BEFORE any more cavaliers on their high horses trample the reputation of Sir Craig Reedie, the president of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), into the dirt let us look a little more closely at the man, his deeds and, most importantly, his words. Since retiring from sport – he was a decent badminton player – Reedie has dedicated his life to sports administration, initially with the Badminton Federation, then with the International Olympic Committee and, since its founding in 1999, WADA.
As a pragmatic, some might say ‘dour’, Scot, a lifetime committee man, an eminence grise (itals) of sports officialdom, he is easy to lampoon. But the recent decision of the executive committee of WADA to reinstate the Russian Anti-Doping Agency (Rusada) after three years in the wilderness, which has led to accusations of treachery and betrayal by a host of athletes, was typical of Reedie, a victory of head over heart.
Memories, of course, are short. Just over two years ago, WADA led the move to ban Russia entirely from the Olympics in Rio. The IOC ignored the recommendation and, in an act of craven buck-passing, left the decision on Russia’s participation to the individual sports federations. The result was a fiasco, with some Russian athletes unsure whether they would be allowed to compete or not just days before the opening ceremony.
The conditions laid down by WADA to ensure the long-term compliance of the Russian anti-doping agency, which were key to the compromise brokered by Reedie last week, went largely unreported. Rusada will have to open up its Moscow Laboratory, which was at the centre of the industrial-scale cheating in Sochi, and provide access to the stored samples for re-testing. The data has to be made available by the end of the year. A WADA expert will be on the supervisory board of the agency, work with Russian anti-doping officials on a daily basis and deliver regular reports on progress. The door to Russia’s return to the international sporting fold is ajar not wide open. If Russia does not comply with any of the conditions they will be dumped back out in the cold.
Reedie and WADA have come too far not to back up their threats with action if necessary. “Without this pragmatic approach, we would continue with the impasse…and the data (including untested samples in the Moscow Lab) would be out of reach indefinitely,” said Reedie. “The raw data is the missing piece of the jigsaw.” Re-analysis of the raw data will, very probably, lead to further positive drug tests for Russian athletes and, quite possibly, confirm the extent of state involvement in the scandal. Russia’s well-worn tactic will be to delay, to exploit the political divisions within the major sporting bodies and, with support from African and Asian nations, to defy attempts to renew the ban.
This will be a huge test of credibility for both WADA and Reedie. If the Russians renege on any part of the deal they cannot be allowed to get away with it. The 77-year-old Scot will also be critical to easing the long-standing tension between WADA and the IOC, who are in the process of setting up their own International Testing Agency – a potential rival to WADA - and would love to have the whole anti-doping system under their control.
Reedie is right, however, in his attempt to end the stalemate. The world athletics championships in Doha next September will be the next proper test of Russia’s reintegration into the sporting community so there is time for both sides to make progress. The alternative is a repeat of the last minute compromise which allowed Russian athletes deemed clean by the IOC to gather disconsolately under the neutral banner of “Olympic athletes from Russia” at the winter Olympics in South Korea.
Dressed in drab grey or stark red, the OAR team cut forlorn figures in Pyeongchang, shorn of identity, flag, insignia and purpose. The main risk, as I wrote at the time, was that a whole new generation of Russian athletes, those who might just have the courage and the will to transform the sporting culture of their tainted nation, feisty, independent-minded champions like the figure skater, Evgenia Medvedeva, might become so disillusioned with the lack of international support that they are thrown back into the clutches of the state dopers. That would not be a good outcome for anyone.
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