandal. Rusada says it is testing more athletes than ever, and it has even won praise from Wada. But the Moscow laboratory at the centre of the earlier scandal is managed by a separate body, and its secrets continue to cause problems for Russian sports.

Wada lifted its ban on Russia in 2018, much to the frustration of the wider global anti-doping community and athlete groups, even though the authorities there continued to refuse to accept the findings of independent reports that concluded the conspiracy reached the highest levels of the Russian government. Wada said it had to make the compromise to ensure it could finally determine the identities of hundreds of athletes suspected of cheating.

Criticism that Russia, which, according to a Wada investigation, had used its internal intelligence agency in its cheating scheme, would manipulate the data it sent to Wada began almost immediately, and concerns only grew when experts sent to retrieve the data were initially refused entry to the Moscow laboratory.

Since receiving the data, Wada has identified 47 suspected doping cases, and evidence packs have been sent to various sports federations to start disciplinary proceedings against the athletes involved.

Successfully prosecuting those cases is now at risk if there are questions around the larger database, though, according to Rob Koehler, a former Wada executive who now leads Global Athlete, a lobbying group for athletes that has been critical of the global regulator for not forcing Russia to stick to the road map to return that it had committed to.

“Almost all athletes were calling out Wada for its U-turn, national anti-doping agencies were not happy, yet Wada and the compliance review committee felt they were outsmarting Russia,” Koehler said. “If this is the case, and the data has been manipulated, we’re back to the same situation.” – New York Times

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