by Tariq Panja
Inspectors at the World Anti-Doping Agency are considering recommending Monday that the global regulator’s board once again ban Russia’s anti-doping agency. The move would come days before the start of the world track and field championships in Qatar, and amid fears Russia manipulated athlete data provided to WADA earlier this year, according to two people familiar with board’s plans.
Handing over the data from the Moscow laboratory that was at the center of a 2015 doping scandal had been a key requirement set out by WADA when it lifted a three-year suspension of the Russia anti-doping agency, known as RUSADA, in 2018. The suspension had been imposed after WADA investigators found Russia had orchestrated a vast, state-sponsored doping scheme that tainted the Olympics and other major sports events.
Getting access to the Moscow laboratory that held the data — a crucial tool in determining the identities of hundreds of athletes who may have cheated across a raft of sports — had been a challenging and at times bruising experience for WADA. The agency faced heavy criticism from non-Russian athletes and other stakeholders for lifting Russia’s suspension, and for allowing it to once again certify on its own that its athletes were not using banned drugs, even as Russia had not fulfilled all the conditions of a road map it had agreed to follow.
Now questions have been raised about the validity of the data. WADA alluded to there being an issue in July, when it said its investigators were examining “some differences” between the data retrieved from the Moscow lab and a separate database provided to it by a whistleblower in 2017.
“The inconsistencies in the data identified by WADA’s investigators are being thoroughly assessed to establish how and when they happened and whether they will have any impact on bringing cases forward,” a WADA spokesman said.
WADA’s board will receive a briefing from its compliance review committee — the group charged with monitoring Russia — at a scheduled meeting Monday in Tokyo.
Yuri Ganus, RUSADA’s chief executive, told The New York Times in text messages and a follow-up telephone interview that he would “feel very bad” if the data from the Moscow laboratory was found to have been manipulated, but he said he could not rule out the possibility that it had been.
“I want to hope for the best, but I live in a country where we have to be ready for all possible situations,” he said.
Discrepancies in the data are “a huge deal,” according to Rob Koehler, WADA’s former deputy director general. Koehler now leads Global Athlete, a lobbying group for athletes formed in the aftermath of the 2015 scandal.
If the accusations of manipulation are true, he said, “it’s another black mark to WADA, given the voice of athletes against reinstatement was so strong.”
Monday’s meeting in Tokyo, which will host next summer’s Olympics, will come only hours before world track and field’s governing body meets to discuss the fate of Russia’s athletics federation ahead of this month’s world championships, which begin Friday in Doha, Qatar.
That group will almost certainly recommend extending a suspension issued to Russia’s track federation, a decision that would result in Russia’s athletes being forced to compete as neutrals for a second straight championship.
Ganus, who was brought in to lead Russia’s anti-doping agency after the scandal, has been critical of some aspects of Russia’s handling of its aftermath. He was particularly scathing about management of the nation’s athletics body, which he said “isn’t ready” to be welcomed back into the international fold.
He said he expected Russia athletes to participate at the world championships next week as so-called Authorized Neutral Athletes, a group that requires separate vetting from track’s governing body, the IAAF, before being allowed to compete. Unlike athletes who will compete in their national colors, the group of about two dozen neutral competitors will wear white uniforms, and their national anthems will not be played if they win a gold medal.
“There will be no Russian team,” Ganus said. “There will only be a neutral flag, because too many questions remain.” He called for a complete overhaul of the Russian track federation’s management.
While Russia’s track federation has met most of the requirements demanded of it by track and field’s investigators, one condition of ending its ban — that the status can only be lifted once all the data is supplied to WADA — is not going to be met in time.
If that data is found to have been manipulated, Russia’s absence is likely to be indefinite.