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World Sports Agency Reinstates Russia After Doping Scandal

A sign reading "Russian National Anti-doping Agency RUSADA" on an office in Moscow.
Alexander Zemlianichenko
A sign reading "Russian National Anti-doping Agency RUSADA" on an office in Moscow.

The World Anti-Doping Agency has reinstated Russia's state anti-doping regulator after a major doping scandal that reverberated across international sports. The move has been roundly condemned by anti-doping advocates.

The reinstatement of RUSADA, the Russian Anti-Doping Agency, is subject to conditions. Nine members of WADA's executive committee backed the decision. Two voted against it – the agency's vice president and Oceania. Europe abstained.

"WADA understands that this decision will not please everybody," WADA President Craig Reedie said in a statement. "The pressure on WADA to ensure that Russian sport is genuinely clean now and in the future is one we feel very keenly and we will maintain the highest levels of scrutiny on RUSADA's operations and independence."

The news was welcomed in Russia. According to the state-run TASS news agency, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Olga Golodets said the country "has done a huge job on creating transparent and clear conditions for the effort on countering doping."

Russia's systematic cheating is well documented, though it was repeatedly denied by officials. In 2016, Canadian law professor Richard McLaren released two parts of a sweeping report that implicated more than 1,000 athletes and senior Russian officials in the conspiracy.

A key source for McLaren was Grigory Rodchenkov, a Russian former anti-doping official who says he helped athletes cheat and later became a whistleblower. Several days ago, he warned in a USA Today op-ed that reinstating RUSADA would be "nothing short of a catastrophe for clean sport."

On Thursday, Rodchenkov's lawyer Jim Walden described the WADA decision as "the greatest treachery against clean athletes in Olympic history." He added: "The United States is wasting its money by continuing to fund WADA, which is obviously impotent to address Russia's state-sponsored doping."

One of the conditions of reinstatement had been for Russia to publicly accept the findings of the McLaren investigation, and turn over stored samples and electronic data at the now-sealed Moscow Laboratory. That's not exactly what happened.

As The Associated Press reported, "Russia agreed to accept findings of an [International Olympic Committee]-commissioned report that put less onus on the Russian government for the scheme, a move that Rodchenkov said earlier this week was done 'for the pure purpose of protecting their top-level apparatchiks who destroyed the Olympic Games in Sochi.'"

It also agreed to hand over the samples by "no later than 31 December 2018," according to WADA.

The WADA decision became far more likely earlier this month when, as NPR's Sasha Ingber reported, an independent committee recommended that RUSADA be reinstated.

That recommendation surprised many athletes, Ingber added:

"[The] statement has left international athletes puzzled and dismayed since it contradicts a panel recommendation obtained by the BBC on Thursday. That document reflected a unanimous conclusion that criteria were not met to merit lifting the ban: the Russian Minister for Sport repeated a previous stance that his country's Investigative Committee and courts determine who was involved in the scheme, and he did not address access to data and samples 'at all.'"

The BBC has reported extensively on attempts from WADA to reach a compromise with Russia, which you can read about here.

The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency responded angrily to the WADA decision. The group's CEO Travis Tygart described it as a "devastating blow to the world's clean athletes."

"WADA sent one clear message to the world: we put the wishes of a small handful of sports administrators above the rights of millions of clean athletes and the dreams of billions of sports fans," Tygart said. He called for reforms to WADA — pointing to international athletes demanding "a robust, independent and confident WADA that stands on its own two feet."

It's worth noting that track and field's governing body is conducting a separate investigation by an independent task force, and those results are expected in December.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Merrit Kennedy is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers a broad range of issues, from the latest developments out of the Middle East to science research news.