Russia is appealing its four-year ban from international competition, which has cast uncertainty on its participation at this year’s Summer Games. Travis Tygart, USADA’s chief executive, says he’s worried a final decision from the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), the independent tribunal weighing the appeal, won’t be made until after the Olympics conclude in August, allowing Russia’s athletes to participate. Such a scenario, Tygart says, would only further chip away at the effectiveness and authority wielded by WADA.
Tygart has long been a critic of WADA and its lack of independence. At a Senate committee hearing Wednesday and in an interview afterward, he called on U.S. lawmakers to explore the Russia matter firsthand.
“Not unlike what happened during the BALCO baseball days, you bring the leaders of those organizations, put them under oath in front of a committee,” Tygart told The Washington Post after a hearing in front of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. “Particularly when we’re the single largest government payer to WADA, you’ll get answers and then you’ll see a clear path to change.”
Tygart was one of three witnesses who testified at the hearing, which was focused on athlete safety and integrity in sports. None of the committee members publicly commented on Tygart’s appeal to question the heads of WADA and the IOC.
After Russia’s latest round of infractions, which included manipulating data from its Moscow laboratory, WADA’s executive committee in December handed down its stiffest punishment to date: a four-year ban that would bar Russia from competing at the next two Olympic Games. The punishment would still allow some Russian athletes to compete without a formal country affiliation.
CAS is expected to begin hearing Russia’s appeal within the next several weeks. A verdict from a three-judge panel is due in May. But Tygart fears Russian Olympic officials will seek to delay the process and that the Olympic world still will be dealing with the scandal’s fallout well after the Tokyo Games end.
During his testimony and in answers to senators’ questions, Tygart lamented the drawn-out process and the lenient sanctions Russia’s Olympic officials have faced for the state-sponsored doping scheme that has roiled international sports the past several years. He called it “Groundhog’s Day for clean athletes.”
“We need to be honest with ourselves. How many more athletes will we allow to be taken advantage of by state-sponsored doping systems?” he asked the committee. “How many more podium moments stolen from athletes like U.S. Olympians Alysia Montaño, Katie Uhlaender and Adam Nelson? How many more medals will be handed over years after a competition before we finally accept the responsibility to ensure clean sport and fair competition?”
Tygart urged the Senate to act soon on the Rodchenkov Anti-Doping Act, a sweeping proposal that would penalize those who conspire to taint international athletic competitions. The bill, named after the Moscow lab director who blew the whistle on the doping scandal, already has passed the House. While WADA officials have expressed concerns about the scope of the legislation, Tygart says he’s hopeful the Senate passes the bill before the Tokyo Olympics.
“We all now have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to fix the global anti-doping system,” Tygart said. “We host the L.A. Olympic Games in 2028, and we want it real, not rigged.”
The committee was also urged to act on the Empowering Olympic and Amateur Athletes Act of 2019, a bill aimed at improving the health and safety provided to Olympic athletes. Ju’Riese Colón, the chief executive of the U.S. Center for SafeSport, the nonprofit charged with monitoring and investigating abuse in sports, told the lawmakers that three years since Congress created the organization, it has received nearly 5,000 reports of misconduct, including more than 2,700 in 2019 alone. It’s sanctioned 627 people, Colón said.
The organization has struggled to keep up with the complaints, she said, which now amount to more than 200 reports each month — a 500 percent increase in less than three years. SafeSport is looking to more than double its staffing in 2021 to 112 employees. But it needs more funding, Colón said.
About $11.5 million of its $18.2 million budget for 2020 comes from the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee. The legislation would require the USOPC to provide $20 million annually to SafeSport. The bill does not allocate any federal funds or explore where the USOPC, which does not receive federal dollars, should find the extra money.
“This should be passed swiftly,” Colón said in response to a question from one of the bill’s sponsors, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.).