In an unsurprising yet somehow still stunning decision, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) voted on Thursday to lift their ban on Russia’s anti-doping program (RUSADA), which was suspended in 2015. After “missing” just one Olympics — the 2018 winter games in South Korea — Russia’s pseudo-exile from the international sporting community appears to be coming to a swift end, well before the next summer Olympics in 2020.
Travis T. Tygart, the CEO of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, released a no-holds-barred statement calling the decision “bewildering and inexplicable,” and a “devastating blow to the world’s clean athletes.”
In the years since RUSADA was first decertified, more information has been made public about the extent of the state-sponsored doping programs in Russia. In the summer of 2016, an investigation commissioned by WADA (the McLaren Report) found that the Russian Ministry of Sport erased at least 312 positive doping tests between 2011 and 2015. Additionally, in 2016, a whistleblower exposed the way that he would swap dirty urine samples with clean ones in the middle of the night during the 2014 Sochi Olympics, in what was called “one of the most elaborate — and successful — doping ploys in sports history.”
WADA previously set forth a roadmap to reinstatement for RUSADA, which primarily included fully accepting the findings of the McLaren Report, and opening up the doors of the RUSADA laboratory for inspection by WADA.
RUSADA is currently 0-for-2. It didn’t matter.
Last week, the BBC reported that WADA reached a “compromise” with RUSADA — it narrowed the scope of what RUSADA had to admit to in terms of the McLaren Report, and offered to have an independent expert examine select samples and data from the Moscow laboratory, in lieu of full access.
Vicki Aggar, a former Paralympic rower for Great Britain and a member of the WADA athlete committee, said this was the “wrong, unethical decision” in a piece for the BBC.
“I know I speak for the majority when I say I am immensely frustrated that WADA — the global anti-doping authority no less — has substituted backing the rights of millions of clean athletes worldwide for the appeasement of a handful of sports administrators instead,” Aggar said. “Put simply, they want this put behind them – and they want Russia back at any cost.”
Tygart said that the only way forward is to completely reform WADA, which is notoriously underfunded and increasingly inept:
The world’s athletes want the International Olympic Committee (IOC) – and the conflict that their involvement brings to clean sport – to stay well away from WADA. They want a WADA with teeth, authority, sanctioning power and the determination to get the job done of cleaning up sport and restoring the trust of the billions of sports fans and athletes worldwide. Today, that job must start – and it starts by reforming WADA and giving it the power to regulate as any good global watchdog must do. It starts by WADA actually listening to the world’s clean athletes who are speaking up, right here and right now. It starts by removing the inherent conflict of interest that comes about from the IOC fox guarding the WADA henhouse.
Even some within WADA’s executive ranks have spoken out against the organization’s vote.
“This casts a dark shadow over the credibility of the anti-doping movement,” Linda Hofstad Helleland, the Vice President of WADA and one of two executives to vote against RUSADA’s reinstatement, said in a statement.
“This is one of the most critical decisions the anti-doping community has ever been confronted with. As an organization, WADA’s number one job is to be true to our values of fair sport. And today we made the wrong decision in protecting the integrity of sport and to maintain public trust in the anti-doping work.”
It’s unclear where the future of the anti-doping movement goes from here, but it’s clear that trust in WADA is eroding at a rapid pace.
“Today we failed the clean athletes of the world,” Helland said.