Millennium Post

Russia's tryst with wada

After Lance Armstrong’s revelation, the world would not have thought any other doping scandal could shock them. But Russian state-sponsored doping rocked the world and after almost 5 years of repeated inquiries, the country has been banned from int’l sports for 4 yrs

The most damaging of sporting scandals started in December 2014, when German broadcaster ARD aired a documentary which alleged state-sponsored systematic doping in Russian athletics. It resulted in resignations of the Russian athletics chief, International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) marketing consultant, and the son of then-IAAF president Lamine Diack. The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) then stepped in to set up an independent committee headed by its former chief, Dick Pound, to investigate the claims made by the German broadcaster. But before the committee could even conclude its probe, in August 2015, ARD broadcast another documentary – this time with fresh accusations.

Later, the committee unearthed a deep-rooted culture of doping in Russian athletics and shockingly found that all the doping programmes in the country were state-sponsored and in November 2015, it suggested banning Russia from the international sports arena. But The New York Times in May 2016 reported that at least 15 Russian medal winners of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics were using performance-enhancing drugs. The report led to a fresh inquiry by an independent commission that found widespread evidence of doping by Russian athletes at the Sochi Olympics. Later, Russia was barred from athletics; however, athletes were allowed to compete at the 2017 London World Championships under a neutral banner.

Russia & Doping

In December 2017, the International Olympics Committee suspended the Russian Olympic Committee while banning the country from the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Games. Nevertheless, 168 Russians ended up taking part, winning 17 medals at the Games under a neutral flag and in the same month, Russia was reinstated as the tests of Russian athletes participating in the Pyeongchang Games, had come up negative for performance-enhancers.

In September 2018, the WADA committee officially reinstated the Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSDA) on the condition that they get full access to the data stored at all of Moscow's anti-doping laboratories. In January 2019, WADA extracted more than 2,000 samples and other doping-related data from the laboratory and found that the laboratories were storing incomplete and doctored data with ample inconsistencies. Even positive doping tests, leaked by a whistleblower in 2017, were missing from the laboratory data supplied, prompting another new inquiry, resulting in RUSDA's suspension again.

With every investigation came new revelations, each more shocking than the last one and then the WADA compliance committee on December 9 finally barred Russia from international sporting events for four years with no official team, flag, and anthem allowed at a major sporting event such as Olympics, Paralympics and World Championships. Here 'major sporting events' are those that are organised with full adherence to WADA's anti-doping code. It includes IOC, FIFA, IAAF, FISA, ITF, UCI and World Rugby. Meaning all competitions organised by these bodies within the next four years will be included in the ban. However, Euro 2020, football world cup qualifying matches, and the Sochi Grand Prix are not part of the sanction and in case Russia qualifies for the 2022 Qatar FIFA World Cup, the team could participate under a neutral flag but that depends on FIFA, which is allowed to put in place a mechanism for athletes who are not tainted. Also, Russian athletes who can prove they are clean and follow certain conditions will be allowed to compete under a neutral flag.

Russia has also been barred from hosting such events and WADA has also ruled that Russia cannot bid for the 2032 Olympic Games as the bidding process is expected to take place during their four-year ban. Russian government officials or representatives have been banned from being appointed as members of the governing boards or committees of any major sporting event or agency.

The decision has resulted in a divided opinion. Russia has termed the sanction as excessive, unfair and politically motivated, and has decided to appeal in the Court of Arbitration for Sports. Russian President Vladimir Putin slammed the decision and said, "Any punishment should be individual, and should be linked to what has been done by one person or another. A punishment cannot be collective, and apply to people who have nothing to do with certain violations."

Is WADA credible?

US Anti-Doping Agency, however, has claimed that WADA's decision was influenced by IOC, who according to USADA is supporting the powerful Russian interests. The agency described the ban as weak and insufficient. WADA's athlete committee is considering an appeal in the Court of Arbitration for Sports (CAS) for a blanket ban on Russia. WADA president Craig Reedie said that for too long, Russian doping has detracted from the clean sport. "Russia was afforded every opportunity to get its house in order and rejoin the global anti-doping community for the good of its athletes and of the integrity of sport, but it chose instead to continue in its stance of deception and denial," Reedie said.

If many in global sport believe the punishment is too lenient, there are others too who questions why should a young athlete be punished for the sins of state-sponsored dopers and miss what might be the greatest moment of their sporting lives? They find it unjust. Although it is not the case as the get-out clause of WADA ensures that "innocent" athletes are not punished for the state-sponsored sins. But many sports pundits are against this clause too. They say that these notionally innocent athletes have been trained under the same sports system which has been cheating systematically. Only punishing those who were caught holding the syringe will not be enough. The entire system needs to be punished without making any exception. Allowing individuals from a corrupt sporting state to participate in the Olympics will weaken the WADA's sanctions.

There are others too who are pointing fingers at WADA and its methodology. They say WADA is not fit to sort out the guilty from the bystanders as anti-doping regulations need to be evidence-based, follow science and due process. And WADA fails on all the fronts with a broad and growing body of evidence of sloppy science and questionable quality control. They put an example of Alaa Al-Kowaibki, a Saudi Arabian football player who was wrongly convicted by WADA but later cleared of all charges in 2017. They are many other cases in which WADA wrongly convicted the sportsperson and they were later cleared of all charges. Supporting their claim is the suspension of more than a dozen of WADA's 35 labs because of bad works.

Moreover, there are more than 300 substances on WADA's banned list but little evidence for most of them that they enhance performance. For example, Meldonium, a heart medication, landed on the list because the eastern European athletes were using it as doctors would prescribe it to them because of the belief that heavy training can damage the heart. There is not a single evidence that the drug provides any performance benefit. On the contrary, doping experts believe that it has zero effect. Yet more than 100 athletes, many of them Russian, were banned by WADA based on nothing at all.

It seems that the appeal and blame game will continue without reaching any conclusion soon and the next Olympics and the Paralympics are going to be overshadowed by this most notorious sporting scandal. It has put a big question mark on the entire anti-doping system with no answer in sight.

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