In 2015, the WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency) banned its Russian subsidiary, Russian Anti-Doping Agency(RUSADA), from all WADA official duties amid investigations into non-compliance and allegations of the systemic cover-up of a national doping regime. Earlier this month, a six person WADA compliance review committee recommended the RUSADA be reinstated less than three years after the ban was put in place. This decision sparked anger and was met with exasperation, but not much surprise, from the wider sporting community. In protest against the ultimate result, former cross-country skier Beckie Scott left her position on the review committee, summing up the frustration of athletes the world over, at a governing agency losing more of its authority with every new scandal that comes to light.
The ban was issued with very simple terms for reinstatement, namely an admission of the cover-up of a national doping system and access to the laboratories where all the doctoring of samples took place. Despite neither of these terms having yet been met, the review committee agreed to allow the RUSADA back into the fold after promises of limited and timetabled access to the laboratories and the regrettable admission that “certain individuals” crossed a line. You would like to think that the people on the committee appeared impartial on paper at least, but one look at their other involvements in the sporting administrative world and you find that some are also involved in the International Olympic Committee. It’s hard to imagine that the very lucrative proposition of Russia’s participation in the next Olympic cycle didn’t sway some of the members with a foot in both camps.
In the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics some athletes received special permission to compete in the games under the banner of OAR “Olympic Athletes from Russia”. The terms of this olive branch were simple, go two weeks without causing uproar and you can march under the Russian flag for the closing ceremony. Two of these athletes tested positive, one of whom was a curler for the same substance as Russian tennis icon Maria Sharapova. Frankly, if your curlers feel the need to dope – when there is so little benefit for them as a result, then who knows what pressure was being put on other athletes. Despite these further transgressions, the Russian Olympic Committee was also reinstated shortly after these games took place.
Under-age internationals, semi-professionals and the majority of elite athletes have to sit through WADA Anti-Doping talks. One hour on how to find out if a substance is banned before you take it. The first few talks are okay and the speakers do their best to make the talks interesting with different cases, but you have to sit in these talks biannually, confident in your knowledge that someone, somewhere, is getting away with this. And you’re worried about taking cough syrup.Think of all the athletes that sit through these talks and wake up for the 6am gym sessions and eat grilled chicken and spinach dinners, all to stand on the third tier of a podium or collect a runners-up medal or sit at home and watch these great sporting events on their televisions.
The aforementioned Beckie Scott originally received a bronze medal for her efforts in the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics as an athlete, but has since been bumped up to gold status as the two athletes that ‘bested’ her on the day have had their titles stripped. Although she technically won the title she so richly deserved, she missed out on the trappings of the occasion that give it such international gravitas. She missed that coveted first tier of the podium, her countries national anthem being sung and the fame and glory all her hard work warranted. Michael Phelps reacted to the recent news and said of it “somebody has to take charge and if WADA is really not going to do anything about it then somebody else has to”.
Heywood Broun once said that “sports do not build character. They reveal it”. Every time a new story about some athlete breaks and the word ‘doping’ rears its head, you wonder what sort of characters the world of sport are presenting to the outer world. WADA is supposed to be the international authority that underpins this fight to keep sport clean. They had a chance to make a huge statement against doping by making an example of a country whose actions warranted harsher punishment. They passed the buck. The issue remains however; if WADA aren’t leading the charge, then who will?