The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

In lifting ban, WADA shows it cares much more about Russia than about doping

WADA President Craig Reedie welcomes Yuri Ganus, executive director of the Russian Anti-Doping Agency, during a meeting in March. (Denis Balibouse/Reuters)

Here are the conditions that the World Anti-Doping Agency placed on its counterpart in Russia for the country to be reinstated to international competition in good faith: Admit you ran a state-sponsored doping outfit before the 2014 Sochi Olympics, and give officials access to the Moscow lab where hundreds of samples were doctored.

Here is what officials from the Russian Anti-Doping Agency admitted: nothing. Here is the amount of access it provided to the lab in question: none.

So, naturally, WADA reinstated RUSADA on Thursday, ending a ban of nearly three years that sounded dramatic at the time but made a further farce of the global effort to stage clean sport. Don’t insult your garden-variety farces by including this among them.

To be clear, this isn’t really about what you believe about performance enhancement in sports. That should be a sophisticated discussion that informs the rules of the international athletic community. What this is about is enforcing the rules that do exist and the entity charged with doing so.

Most — the vast majority? — of athletes adhere to these rules, and they simply can’t compete for the same prizes with those who do not. And if the people who put the rules in place fail to enforce them, the faith of the rule-followers is, at the very least, shaken. By this point, really, it has shattered.

Even before WADA’s predictable decision, the athletes were angry.

“By acting on promises, and not proven compliance, WADA’s decision on reinstating RUSADA would weaken the increasingly delicate integrity of international sport,” a group of nearly three dozen athletes wrote to WADA President Craig Reedie. “Ignoring the established conditions also ignores the athlete’s voice that has been begging for a fair and even playing field.”

From the archives: For Olympic Athletes from Russia , a sense of unity and defiance

Keep in mind: That was sent earlier this week. By now, that increasingly delicate integrity lies in pieces on the floor.

WADA’s decision came in a vote of its executive committee at a meeting in — get this — the Seychelles. (Apparently the Dayton Convention Center was booked.) It was overseen by Reedie, a Scotsman. What else does Reedie do? Well, he used to oversee the International Badminton Federation.

Hmm. Wait. What’s this? Let’s double-check to be sure. . . . Well, what do you know? He’s a member of the International Olympic Committee, the group that puts on the Olympics and — oh, I don’t know — desperately needs Russia to participate to maximize its revenue.

Go down the list and note WADA executive committee members who also serve the IOC, and you find Danka Bartekova of Slovakia, Patrick Baumann of Switzerland and Ugur Erdener of Turkey. How ’bout that? The police and the promoters are one and the same.

So people with an active and invested role in staging future Olympics want Russia — one of a dwindling number of countries willing to host the Games going forward — to participate in future Olympics. And if it means kicking the conditions they placed on Russia for reinstatement down the road, well, then so be it. It would be infuriating if it wasn’t so predictable.

“It’s a far bigger issue than just whether Russia’s reinstated,” said Travis Tygart, chief executive of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, in a telephone interview. “It’s really about what type of WADA do we all want WADA to be? Do we want it to be one that has the backs of billions of sports fans who want fair play and millions of clean athletes who are demanding it? Or do we want a toothless tiger that’s the puppet of a handful of IOC sports ministers?”

This is not an Olympic year, so the ramifications of Russian reinstatement won’t really gain a foothold now. Can you even say where the next Olympics will be held? They feel like they pop up every two years, and the issues that mar them follow them into the spotlight, and then they duck under cover again. Which is great if you run WADA or the IOC — or both.

But the athletes who are striving toward the Summer Games in Tokyo in 2020 (did you get that?) or the Winter Games in Beijing in 2022 (bet you missed that) spent the week leading up to WADA’s decision-making as much noise as possible.

The decision was telegraphed last week, when WADA’s six-person compliance review committee recommended RUSADA’s reinstatement. That led Beckie Scott, a former cross-country skier from Canada, to resign her position on that committee.

Go back further, though. WADA also had said, for Russia to be reinstated, that it must accept the findings of Canadian attorney Richard McLaren, whose scathing 2016 report outlined the pass-the-urine-through-the-hole-in-the-wall shenanigans that preceded the Sochi Games. But by this summer, when IOC chief Thomas Bach sat down with Russian President Vladimir Putin during the World Cup held on Putin’s turf, you could tell this was coming.

Then, the IOC issued a statement saying “the reinstatement of RUSADA by WADA was of the highest importance.” Russia hadn’t accepted the McLaren report then. It hasn’t accepted it now. That part, apparently, wasn’t important. Getting Russia back in the game, though, was.

You think the WADA members who also serve the IOC failed to read that?

“The whole process has really been, ‘Let’s get to the outcome,’ ” Tygart said.

In the first draft of WADA’s statement Thursday, Reedie said the “decision provides a clear timeline by which WADA must be given access to the former Moscow laboratory data and samples.”

Doesn’t it seem as if we’ve heard that before? The reality now is that it doesn’t matter what WADA says or what WADA does. The current system doesn’t work. The police department needs a new chief and new officers, people who aren’t responsible for running the local businesses.

Until then, regardless of whether you care about doping in sports, the faith of the athletes will remain broken, and that colors all competitions going forward.

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