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Russia doping tension marks final day of IOC meetings

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LIMA, Peru (AP) — The raw feelings created by the Russian doping scandal spilled onto the floor and into the hallways of the International Olympic Committee meetings Friday, with less than five months until the Winter Games and no decisions about the fate of the country’s athletes.

IOC members received updates on two investigations that will eventually determine Russia’s status: One on whether there was a state-sponsored doping program in the country, the other on the individual cases of athletes who were implicated in the scandal at the Sochi Games in 2014.

The leaders of both investigations, which are using information from an earlier inquiry by Richard McLaren, urged patience and insisted they are working as fast as they can.

Still, a handful of IOC members made clear they’re worried about the timing.

“A lot of progress has been made, but we’re not there yet,” said Camiel Eurlings, an IOC member from the Netherlands. “I understand it takes a lot of time, but we cannot have this discussion just before the PyeongChang Games. It must be clear months before.”

In another report, IOC member Craig Reedie, who heads the World Anti-Doping Agency, said progress is being made toward reinstating Russia’s suspended anti-doping agency.

Russian IOC member Alexander Zhukov was encouraged. He reiterated what he told The Associated Press this week – he expects Russia to field a team in PyeongChang: Asked if a state-sponsored doping program existed in Russia, his answer was, simply: “no.”

Russia’s unwillingness to acknowledge the state-sponsored program is a problem, as it is a requirement for re-entry into the sports world on many fronts — notably its anti-doping agency, track team and Paralympic team.

But the IOC has made no such requirements.

Urged by President Thomas Bach, the IOC refused to ban the entire Russian team from the Rio Games and instead sent the individual cases to the international sports federations, which had only a matter of days to determine the status of hundreds of athletes. More than 280 Russians participated, and given evidence of the state-sponsored, systemic doping program in the country, there were howls of protest across the globe.

Not wanting to see a repeat, a group of 17 anti-doping leaders released a statement Thursday calling for a complete ban of the Russian Olympic Committee from PyeongChang.

That irritated some IOC members, especially Reedie, who took time in his presentation to assail the leaders.

“The comments made … omit entirely all the work that’s been done to develop proper anti-doping systems in Russia,” Reedie said. “It looks backward instead of looking forward. I want to make it quite clear that most of what they say in their press release is not policy, and is not helpful.”

One of the authors of that release, Travis Tygart of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, responded in an email to the AP: “Yeah, clearly, the truth can strike a reaction, but to be clear, the only thing unhelpful is the lack of decisive action in fully protecting clean athletes’ rights.”

Denis Oswald, the IOC member looking into the individual cases, said his committee has been “working hard since Day 1.”

“But when you have a pile of documents like this,” he said, while holding his hands several feet apart, “and you have (so) many cases involved, it takes time. You have to respect the procedure. You can’t just say they were in Sochi and they are Russian and they probably were doped.”

The McLaren Report said the doping scheme involved 1,000 athletes covering 30 sports, both winter and summer.

Oswald spelled out a clearly defined ranking of the importance of the cases, starting with Russian athletes trying to compete in next year’s Olympics. He said he hoped to have much of the work completed by November, which would give the IOC and other governing bodies three months to sort out eligibility.

The other report – about whether state-sponsored doping exists, as shown in both McLaren’s research and a previous investigation by IOC member Dick Pound – is also on track to be done before the Olympics. Because that looks at the entire operation and not the cases of individual athletes, it figures to be an even more difficult issue for the IOC to sort out.

The director of the IOC’s medical and science department, Richard Budgett, explained some of the delays come down to simple math: For instance, he said it takes about three hours to examine each urine-sample bottle to determine whether tampering has occurred. Key to Russia’s scheme at the Sochi Games was a plan in which officials opened bottles containing tainted urine, traded it with clean urine and resealed the bottles without anyone discovering they had been compromised.

“The frustration out there translates into, ‘Let’s just do something now,'” Budgett said. “But then, you could regret it. So, you’ve got to make sure there’s a solid base for whatever action is taken. That’s what’s being developed.”

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MORE: USADA, others call for Russian Olympic ban

U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, others call for Russia Olympic ban

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National anti-doping agencies, including USADA, want Russia’s Olympic Committee banned from the PyeongChang Winter Games, while setting criteria for individual Russians to be cleared as neutral athletes.

“[Anti-doping] leaders called on the IOC to ban the Russian Olympic Committee from participation in the 2018 Winter Games for proven corruption of the Sochi Olympic Games and continuing failure in its obligations to clean sport,” a joint press release Thursday said. “The IOC needs to stop kicking the can down the road and immediately issue meaningful consequences.”

IOC president Thomas Bach has said he hopes a decision on Russian sanctions will be made before the winter sports season is in full swing later this fall.

It would come after an IOC-commissioned investigation into Russian doping delivers its findings.

“[Anti-doping] leaders reaffirmed their commitment to provide consistent criteria for individual Russian athletes to compete, as neutrals and independent of the Russian Olympic Committee, for those who have been subject to robust anti-doping protocols, consistent with precedent established by the IAAF,” Thursday’s press release said.

The IAAF, track and field’s international governing body, was the lone sport federation to ban Russia from the Rio Olympics.

Anti-doping leaders, including from USADA, criticized the IOC for not issuing a blanket Russia ban for Rio given the nation’s well-publicized doping issues.

The IAAF allowed one Russian athlete to compete in Rio — long jumper Darya Klishina — because she had been based in the U.S. for three years and subject to reputable drug testing.

Russia’s federation remains banned from international track and field competition, but more Russian athletes were cleared to compete as neutrals this year, including for the world championships last month.

Before calling for Russia’s ban from PyeongChang, officials from 17 national anti-doping organizations met for two days. It was the fourth special meeting since the Rio Games.

The group included anti-doping leaders from the nations that finished Nos. 2-9 behind Russia in the Sochi Olympic medal standings.

They addressed “the International Olympic Committee’s continuing refusal to hold Russia accountable for one of the biggest doping scandals in sports history, saying IOC inaction imperils clean athletes and the future of the Olympic movement.”

In January, a similar group of national anti-doping leaders (including from USADA) similarly called for Russia to be banned from all international sports competitions while allowing for cleared athletes to compete as neutrals.

Now, with the winter sports season already under way, the leaders are looking at PyeongChang specifically.

“A country’s sport leaders and organizations should not be given credentials to the Olympics when they intentionally violate the rules and rob clean athletes,” the press release said. “This is especially unfair when athletes are punished when they violate the rules.”

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WADA clears 95 Russian doping cases, still pursuing others

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LIMA, Peru (AP) — The World Anti-Doping Agency has dismissed all but one of the first 96 Russian doping cases forwarded its way from sports federations acting on information that exposed cheating in the country.

The cases stem from an investigation by Richard McLaren, who was tasked with detailing evidence of a scheme to hide doping positives at the Sochi Olympics and beforehand.

The 95 dismissed cases, first reported by The New York Times, were described by WADA officials as not containing enough hard evidence to result in solid cases.

“It’s absolutely in line with the process, and frankly, it’s nothing unexpected,” WADA director general Olivier Niggli told The Associated Press on Wednesday at meetings of the International Olympic Committee. “The first ones were the quickest to be dealt with, because they’re the ones with the least evidence.”

McLaren uncovered 1,000 potential cases, however, and a WADA spokesperson told AP it is the agency’s understanding that sports federations are considering bringing some of them forward.

Niggli cautioned that it will be difficult to pursue some cases, because the Russian scheme involved disposing of tainted samples, and the Russians were not cooperative with McLaren in turning over evidence.

“There are a thousand names, and for a number of them, the only thing McLaren’s got is a name on a list,” Niggli said. “If you can prosecute an athlete with a name on a list, perfect. But this is not the reality. There were thousands of samples destroyed in Moscow.”

The revelation of the 95 dropped cases comes with a deadline fast approaching to make a decision on Russia’s participation at next February’s Winter Olympics.

Two IOC committees that will decide the matter — one reviewing individual cases and another looking at the overall corruption in Russia — are due to deliver interim reports at the IOC meetings later this week.

In resolving the case against Russia’s suspended anti-doping agency (RUSADA), WADA has insisted the agency, the country’s Olympic committee and its sports ministry “publically accept the outcomes of the McLaren Investigation.” Track’s governing body put similar conditions in place for the lifting of the track team’s suspension.

The IOC, however, has made no such move. More than 270 Russian athletes were cleared to compete in the Summer Games last year in Rio.

“The best we can do to protect clean athletes is to have a really good, solid anti-doping process in Russia,” said WADA president Craig Reedie, who is also a member of the IOC. “That’s our role and our priority. The rest of it, you have to go and ask the IOC.”

IOC president Thomas Bach said the committees are “working hard all the time.”

Meanwhile, Russian officials are showing no signs of acknowledging they ran a state-sponsored doping program.

This week, the country’s deputy prime minister, Vitaly Mutko, blamed RUSADA and the former head of the Russian anti-doping lab, Grigory Rodchenkov, for the corruption, and suggested WADA was at fault, too. Rodchenkov lives in hiding in the United States after revealing details of the plot.

“We are rearranging the system but it should be rearranged so that WADA could also share responsibility,” Mutko said, according to R-Sport. “They should have been responsible for [Rodchenkov] before, as they have issued him a license and given him a work permit. They were in control of him but now the state is blamed for it.”

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