Simply an attempt to bury the Russian doping scandal


Simply an attempt to bury the Russian doping scandal

Von Nick Butler

In the Seychelles, the World Anti-Doping Agency's (WADA) has made a decision to formally reinstate Russia. There is widespread criticism world over. Naturally, there has also been aggression shown towards internal critics. The consequences of the decision may still lead to some surprising twists and turns.

There are two potential outcomes following the World Anti-Doping Agency's (WADA) emphatic and much maligned decision to reinstate Russia here in Seychelles yesterday.

One is that the decision, while technically subject to conditions, effectively marks the end of Russia's sporting isolation. They will be back in the fold despite not meeting criteria to accept evidence of institutional doping nor open-up their laboratory to inspectors. This would leave a terrible stain in the fight for clean sport from which WADA's reputation will never recover.

The second path, and the one in which we were promised will happen over and over again yesterday, is that Russia must now comply with the condition to provide detailed data from the Moscow Laboratory by the end of the year. If they do not, or if they provide incomplete or falsified records, they will be cast back into an even remoter sporting wilderness.

There is clearly a lot else going on here in terms of politics, but the second scenario merits deeper consideration.

Up to over 1,000 convicted athletes

WADA, due to a whistleblower, already have access to the Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS) database which provides a snapshot of up to 10,000 cases. In most cases this data is not detailed enough to conclude guilt, however, and the far more comprehensive "raw analytical data" is required for proof either way. But, because WADA already have the LIMS database, they will know exactly what and how many cases to look for and should therefore see through any attempted Russian subterfuge.

If satisfactory data is given, Russia will have another six months to provide assistance relating to particular athletes and cases. Nobody is sure how many cases will emerge, but the scale of estimations I have heard ranged from 100 to over 1,000 convicted athletes.

If the right data is not provided, then WADA's Compliance Review Committee (CRC) will recommend non-compliance at the end of this year. This motion should then be approved by the Executive Committee, whose chair Sir Craig Reedie promised over and over yesterday how they would respect the proposal. It would then pass to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) to approve the non-compliance as well as the consequent sanctions.

Russia’s participation in Tokyo 2020 could still be in danger

The crucial thing here, and one that the Russians and maybe even the International Olympic Committee (IOC) were not fully aware of before the meeting, was that, unlike before, Russia's compliance will fall under the new International Standard for Code Compliance which came into force for new cases after April 1.

Under "Potential Consequences for Non-Compliance" are two points that leap out. One is that "representatives of that country" are excluded from "participation at the Olympic Games and the Paralympic Games...for a specified period". The other is that the country concerned is "ruled ineligible to host or co-host an Olympic Games and/or Paralympic Games and/or to be awarded the right to host or co-host a World Championship and/or other International Event(s)".

Events already awarded to Russia must be stripped if it is "legally and practically possible to do so", which is far more ambiguous. But the first two points are clear and Russia would seemingly be barred from the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

Could any of this actually happen?

The CRC chair Jonathan Taylor talks a good game and has already taken a strong position on Russia in the past. My impression is that he does mean what he says and genuinely think this is the best way to strongly sanction Russia in the long-term. He is very smart legally and not naive politically.

I am not so sure that the Executive Committee are similarly motivated.

Everybody spoke well after the meeting about respecting the conditions. But I suspect many of those nine who voted for reinstatement (only two voted against and one abstained) now really see this as the end of the process.

Russia is already off the roundabout and on a slip-road back towards a motorway.

In need for a host

The European Olympic Committees barely waited for the ink to dry after the WADA press release before announcing a quickfire process to find a host for the 2023 European Games. Has Russia already been locked in as host? Moscow is now clear to stay as host of the 2019 Men's World Boxing Championships. Could a Russian bid for the 2032 Summer Olympics even materialise?

It will be very difficult for the Executive Committee to go against a CRC recommendation, however, given the barrage of criticism it would deservedly cause.

Then we would go to CAS, a body whose verdicts are often ponderous and inconsistent. The CAS President is still Australia's John Coates, one of the closest allies of IOC boss Thomas Bach. It would come under huge pressure to make the "right" decision.

Decisions therefore depend on the levers and breaks of sports politics and I suspect the most likely outcome is some sort of fudge wherein a few Russian athletes are convicted as sacrificial lambs for the greater good. We shall see.

Has Italy's Francesco Ricci Bitti played foul?

Francesco Ricci Bitti

Francesco Ricci Bitti

It is worth noting that neither the International Association of Athletics Federations nor the International Paralympic Committee, the two bodies that have responded to the Russian doping scandal better than any other, will immediately welcome Russia back. This was the most practical consequence of Russian re-compliance but they have other criteria to fulfil first.

Another interesting point is how athletes have been far more vocal than perhaps ever before in expressing their criticism. Yes, most of these athletes are from a handful of countries in the western world, but this input can only be a good thing in holding sport's shadier operators to account.

There has been talk that one of the sporting representatives - Italy's Francesco Ricci Bitti - aggressively rebuked Canada's Athlete Committee chair Beckie Scott during the Executive Committee meeting, essentially telling her to stop grandstanding and to get back in her box. I did not hear this, as there was no media access, but it sounds unacceptable in the modern world. It has been noticeable before how both Scott and WADA’s equally combative vice-president Linda Helleland are spoken about in tones that would simply not be used if they were older men.

We should wait for the Russian doping saga to enter a fifth year before a final judgement on WADA, but the backroom diplomacy of international sport has a lot of room for improvement.

Stand: 21.09.2018, 14:30