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  • OpEd: Reinstatement of Russian Anti-Doping Agency Would be a Catastrophe for Global Sport


    Written by Grigory Rodchenkov

    Grigory Rodchenkov (Wikimedia Commons)
    The Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA) was first suspended in November 2015 following the release of the Pound Report, the World Anti-Doping Agency’s (WADA) Independent Investigation into widespread doping in Russian athletics. The Pound Report brought to light my country’s state-sponsored doping program to the world, revealing a labyrinth of cover-ups and sample manipulation. The report proved that doping-free competition and the protection of clean athletes — both cornerstones to WADA’s mission — were deliberately ignored. RUSADA was a central component of this sophisticated system and to the misreporting of positive findings by the now infamous Moscow Laboratory. And now, days before WADA issues one of the most historic decisions within its power — whether to reinstate RUSADA — its review committee recommended reinstatement based on a letter issued from Russia’s Ministry of Sport. WADA must not fall prey to manipulation and false assertions from the Ministry, the same arm of the Kremlin that facilitated the doping program and asserted false compliance. To do so, would be nothing short of a catastrophe for clean sport.

    For many years, RUSADA undermined the idea of doping-free sport. The McLaren Report, commissioned to independently verify the findings in the Pound Report, revealed the extent of that system and the depth of cheating and fraud that corrupted the world’s biggest sporting events. Those criminal actions were performed by numerous actors but orchestrated by the Russian government and its leading personnel and institutions: President Vladimir Putin, Vitaly Mutko, the Russian Federal Security Service (known as the FSB), the Russian Ministry of Sport, the army and the police. In fact, it’s no coincidence that most of the Russian athletes involved in the doping system were army and police officers.

    As if his report wasn’t enough, Professor McLaren’s findings and conclusions were confirmed and upheld by two separate special investigative commissions established by the International Olympic Committee (IOC). The outcomes of those two commissions in regard to the Sochi 2014 Olympic Games led to the disqualification of dozens of Russian Olympic cheaters and prevented them from competing at the 2018 Olympic Games. After months of deliberation, the IOC made a decision in the interest of the world’s clean athletes, just before the commencement of the Games in Pyeongchang. They prevented individual Russian athletes from competing, and suspended the Russian Olympic Committee from the Olympics.

    Regrettably, however, the Russian Olympic Committee was reinstated by the IOC just three days after the conclusion of the Pyeongchang Games, a poor decision that reeked of backdoor dealings. Just before the Games began, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) granted relief for the appeals of 28 Russian athletes, which lifted their disqualifications and allowed them to retain their illegitimately earned medals. These two ill-advised, unpopular decisions taken by the IOC and CAS ran in complete contradiction to not only the interests of clean athletes and sports fans, but also to the fundamental evidence of the McLaren Report. Each of the athletes’ cases was investigated de novo, without taking into consideration the damning evidence of systemic cheating disclosed by Professor McLaren.

    Even now, more than seven months after the decision, CAS appears unwilling to disclose reasoned decisions on 37 of the 39 cases, which raises into serious question the transparency of its decision-making process. Only two decisions were published, on Alexander Legkov and Alexander Zubkov, both of whom were Olympic Champions at the Sochi Games. Legkov overturned the IOC disqualification, but Zubkov was disqualified for excess concentration of table salt in his urine sample.

    In my role in the Russian doping system over those years, I personally remember how we swapped the content of clean urine bottles with the dirty sample belonging to those two ‘champions.’ At the time, I thought it was a fitting coincidence that we had hidden completely false samples of the last bottles for Zubkov and Legkov, while just across the way we could hear the IOC carrying out their closing ceremony for those very athletes. It is now with a heavy heart and deep regret that I recall those moments that betrayed the Olympic Ideal, and it is my most sincere hope that my efforts and perspective can help to repair this broken system.

    In recent years, it has become crystal clear that to succeed in the fight against doping, we must target cheating countries and international sports federations by challenging their denial and their reckless behavior. The athletes are mere pawns in this chess game, and as was proven by the Pound and McLaren Reports they often have no choice but to be doped. They follow orders, then they deny any wrongdoing. The McLaren Report was successful in documenting cheating by the Russian state and all its organizations: the ministries, security services, national federations, and RUSADA, not to mention the doping control laboratory in Moscow. Still, to this day, Russia firmly denies and disregards the McLaren Report, behavior that betrays and sacrifices their athletes and prevents meaningful punishment of the cheaters who are still in possession of ‘dirty medals.’ That is why WADA’s main demand — it’s condition sine qua non if RUSADA is to ever be reinstated — is for the Russian authorities to admit the findings of the McLaren Report and to give access to the evidence in the Moscow Laboratory. Russia continuously denies McLaren’s findings for the pure purpose of protecting their top-level apparatchiks who destroyed the Olympic Games in Sochi. Russian political and sport bosses are there only to save themselves, and in doing so they betray Russian athletes and sports lovers, and destroy the future of Russian sport.

    (Getty Images)
    Anticipation is building ahead of the WADA Executive Committee meeting. I feel it’s important to clarify once again what is a clear and firm demand from WADA, and from all anti-doping institutions and clean athletes around the world, that there must be a full recognition of the McLaren Report by the Russian sports authorities and that they must hand over all evidence, including the database and all physical samples, in the Moscow Laboratory.

    Today, it’s not just the McLaren Report that Russia refuses to accept. The entire world is struggling with Russia’s corrupt interference in various aspects of political and social life, and in the international system — including sports.

    It is clear that given the circumstances we face in the standoff between WADA and Russia, and any decision by WADA to reinstate RUSADA — which would then be followed by the reinstatement of the Moscow Laboratory — would be a catastrophe for Olympic sport ideals, the fight against doping and the protection of clean athletes.

    Grigory Rodchenkov was the former director of the Moscow Anti-Doping Laboratory. After allegations emerged of a state sponsored doping system in Russia he fled to the United States and blew the whistle on the scheme to the New York Times. He is currently under protection by the United States Justice Department and living in an undisclosed location.

    The follow OpEd was published with his permission.

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