Sport’s response to the Russian doping scandal is threatening to tear the Olympic movement apart again as athletes and anti-doping experts line up against administrators on the eve of a key vote in the Seychelles.
The World Anti-Doping Agency’s (WADA) executive committee meet in Indian Ocean island paradise on Thursday but there is no sign of harmony surrounding their likely decision to reinstate the Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA) after its near three-year suspension.
This is despite Russia refusing to meet two criteria on a mutually-agreed “roadmap to compliance”: public acceptance of the report written by Professor Richard McLaren, which detailed the country’s state-run doping programme, and independent access to the Moscow anti-doping lab at the centre of conspiracy.
Instead of those two clear requirements, WADA appears ready to accept an implicit acknowledgement that certain individuals within the Russian sports ministry and RUSADA were responsible for the scandal, and to give Russia more time to release the lab’s secrets and control over what is done with them.
This has provoked fury from athletes groups and the anti-doping community, with some suggesting WADA’s future is at stake and perhaps even the credibility of the entire Olympic movement.
The athletes commission of the International Association of Athletic Federations (IAAF) became the latest group to urge WADA not to reinstate RUSADA, a move that would increase the pressure on the IAAF to lift its own ban on the Russian athletics federation.
In an open letter signed by the likes of New Zealand’s double Olympic shot put champion Valerie Adams and British world marathon record-holder Paula Radcliffe, the IAAF athletes commission said: “The sporting community around the world has spoken and the message is consistent and clear: RUSADA cannot be declared compliant until all outstanding conditions set out in the roadmap have been satisfied.
“We believe that any compromises to the roadmap will tarnish WADA’s reputation and bring global sport into disrepute.”
Earlier on Wednesday, Dame Katherine Grainger, Britain’s most decorated female Olympian and current chair of elite funding agency UK Sport, said: “UK Sport backs UK Anti-Doping and its athlete commission in calling for the WADA executive committee to maintain WADA’s current position on the reinstatement of Russia until the conditions directed by the Russia roadmap are fully and transparently met.
“What doping steals from athletes is irreplaceable and the integrity of sport and competition has to be protected to maintain public trust and support. This responsibility rests with leaders at every level.”
Grainger almost lost one of her six world titles to a Russian doper and her intervention is significant as it is clearly directed at WADA president Sir Craig Reedie, a former chair of the British Olympic Association, and International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach, who is widely believed to be pushing for Russia’s rehabilitation.
Most athletes and anti-doping experts want that, too, but not at any cost.
On Tuesday, UKAD chief executive Nicole Sapstead and USADA boss Travis Tygart told Press Association Sport that ripping up the roadmap would be an insult to clean athletes and a disaster for the fight against drugs cheats.
UKAD and USADA were among 13 leading national anti-doping agencies who wrote an open letter to WADA accusing it of “moving the goalposts” on RUSADA and calling on the executive committee to postpone the vote until the Russians had met the mutually-agreed roadmap criteria.
But this letter followed similar messages from iNADO, the organisation that represents 67 national and regional anti-doping agencies, UKAD’s athletes commission, nearly half of WADA’s athletes commission and athletes groups in Canada, Germany, the US and elsewhere.
And late on Tuesday, the United States Olympic Committee became the first national Olympic committee to come out against the RUSADA compromise, heaping further pressure on WADA’s increasingly isolated leadership.
The agency’s vice-president Linda Helleland, a Norwegian politician, has confirmed she will vote against the compromise deal, but that is unlikely to carry the day, as the IOC has five representatives on the 12-strong board, not to mention Reedie, who remains an IOC member.
With at least two of the five other “government” representatives on the ExCo expected to back Russia’s reinstatement, the die appears to be cast.
For its part, the IOC has said almost nothing on the record about RUSADA for months but its athletes commission has tweeted its support for the deal, saying it has discussed it “in detail” and “agreed in principle with the recommendations made”.
It added that it wants “a clear process & timeline for receiving & fully verifying the lab data”.
This message, however, was greeted with incredulity by the leaders of other athletes groups, who said they have not spoken to a single athlete who shares this view.