Last week, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) confirmed that the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) will be banned from the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, although the body ruled that clean athletes from Russia will still be able to compete under a neutral flag at February’s Games.
The decision made by the IOC’s 14-member executive board followed an investigation – prompted by revelations made in 2016 by Grigory Rodchenkov, the former director of the Moscow anti-doping laboratory - into allegations of state-sponsored doping leading up to and during the 2014 Games hosted by Russia in Sochi, which culminated in the findings of a report by the Schmid Commission confirming evidence of “the systemic manipulation of the anti-doping rules and system in Russia.”
Russia’s president Vladimir Putin has since criticised the ruling as a politically motivated decision but insisted that the country’s athletes will not be told to boycott the 2018 Games. Meanwhile the ROC has announced that Russian athletes wishing to compete in South Korea will have the organisation’s unanimous support.
On reflection, this wretched episode has been damaging for a number of parties, but perhaps none more so than the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), the global organisation tasked with ensuring that adequate measures are in place to prevent these very instances from occurring.
Last year, WADA president Sir Craig Reedie called for a blanket ban on all Russian athletes competing at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, while the organisation delivered another blow when it announced in November that Rusada, Russia’s anti-doping body, remains non-compliant with its international code.
Shortly after the IOC’s ruling, Reedie spoke exclusively to SportsPro to give his reaction to the decision, assess its implications for Russia, and discuss how it might shape the battle against doping going forward.
SportsPro: What was your reaction to the IOC's decision to ban Russia from PyeongChang?
Sir Craig Reedie: Well I think it had to be done. I think the findings of the McLaren Report followed by the recent decision from the Oswald Commission and finally the recommendation from the Schmid Commission all clearly indicate that authorities in Russia had been involved in what Schmid called ‘systemic manipulation’, and therefore some steps had to be taken. So I’m sure the decision was the correct one.
What are your thoughts on the decision to allow Russian athletes to compete under a neutral banner?
Well, athletes from different countries have previously taken part in Games under the Olympic flag when either the National Olympic Committee or the government was in trouble for political reasons, so the situation has arisen before.
As far as this is concerned, there seemed to be pretty unanimous views in the sports world that nobody wanted to penalise athletes who are ‘clean’. Even that view was expressed by the public authorities in our last foundation board meeting in Seoul, and the IOC has followed that route, and will do so after examination of all the potential entries from Russia by a small expert group on which WADA will be represented.
So that group will set the criteria for entry to competition by the Russian athletes, and that will take account of the pre-Games testing programme that is underway. The IOC recently announced that they’ve already done something like 7,000 tests, and these have been concentrated on Russian athletes, so the criteria for access will be quite high, and I think that’s correct and is accepted by the sports movement.
Do you think the ruling was fair, or do you think the sanctions could have been worse?
Clearly they could have been [worse] but, on balance, if you want to intellectually and by conviction as sports officials encourage people to take part in the Olympic Games then I think the balance is about right and that the decision is fair.
How much do you think WADA's recent announcement relating to Russia remaining non-compliant influenced the IOC's decision?
I think it must have in some ways, because Rusada has come a very long way in the last two years. It’s a completely rebuilt organisation, and there are two criteria which the Russian authorities are still to meet, and these were implicit in the issues facing the IOC executive board.
So yes, I think it probably did make some difference, but I suspect not as much difference as the report from the Schmid Commission.
Every other country needs to realise that if you cheat, the chances are that it will be revealed and you will be dealt with.
What is the process of reintegrating Rusada from here?
Well we monitor what Rusada is currently doing. We’ve got outside help from UK Anti-Doping and the Finnish Anti-Doping organisation to help Rusada build its testing capacity, to help train its doping control officers, to help teach therapeutic use exemption efforts, and all of that is well underway, so they’re moving in the right direction.
We retain one international expert in Moscow, who will be there for the next six months to make sure that the good work continues. We also have an independent member on their board, and we will encourage them in what we’re doing, because they’re actually doing a good job at the moment.
What criteria - from WADA’s point of view - are Rusada still failing to meet?
The first is an acceptance of the McLaren Report, which I think is much clearer now as a result of the Schmid Commission that there was systemic manipulation, and with a little bit of luck they will accept that. The second is access to the Moscow laboratory, which may or may not be required in the future.
Do you think the IOC's decision will put pressure on other sports organisations - predominantly Fifa - to take action?
As far as other sports organisations go, clearly the ones that are likely to be most affected are the winter sports federations. It’s in the middle of their season, and they’ll find some competitors won’t be able to take part in their competitions.
As far as Fifa is concerned, if you read the Schmid report carefully, the IOC has followed the recommendation to remove Vitaly Mutko from the eligibility rights for future Olympic Games. The Schmid Commission also says that as the minister for sport when most of the Russian cheating took place, he must be held responsible, but they have no direct evidence of his involvement – I think it was the deputy minister who was most involved – so I’m sure Fifa will be looking at the situation.
The one thing that Fifa has already said that it will do is take samples from the Fifa World Cup and have them tested in an accredited laboratory outside Russia, because the Moscow laboratory is still not accredited, and I think they’ll probably use the laboratory in Lausanne.
So that will affect them, but what they do in any other area is up to them.
Vitaly Mutko, Russia's deputy prime minister and former minister for sport, has been banned from all future Olympic Games but remains chairman of the local organising committee for next year's Fifa World Cup.
What lessons need to be learned from this case?
Well the first one is the obvious one: Russia is just about the biggest country in the world, and if there can be revelations of cheating in that country, then every other country needs to look at that and realise that if you cheat, the chances are that it will be revealed and you will be dealt with.
As far as the steps being taken to deal with that, WADA has greatly increased its investigations and intelligence department - we were one person, we’re now six with two more to be involved – so we will be much more active in that field than we’ve been before.
Additionally, in the meetings in Seoul, we put in place a new revised compliant standard. The word ‘standard’ means it’s a standard which is added to the WADA code which practically everybody signs up to, so the new compliance rules will become part of their rules, whether they’re federations, national anti-doping organisations or major event organisers.
That will mean that there is a process of graded, proportionate and clearly understood sanctions for different degrees of non-compliance, and the ultimate penalty, which would be non-participation in an Olympic Games. That decision will be taken by a group of independent arbitrators at the Court of Arbitration for Sport - it won’t be taken by the major event organisers and it won’t be taken by WADA.
So steps are in place to try to make sure this doesn’t happen again, and quite honestly if we’d had that standard three years ago we wouldn’t be in the mess we’ve been in.
Thomas Bach, the IOC president, has said that this ruling should ‘serve as a catalyst for a more effective anti-doping system led by WADA’. While WADA will obviously have its part to play, surely it is now more important than ever that all sports organisations take responsibility in the fight against doping?
That’s absolutely the case. WADA will play its part and will be leading this because we now have a very accurate monitoring system. When we were putting the compliance standard into force we did a degree of monitoring into what’s happening at the moment. We sent out 308 questionnaires and got 307 back, and recently had the last one back, so we now have a complete picture of the anti-doping activity across the whole world, and we will try to monitor that, and we will be trying to push standards higher.
I’m sure that’s what Thomas Bach was referring to. It’s in everybody’s interests to be more enthusiastic about this and to do it properly.
As someone who has been involved with WADA for 15 years, how motivated are you to lead the organisation through this turbulent period?
Well I’ve got a position that expires in early November 2019, so that’s when I have to go, although I suppose it could be earlier than that if our governance group comes through with new rules before then, but I suspect it’s unlikely.
Having gone through a pretty rough three years all because of the cheating that was revealed from Russia, I wouldn’t want to walk away from it now. I think if you take jobs on you should complete them, and I know when my completion date is as far as I’m concerned, so I will do my best to do it as well as I can.