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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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MORE: WADA eyes fast-tracked power to sanction cheating countries, sports

WADA eyes fast-tracked power to sanction cheating countries, sports

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MONTREAL (AP) — After Olympic officials ignored their advice to suspend Russia from the Rio Games, World Anti-Doping Agency leaders are looking to fast-track new rules that could prevent a similar scenario for future Games.

WADA’s foundation board approved a plan Thursday that could give the agency new powers to suspend a country’s Olympic federation for egregious anti-doping violations. If enacted at the next board meeting, the rules would go on the books during the Olympics next February, though they would come into play too late for the PyeongChang Winter Games.

Still, for WADA, it’s an unusually urgent move, one that was sparked by the Russian doping scandal and the International Olympic Committee’s decision to disregard WADA’s recommendation that the entire Russian Olympic team be banned from Rio.

If the changes are approved, the IOC, along with national Olympic committees and anti-doping agencies, would have to adhere to a new system of sanctions, subject to appeals. The guidelines call for athletes from a non-compliant country to be ineligible if that country’s Olympic committee or anti-doping agency make a deliberate attempt to circumvent anti-doping rules.

This is the sort of change that would normally wait until the next rewriting of the WADA code, which would go into effect in 2021. Instead, the board heeded compliance review committee chairman Jonathan Taylor’s call for a quick review and a vote on the new rules at the November board meeting. From there, WADA regulations call for a three-month wait until the rules go on the books.

“It can get done. It’s not rocket science,” said Dick Pound, the Canadian member of the IOC and WADA, whose report on doping corruption inside the Russian track team led that sport’s international federation to suspend the team from Rio.

The IOC decision in Rio thrust the fate of Russian athletes into the hands of leaders of the individual sports federations, which allowed 271 of them to participate.

With the Winter Games nine months away, the IOC is in the middle of two investigations based on information from a report by Richard McLaren. McLaren’ report, delivered in December, found evidence of wide-scale doping corruption in Russia, including switching of drug-tainted urine samples with clean ones at the Sochi Winter Games.

It appears any decision about Russia’s eligibility for PyeongChang will be made under current rules.

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Clock ticking on Russia as anti-doping agency meets

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MONTREAL (AP) — The lurid details — dark-of-night swapping of tainted urine samples with clean ones through a hole cut into the wall — have been confirmed by an independent investigator who delivered a 144-page report with the proof.

The reaction of policymakers to the unprecedented level of anti-doping corruption in Olympic sports has been nowhere near as headline-grabbing.

On Thursday, a bit over a year after The New York Times revealed the sordid specifics of a doping scandal that pervaded Russia’s Olympic team, the World Anti-Doping Agency’s governing board meets. The board won’t so much enact drastic measures for Russia or for WADA’s own flawed set of deterrents as it will try to gain fractions along a miles-long road of needed reforms.

The most pressing matter: With nine months until the Winter Olympics, there are few signs of what, if any, price the Russian Olympic team will pay for the corruption that has been unmasked in that country.

Investigator Richard McLaren’s report, released last December, found that more than 1,000 Russian athletes competing in summer, winter and Paralympic sports could have been involved or benefited from manipulations to conceal positive doping tests.

“There’s worry we’ll find ourselves, if we’re not already there, in the very same position as we were in Rio,” said Paul Melia, CEO of Canada’s anti-doping agency.

At last year’s Summer Games, the International Olympic Committee refused to ban the Russians as a whole, instead giving leaders in the individual sports mere days to sort out who should be eligible to compete in Rio de Janeiro. All but one member of Russia’s track team was barred, the result of a decision by that sport’s governing body (IAAF) that came after an investigation — separate from McLaren’s — into doping corruption in athletics. Most Russians in other sports were allowed to compete.

The IOC is conducting its own investigations to follow up on McLaren’s work, which was a fact-finding mission, not one geared toward handing out sanctions.

While that has meandered, the IOC issued a position paper in March saying it supported making WADA independent from both governments and sports organizations, a mighty task that would free the agency from the conflicts that have hindered it at almost every point of the Russia investigations. Despite this call, IOC member Craig Reedie continues to serve as chairman of WADA. Reedie boldly bucked the IOC before the Rio Games and recommended a full suspension of the Russian team. He has been less definite in the lead-up to the Pyeongchang Games.

The IOC also is pushing to create an independent drug-testing authority, which would take responsibility for testing and punishment out of the hands of the sports; it was this conflict that exacerbated the Russian track crisis. The IAAF was as culpable for that scandal as Russia, and the federation still holds Russia’s track team under suspension, having received few indicators that the country’s anti-doping culture is changing.

Exhibit A: Russia appointed, then re-elected, Olympic champion pole vaulter Yelena Isinbayeva, who has consistently framed WADA’s investigations as an anti-Russian plot, as chairwoman of a newly remade anti-doping agency (RUSADA). The agency’s status will be discussed Thursday, though WADA leaders already have spoken out against Isinbayeva’s appointment.

“It had to be designed to be inflammatory,” Graeme Steel, CEO of New Zealand’s anti-doping agency, said of the Isinbayeva appointment. “There’s no other reason they’d do that. I don’t foresee a lot of swift action concerning Russia.”

A glimmer of progress came via a recent agreement among the seven federations who oversee Winter Olympic sports to move toward an independent testing agency, much like IAAF and the international cycling federation have done. But it is only an agreement in principle and the individual sports will make the ultimate decisions about who oversees their testing programs.

What to expect at this week’s meetings?

“I hope to hear more about the progress that Russia is making toward becoming compliant,” said Max Cobb, executive director of U.S. Biathlon. “It’s troubling to note the contrasting views, when you hear the IAAF saying absolutely no progress is being made, then you hear (others) saying they’re happy with the progress being made.”

Meanwhile, the clock is ticking. The Winter Olympics open Feb. 9.

“Athletes have been here before — it’s Groundhog Day,” said Travis Tygart, CEO of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency. “But let’s hope this time it ends with decisions being made to ensure fair play and to truly reform the system so that Olympic fans everywhere can have faith that what they are watching is real.”

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MORE: Another Russian medal from 2008 Olympics stripped