“It was war,” said Russian swimmer Yulia Efimova of her encounter with USA’s Lilly King at the Rio Olympics. A bit of a backstory to the incident. Efimova was initially not supposed to compete at the Olympics. She was one of seven Russian swimmers barred from the Games who had either failed doping tests or were named in the World Anti-Doping Agency’s investigation into state-sponsored doping. She was cleared to compete at Rio only in the last minute. King didn’t think too much of that waiver.
After Efimova had celebrated winning her semifinal of the 100m breaststroke by waving her finger, King mockingly did the same. “You wave your finger ‘No1’ and you’ve been caught drug cheating… I’m not a fan,” is how King had explained her Olympic-level shaming. King had been backed by several of her teammates as well. “Heck yeah. We do things right. We’re going to get the job done the right way,” said compatriot Codey Miller when asked about his opinion on King’s actions.
The bad blood between the teams was the logical conclusion of a systematic campaign beginning late last year in which Russian athletes had been tarred as the beneficiaries of a policy of state-sponsored doping. The McLaren report commissioned by the World Anti Doping Agency described, among other things, how Russians were replacing positive doping samples with clean ones during the Sochi winter Games with the support of the Russian secret service. Among the fallout of the report was that nearly the entire Russian athletics team — with the exception of one athlete based in the USA — was banned from the Rio Games. Subsequently, their entire contingent was barred from the Paralympics.
The Russians on the other hand felt legitimately aggrieved that while even those among their contestants (for example, pole vaulter Yelena Isinbaeva) who had never failed a dope test had been presumed guilty and banned, American athletes who had failed drug tests multiple times in their career (Justin Gatlin) were allowed to compete at the Olympics. It was clearly a humiliating deal.
Russian president Vladimir Putin angrily accused the International Association of Athletics Federations of ‘blatant discrimination’ for the ban.
Russia now seem to have found a finger-wagging moment of their own following revelations by the the hacking group Fancy Bears, through illegally-accessed medical records, that a number of US athletes were using banned substances — albeit legally through TUEs (Therapeutic Usage Exemptions). The records of four American athletes — Simone Biles, Serena and Venus Williams and Elena Delle Donne — all of whom are Olympic gold medalists is only “the tip of the iceberg” according to Fancy Bears. “Today’s sport is truly contaminated while the world is unaware of a large number of American doping athletes,” the group wrote on its website. WADA has condemned the leak which they claim originated in Russia. “”The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) confirms that a Russian cyber espionage group operator by the name of Tsar Team (APT28), also known as Fancy Bear, illegally gained access to WADA’s Anti-Doping Administration and Management System (ADAMS) database,” the Agency said in a statement.
Incidentally, Fancy Bears and another hacking group known as Cozy Bear, were also accused of being involved in the leak of several thousand emails from the Democratic National Committee (DNC) last month. According to a some security researchers, the groups were closely linked to the Russian Federation’s intelligence services.
Russia, though, dismissed the charges. “Russia is not in any way tied to the hacking of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) database, Dmitry Peskov, spokesperson for Russian President Vladimir Putin, said Tuesday. “It can be stated with all certainty that there is no involvement of the official Moscow, (Russian) government or special services in such actions. This is completely ruled out,” Peskov told journalists.
Whether or not the Russians were involved in the leak, its clear that the Russians benefitted from the leak. In addition to claiming that Americans were using banned substances, that several got TUEs also plugs into the narrative that international agencies like WADA were biased against Russia. At the very least it seems to be sending out a cynical message. One that says, “Even if we doped, You were sort of doing it too.”