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WADA Dismisses Cases of 95 Russian Athletes

The WADA Independent Commission (l-r) Richard McLaren, Dick Pound and Gunter Younger prepare to discuss the findings of the first part of their report in November 2015. (Photo: FasterSkier)

Earlier this week, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) dismissed the cases of 95 out of the first 96 Russian athletes it investigated as a result of the McLaren report, citing “insufficient evidence” of their alleged doping at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

The New York Times broke the news on Tuesday, Sept. 12, and published an excerpt from a WADA internal report that circulated among its executives regarding the Russian doping scandal.

Since early May, WADA claims to have reviewed all of the evidence and names that stemmed the McLaren report, starting with the first 96 athletes implicated from nine different sports. As a result, WADA decided to clear all but one of the athletes of anti-doping rule violations (ADRV), stating that the International Federations that govern each sport “determined there was insufficient evidence to support the assertion of an ADRV against these 95 athletes.”

The report did not identify any of the 96 athletes by name.

It went on to state that the unavailability of Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov, “an important witness”, as a reason for dismissing these cases. Rodchenkov is currently under a federal witness protection program in the United States. His lawyer claimed he would have cooperated with the investigations if asked.

“Dr. Rodchenkov’s alleged unavailability has been cited as one of the reasons for the closure of the investigations of individual athletes,” his lawyer, Jim Walden, wrote in a letter to WADA on Sunday, which was obtained by The Times. “Dr. Rodchenkov has been willing to cooperate.”

Walden noted that only an Olympic investigator rather than any sport-specific officials (from International Federations) had requested an interview with Rodchenkov.

“The system was very well organized,” WADA Director General Olivier Niggli, who penned WADA’s internal report, said of Russia’s state-sponsored cheating in an interview with The Times. “On top if it, years after the fact, the remaining evidence is often very limited.”

Richard McLaren, who led the WADA-commissioned investigation into Russian cheating over the years, implied that it would be difficult to prosecute more than 1,000 athletes  involved because of Russia’s lack of cooperation in providing lab data and the destruction of evidence — specifically urine samples — at the 2014 Olympics.

Moving forward, WADA advised International Federations pushing for further investigation to tread carefully.

“Unofficially, certain International Federations (IFs) have informed WADA that they intend to bring some of their cases forward…,” WADA noted. “… leading with a weak case or poorly prepared case could negatively affect the outcome of other cases. WADA is monitoring this closely and is in regular contact with these IFs.”

Ultimately, these IFs, or individual sport governing bodies, and the International Olympic Committee (IOC), will be left with the task of sanctioning athletes — or not sanctioning them. Still, WADA’s stance can be influential, and as the anti-doping regulator, it has the power to appeal cases.

Niggli emphasized that investigations into other athletes were ongoing “and that officials needed to pursue the strongest cases first so that they would stand up against the inevitable legal challenges in world sport’s arbitration court,” The Times reported.

“It’s absolutely in line with the process, and frankly, it’s nothing unexpected,” Niggli told The Associated Press on Wednesday at meetings of the IOC. “The first ones were the quickest to be dealt with, because they’re the ones with the least evidence.”

Yet as WADA goes down the list, it won’t necessarily get easier.

“There are a thousand names, and for a number of them, the only thing McLaren’s got is a name on a list,” Niggli explained. “If you can prosecute an athlete with a name on a list, perfect. But this is not the reality. There were thousands of samples destroyed in Moscow.”

The IOC, which has two committees reviewing Russia’s individual cases and widespread doping program, is expected to deliver interim reports at its meetings later this week.

One day after the news of WADA’s dropped cases, 16 national anti-doping organizations demanded that Russia be banned from competing at the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea. The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency was among them (along with representatives from Austria, Australia, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Japan, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Singapore, Sweden, and the United Kingdom), and took part in two days of meetings in Denver, Colo. On Sept. 14, they collectively released a statement, signed the “National Anti-Doping Organization” (NADO).

“The IOC needs to stop kicking the can down the road and immediately issue meaningful consequences,” NADO stated. “The failure to expeditiously investigate individual Russian athlete doping poses a clear and present danger for clean athletes worldwide and at the 2018 Winter Games. We have serious doubts that the 2018 Games will be clean due to the incomplete investigation of massive evidence of individual doping by Russians athletes at the 2014 Sochi Olympic Games and given the inadequate testing evidence of Russian athletes over the past four years.”

NADO said it would support allowing some Russian athletes to compete under a neutral flag, if they are cleared, but wants Russia as a whole banned until the McLaren report findings are entirely flushed out. It outlined steps for Russia to regain eligibility “following the 2018 Winter Games,” which include 1) accepting the McLaren report or providing “credible proof to refute it”, 2) “a systematic effort” to interview the athletes, officials and other witnesses implicated by the report, and 3) allowing “access to samples from the Moscow Laboratory, turning over electronic data, including servers, testing instrument data files, computer files, and email and text message archives from the time period of the Russian conspiracy, as outlined in the McLaren Report.

“The IOC and WADA must insist that Russia turn over this key additional evidence,” NADO continued. “The failure to properly investigate and prosecute free of sport-political influence those who violated anti-doping rules, breaks the trust with millions of clean athletes around the world. This dereliction of duty sends a cynical message that those of favored, insider nations within the Olympic Movement will never be punished or held accountable, violating the fundamental covenant of fairness on which sport is based.”

Norwegian Student Seeks ‘Athlete Transgression’ Survey Participants

A Norwegian postgraduate student is seeking participants for a short survey on personal opinions of Norwegian skier Therese Johaug and Russian tennis player Maria Sharapova and their anti-doping violations (Johaug tested positive for clostebol last fall and is serving a 13-month suspension, which is still under review by the Court of Arbitration for Sport. Sharapova tested positive for meldonium in January 2016 and served a 15-month suspension.) The student is writing his master thesis on the topic of athlete transgression. “My project revolves around the similar doping cases of cross-country skier Therese Johaug and tennis player Maria Sharapova,” he explains. “More specifically about fans’ attitude towards the athletes and their sponsors after the scandal was made public. … It is hoped that the project could provide useful information for sport managers, sponsors and academics about the impact of scandals related to endorsed athletes.” The survey includes 22 questions and takes approximately five minutes. https://coventry.onlinesurveys.ac.uk/athlete-transgression

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IBU Reverses Course, Calls for Extraordinary Congress to Discuss Doping (Updated)

After announcing on Saturday that no new policies regarding doping violations could be approved until the next Congress, the International Biathlon Union (IBU) faced widespread outcry from athletes. “Martin [Fourcade] walked out about 45 minutes into the meeting, as [IBU President] Besseberg answered [Michal) Slesinger’s question, ‘Do you believe this is an urgent situation?’” U.S. athlete Clare Egan explained in an email. “Besseberg essentially said ‘no,’ and repeated that the next Congress (2018) will deal with it. Once Martin left, others quickly followed. It was not planned.” The IBU Executive Board then met through the night on Saturday, and on Sunday morning came out with a new announcement: an Extraordinary Congress will be held before World Championships to vote on rule changes. The competitions at World Championships begin February 9 in Hochfilzen, Austria, and the Congress seems to be scheduled for the day before. Among the proposals by the athletes are…

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