"The time has come"

Drei russische Flaggen bei der Siegerehrung des 50 Kilometer Massenstarts in Sotschi

Russia demands that WADA ends doping sanctions

"The time has come"

Von Florian Riesewieck, Hajo Seppelt

The French newspaper L’Equipe reported on Friday (25/5/2018) that Russia has sent a letter to the  World-Anti-Doping-Agency (WADA) in which it acknowledges for the very first time the findings of the McLaren report on systematic doping and cover-ups. ARD’s investigation team on doping is now publishing the original letter in English. This contains few admissions, but a lot of demands.

So does Russia acknowledge the reports about systematic doping and cover-ups in its country or doesn’t it? This has been the question ever since the French newspaper L’Equipe published a report on Friday (25/5/2018) quoting a letter that Russian officials have written to the World-Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).

Letter from Russia to WADA

Letter from Russia to WADA

The answer to this question is important in that it might influence WADA’s decision on rehabilitation of the Russian Anti-Doping Agency. WADA had named two criteria for this measure: Firstly, Russia must give independent investigators access to the Moscow anti-doping laboratory, where further evidence is suspected. Up to now, Russia has failed to do this. Secondly, Russia must acknowledge the results of the McLaren report. Up to now, Russia had repeatedly challenged the results of the independent investigator, Richard McLaren, a Canadian lawyer. According to L’Equipe, the recent letter to WADA has brought about a new situation. In this letter, Russia “de facto” acknowledges the report’s findings.

"Manipulations carried out without our knowledge or authorization"

ARD’s investigation team comes to a different conclusion. They have obtained a copy of the original letter: two and a half pages, written in English and addressed to WADA’s president, Craig Reedie - and signed by high-ranking Russian sports officials: Pavel Kolobkov (Russian Minister of Sport), Aleksandr Zhukov (President of the Russian Olympic Committee) and Vladimir Lukin (President of the Russian Paralympic Committee).

The letter starts with a partial admission. The signatories speak of “unacceptable manipulations of the anti-doping system” in Russian sport, which they seriouslyregret. At one point there is mention of a “systemic doping scheme”. However, only individuals are to blame, it is claimed. Participation of the Ministry of Sport, as confirmed by Richard McLaren, is expressly disclaimed. “We want to assure you that any eventual manipulations and practices were carried out without our knowledge or authorization.” Even though the Russian officials accept the “IOC EB decision”, suspending the Russian Olympic Committee from the Pyeongchang Winter Olympic Games in February 2018, they do not explicitly acknowledge the findings of the McLaren report.

"Reasonable doubts in the validity of evidence"

At the same time, the Russian officials dispute the credibility of the McLaren report’s main witness, whistleblower Grigori Rodchenkov. They find it “important to note” that the decision of the International Court of Arbitration for Sports (CAS) “caused reasonable doubts in the validity of evidence produced by the former head of the Moscow Anti-Doping Laboratory G. Rodchenkov”. In February, the CAS annulled sanctions against a number of Russian sportsmen and sportswomen, because there was insufficient evidence to establish an individual anti-doping rule violation (ADRV)  in the case of these athletes. The CAS never questioned the existence of a doping system and a cover-up system, however.

It its letter to WADA, Russia assures that all the organizations concerned have in the meantime embarked on “significant reforms” to “make the fight against doping more efficient” in their country. This carefully and warily formulated partial admission is followed by an obvious demand on WADA in the last paragraph of the letter, namely: “ … the time has come for WADA to restore RUSADA in full and for the IOC [International Olympic Committee] and IPC [International Paralympics Committee] and the respective international federations to admit Russian athletes to the main global sports events under the same conditions as the athletes from other countries.”

WADA to examine the letter in June

Since mid-2016, WADA has refused to recognize the Russian Anti-Doping Agency, RUSADA, following the findings of the McLaren report. Although the IOC lifted the ban against the Russian Olympic Committee a few days after the end of the Pyeongchang Winter Games at the end of February, sanctions against Russian sportsmen and sportswomen have been upheld up until now in some disciplines. For example, the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) still refuses to acknowledge the Russian association. Individual Russian track athletes are allowed to compete, but only with special permission and under a neutral flag, and only if they can prove that they were tested outside of the Russian anti-doping system and are “clean”.

Immediately after publication of the L’Equipe report at the weekend, Russian Minister of Sport Pavel Kolobkov vehemently denied acknowledgement of the McLaren report: “We disagree with the McLaren report because it contains unfounded conclusions”, Kolobkov stated, according to the Russian news agency TASS. In view of this, Russia’s letter to WADA seems more like a well-calculated minimum acknowledgement – with the urgent hope of a favour in return. WADA has announced that an independent commission will examine the letter in June.

Stand: 29.05.2018, 15:24