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World Anti-Doping Agency urges U.S. Senate to revise Rodchenkov Act

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The World Anti-Doping Agency sent a letter to U.S. Senators explaining how a bill designed to deter drug cheats in international sports would, instead, “have the unintended consequences of shattering the anti-doping system” if it is passed without changes.

The document, obtained by The Associated Press, was sent this week at the request of a Senate committee that is holding a hearing Wednesday in which it will hear testimony about the Rodchenkov Act.

The House passed the bill last year, and WADA has hired a lobbying firm to engage Congress for changes in the legislation triggered by a Russia cheating scheme that has shaken the global Olympic movement for the past five years.

WADA director general Olivier Niggli told AP that “WADA favors governments using their legislative powers to protect clean athletes in the fight against doping and this Act is no exception.”

The six-page WADA letter does, in fact, say the agency “supports the overall objectives of the legislation.” The letter also goes into extensive detail about provisions it says would create a “chaotic World Anti-Doping system with no legal predictability.”

The measure, named after the Moscow lab director who blew the whistle on Russia’s cheating at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, calls for fines of up to $1 million and prison sentences of up to 10 years for those who participate in schemes designed to influence international sports competitions through doping. (Individual athletes who get caught doping would not be subject to punishment under the law.)

It would also allow the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency to obtain information collected by federal investigators, which could help in prosecuting anti-doping cases.

The WADA letter said the agency agrees with the information-sharing language.

But there is also a long list of concerns, notably over the “extraterritorial” jurisdiction the bill proposes — a clause that would allow U.S. authorities to pursue those who perpetuate doping schemes at international events in which Americans are involved as athletes, sponsors or broadcasters. Many U.S. corruption laws, including those used to prosecute FIFA executives in the soccer-bidding scandal, include similar extraterritorial jurisdiction.

“The effort to criminalize doping acts under U.S. law and then apply that law extraterritorially will shatter the international harmonization of rules that is critical to advancing clean sport,” WADA wrote in the memo.

It predicted that if the U.S. passes the law, “other nations will follow suit and inevitably competing jurisdiction on the same set of facts will result in confusion, weaken the system, and compromise the quest for clean sport.”

The athlete-advocacy group FairSport sent out a news release responding to the WADA document, giving a point-by-point rebuttal of the clauses with which the agency disagrees.

In that statement, Rodchenkov’s attorney, Jim Walden, said similar laws with extraterritorial jurisdiction weren’t always popular “with corrupt nations.”

The Rodchenkov act “will do the same in the fight against doping fraud deployed by gangster states who hijack international sports competitions,” Walden said.

At meetings last November, WADA officials took criticism for lobbying efforts on the bill, which has bipartisan support in Congress.

“If we, as payers to you, use those funds to undermine legislation, then that’s not going to be a cooperative and effective way to go forward,” said Kendel Ehrlich, the U.S. government representative on WADA’s foundation board.

The U.S. government provides about $2.5 million annually to WADA.

In its letter to the Senators, WADA also defended its action in the long-running doping case involving Russia.

WADA recently ruled on the latest development in the Russia saga: proof that the country had tampered with the data it was supposed to turn over as part of a deal to be reinstated. WADA set a framework that would ban the Russian flag and its dignitaries from the upcoming Tokyo Games while allowing for some of the country’s athletes to compete.

Russia appealed that case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, and on Tuesday, WADA asked the hearing to be made public.

WADA said it was urging a “go-slow” approach to any legislation “authored in revulsion to Russia’s cheating.”

“Such a move would jeopardize the international system, could undercut the foundation upon which WADA sanctioned Russia; and send shockwaves through the system precisely at a time when clean sport needs a strong and globally recognized system,” the letter said.

Niggli wanted it made clear that WADA’s intent is not to scuttle the bill. But, he told AP, “currently, there are elements of the Act that could backfire and be counter-productive for the protection of clean sport around the world.”

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Russia banned from Olympics, world champs for 4 years; athletes could compete as neutrals

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Russia is banned from the next two Olympics and other major sports events for four years, though its athletes could still compete without representing the country if cleared by anti-doping authorities.

Russia’s hosting of world championships in Olympic sports also face being stripped after the World Anti-Doping Agency executive committee approved a full slate of recommended sanctions for tampering with a Moscow laboratory database.

Russian athletes will be allowed to compete in major events — including world championships — only if they are not implicated in positive doping tests or their data was not manipulated, according to the WADA ruling. “In this circumstance, they may not represent the Russian Federation,” according to a WADA release.

“While I understand the calls for a blanket ban on all Russian athletes whether or not they are implicated by the data, it was the unanimous view of the CRC [compliance review committee], which includes an athlete, that in this case, those who could prove their innocence should not be punished, and I am pleased that the WADA ExCo [executive committee] agreed with this,” WADA CRC chairman Jonathan Taylor said.

There are 145 unnamed athletes within WADA’s “target group of most suspicious athletes” from 2012-15 who would not be allowed to compete at the Olympics, Taylor said, adding that it’s possible those names will be made public. About one-third of them are still active.

Russia’s anti-doping agency can appeal the decision within 21 days. Russia previously signaled it would appeal the ruling.

“The decision will come into effect only when it becomes final ie when either RUSADA accepts it or it is upheld by the Court of Arbitration for Sport,” a WADA spokesperson said in an email.

Russia avoided blanket bans for the Rio and PyeongChang Olympics after a state-run doping program was exposed by media and WADA investigations after Russia hosted the 2014 Sochi Winter Games.

Approved Russian athletes competed as neutrals — “Olympic Athletes from Russia” — including in team sports in PyeongChang. Those Russians combined to earn two gold medals (figure skater Alina Zagitova and men’s hockey) and 17 overall, compared to the leading 33 Russia earned at the Sochi Olympics before medals were stripped for doping.

“Will Russian athletes be accepted as Olympic Athletes from Russia?” during the ban, Taylor said. “No, they are neutral athletes, which means not representatives of any country. Not representatives of Russia.”

Going forward, “they cannot use the name of the country in the name of the team,” WADA president-elect Witold Bańka told The Associated Press.

Two of the 168 Russians who competed in PyeongChang failed drug tests and were punished for doping.

More recent evidence shows that Russian authorities tampered with a Moscow laboratory database to hide hundreds of potential doping cases and falsely shift the blame onto whistleblowers, WADA investigators and the International Olympic Committee said last month. “Flagrant manipulation” of the Moscow lab data was “an insult to the sporting movement worldwide,” the IOC said last month.

“Russia was afforded every opportunity to get its house in order … but it chose instead to continue in its stance of deception and denial,” WADA president Craig Reedie said.

Russia will be allowed to participate in the Youth Olympics in Lausanne, Switzerland, that open Jan. 9.

WADA’s inability to fully expel Russia from the Tokyo Olympics and 2022 Beijing Winter Games frustrated the doping watchdog’s vice president.

“I’m not happy with the decision we made today. But this is as far as we could go,” said Linda Helleland, a Norwegian lawmaker who serves on WADA executive committee and has long pushed for a tougher line against Russia. “This is the biggest sports scandal the world has ever seen. I would expect now a full admission from the Russians and for them to apologize on all the pain all the athletes and sports fans have experienced.”

Although the IOC has called for the strongest possible sanctions, it wants those sanctions directed at Russian state authorities rather than athletes or Olympic officials.

“To allow Russia to escape a complete ban is yet another devastating blow to clean athletes, the integrity of sport and the rule of law,” USADA CEO Travis Tygart said in a statement. “And, in turn, the reaction by all those who value sport should be nothing short of a revolt against this broken system to force reform.”

Russia’s Olympic champion women’s handball team is currently competing at the world championships in Japan. Its next match is Tuesday against Montenegro. Russia has been the scheduled host for the world luge championships in Sochi in mid-February.

The “major sports” events that fall under WADA’s sanctions do not include European Championships or other non-world championships events such as tennis’ upcoming Australian Open.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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TIMELINE: Russia’s recent history of sports doping

Doping report shows depths of Russia cover-up

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The Russians were running out of time. Experts from the World Anti-Doping Agency were heading to Moscow to finally receive the trove of data they’d been seeking for two years.

Instead of getting ready to hand it over, Russian authorities stayed busy in a round-the-clock endeavor to keep changing, deleting and manipulating the data. Granular details of the plot are sprinkled throughout WADA’s previously confidential 89-page report, obtained by The Associated Press.

Among the most brazen projects, the report says, was the rewriting of memos to make it look as though the man who exposed the plot was leveraging the Russian doping scheme to line his own pockets. The rewrites were also designed to eliminate any record that one of Russia’s own key defense witnesses in the case had done anything wrong.

“Treat all the files the same, and you can take your Bonus home,” said one of the doctored messages, purported to have been written by whistleblower Grigory Rodchenkov to another worker, Timofey Sobolevsky, at the now-infamous Moscow antidoping lab.

In fact, the original messages were to Sobolevsky from a key Russian witness and purveyor of the plot, Evgeny Kudryavtsev. Those simply said “OK,” and “Tim, we will soon be giving it.” Kudryavtsev has called Rodchenkov, who lives in hiding in the United States, a liar. Rodchenkov was not part of the original exchange.

The doctored message was one of thousands of manipulations that were concocted long after Russia had agreed to hand over the data in its original form. In fact, Russia was doctoring files as late as Jan. 16, 2019, while WADA’s team was already in the building, one day away from leaving Moscow with the now-sullied data in tow.

The details of the deception, portrayed by WADA investigators as the “smoking gun” in the Russian manipulation case, are included in the report, which spells out the ways Russia reworked data that was supposed to be used to prosecute doping cases stemming from its state-run system to win Olympic medals.

Sprinkled throughout the 89 pages are a number of explanations the Russians gave for the discrepancies — among them, system malfunctions and routine space-clearing operations that occurred at the beginning of every year — each of which is incisively batted down by the WADA team of investigators, who went to painstaking lengths to conduct forensic research on 23 million megabytes of data.

Regarding the forged messages, the investigators drew a forceful conclusion: The Russians were so focused on altering the messages that made them look the worst that they scoured through 11,227 of the exchanges to “identify and delete 25 highly inculpatory messages.”

“They therefore planted fabricated evidence into the 2019 … database that would allow them to blame those discrepancies on Dr Rodchenkov, Dr Sobolevsky” and another worker, the report said. “Such bad faith is indeed stunning, and … it provides a lens through which the explanations offered by the Russian authorities for the following subsequent events should be observed.”

On Tuesday, the day after the release of WADA’s conclusions — along with the recommendation to ban the Russian flag and its dignitaries, but not all of its athletes, from the next two Olympics — the reactions out of Russia were varied.

Foreign minister Sergei Lavrov called it the latest attempt among Western efforts “to put Russia in a defensive position accused of pretty much everything in every sphere of international life.”

But Yuri Ganus, the head of the Russian Anti-Doping Agency, said the sanctions “were to be expected, and they’re justified.”

RUSADA was basically the only Russian actor that came off relatively unscathed in the WADA report, in large part because it has been totally revamped in the wake of the scandal.

But as the report spells out in alarming detail, the government was busy trying to cover its tracks and tell new stories right up until WADA packed up the data and took it away.

WADA’s executive committee is scheduled to review the report on Dec. 9 and decide whether to accept the sanctions recommended by the compliance review committee.