The civil war in anti-doping over whether Russia should be allowed to compete in next year’s Winter Olympics intensified on Saturday night as the head of the powerful US Anti-Doping Agency said that anything less than a total ban would be a “get out of jail free card” that would have terrible consequences for sport.
The warning came from Travis Tygart, Usada’s chief executive, who told the Observer that he was disturbed that the International Olympic Committee and the World Anti-Doping Agency appeared to be paving the way for Russia’s inclusion, even though its government was found to have corrupted the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi.
The issue will be high on Wada’s list of priorities when its executive committee meets in Paris on Sunday. However the organisation’s president, Sir Craig Reedie, has already made it clear that calls for a blanket ban on Russia from 28 national anti-doping agencies, including UK Anti-Doping, are “unhelpful”.
Tygart believes that Wada needs to resist political pressure from the IOC president, Thomas Bach, and Russia by taking a far tougher stand. “Wada should do exactly what they did before Rio and recommend Russia be banned from the Winter Olympic Games for its institutionalised doping and allow neutral athletes from Russia to compete if they show they are clean,” he said.
“Anything less is really a ‘get out of jail free card’ and sends a terrible message that to win you must cheat your way to the top and that it’s OK even when you get caught red-handed as long as you are politically powerful.”
Tygart also registered his alarm that Wada did not get in contact with Grigory Rodchenkov, the former head of Russian Anti-Doping who blew the whistle on how the urine samples of Russian medal winners in Sochi were switched, before agreeing to clear 95 of the first 96 cases of suspected doping by Russian athletes.
He was also surprised that only one of the two IOC investigations into Russia has bothered speaking to Rodchenkov – and only then in the past two weeks.
“Clean athletes deserve justice and reform not excuses for failing to even contact the star witness or for closing cases prematurely,” said Tygart, who was instrumental in exposing Lance Armstrong’s doping. “The IOC president said this was ‘an unprecedented level of criminality’ but yet over a year in, many of those investigating it have not even interviewed the star witness? Come on, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see where this appears to be headed and it ain’t good for clean athletes.”
Tygart was speaking a day after a New York Times editorial from Rodchenkov, who is in the US witness protection programme, in which he revealed that he had fled Russia after being told by a friend in the government that his “suicide” was being planned.
In his article Rodchenkov also urged Wada not to drop its requirements that Russia accept responsibility for its state-sponsored doping programme and hand over all its evidence when it meets in Paris today. This, he said, would be an “ominous turn in the battle for clean sports competition”.
“I hope the IOC and Wada … refuse to sweep Russia’s transgressions under the rug,” he concluded. “The world , and many thousands of clean athletes, are watching.”