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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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Study says widespread doping ahead of 2011 Track Worlds

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PARIS (AP) — A long-delayed study funded by the World Anti-Doping Agency says one third of athletes may have knowingly doped shortly before they competed at the 2011 Track World Championships – although few of them were caught at the time.

The peer-reviewed study, published in the journal Sports Medicine, estimated that doping was even more widespread at the Pan-Arab Games in 2011, with at least 45 percent of competitors thought to have doped in the 12 months before the regional multi-sports event.

The researchers said a total of 2,168 athletes at the two events participated in anonymous questionnaires upon which the study was based. The volunteers were offered the choice of replying to the question: “Have you knowingly violated anti-doping regulations by using a prohibited substance or method in the last 12 months?”

After discounting some answers, from athletes who responded so hastily that they may have misunderstood the survey instructions or not carefully considered their response, the team of nine researchers from Europe and the United States came up with estimates of doping prevalence among athletes at the two events: 30 to 31 percent at the world championships in Daegu, South Korea, and 45 to 49 percent at the Pan-Arab Games.

They said those findings may still have underestimated the extent of cheating.

“There are many reasons to suspect that we may have undershot the true values,” Harrison G. Pope Jr., one of the authors, told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.

Pope is a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.

Other experts who did not take part in the study said doping may now be less widespread than it was in 2011 – thanks to improved detection methods and following more recent doping scandals involving Russian athletes, in particular.

Michel Audran, director of France’s WADA-accredited anti-doping laboratory, noted progress track has made against doping, with more than 100 athletes caught by a biological passport program that tracks competitors’ blood and other readings over time for tell-tale signs of doping.

“It’s a snapshot of the time,” Audran said of the study. “In my opinion, it has diminished a lot since then.”

Olivier de Hon, manager of scientific affairs at the Netherlands Anti-Doping Authority, also said he has “good hopes” that doping is less widespread than in 2011. He said the study’s methodology was sound.

“It is an estimate but it’s a pretty good estimate – within a 10 percent range of what was likely the truth at that time,” de Hon said.

“It’s a pity it took so long to publish,” he added. “It was really new when they conducted it.”

The authors said the delay of nearly six years between collecting the raw data and publication this week was due to negotiations with track’s governing body, and between WADA and the governing body.

“I don’t really know where in the system the delay occurred,” Pope said. “What actually happened behind the scenes was quite murky.

“I do know that we wanted to be sure that we had thoroughly satisfied everybody.”

An earlier, but subsequently revised, draft of the study was published by the British parliament in 2015.

The IAAF’s new anti-doping unit said that while it could not comment on the study’s accuracy, it welcomes “any research on the prevalence of doping.”

The Athletics Integrity Unit added that it has “no doubt” that “significantly” more athletes are doping than are caught by drug testing.

“As a newly-established body, the AIU is confident that as it builds its investigations and intelligence capability to complement its testing program, the Unit will be able to better detect doping and, ultimately, be able to narrow that gap,” it said.

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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