Dame Katherine Grainger, Britain’s most decorated female Olympian, has added her voice to those urging the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) to uphold the Russian Anti-Doping Agency’s (RUSADA) suspension.
WADA’s 12-strong executive committee meets today in the Seychelles where it is expected to lift RUSADA’s ban by approving a compromise formula to the “roadmap to compliance” which was agreed with Russia in 2016.
This is despite the Russian authorities flatly refusing to meet two of the roadmap’s 31 criteria: public acceptance of the report written by Professor Richard McLaren, which detailed Russia’s state-sponsored doping programme, and independent access to the Moscow anti-doping laboratory at the heart of that scandal.
Instead of those two clear requirements, WADA appears ready to accept an implicit acknowledgement that certain individuals within the Russian sports ministry and RUSADA were responsible for the conspiracy, and to give Russia more time and control over the issue of laboratory access.
This, however, has provoked fury from athletes groups and the anti-doping community, with some suggesting WADA’s future is at stake and perhaps even the credibility of the entire Olympic movement.
Grainger’s intervention is significant as she is now chair of UK Sport, the government agency that funds Olympic and Paralympic sport, a body that would usually stay out of global sports politics.
But Grainger, who won rowing medals at five Olympics, including a gold at London 2012, also initially lost one of her six world titles to a Russian crew that was later disqualified for doping.
In a statement, Grainger said: “UK Sport backs UK Anti-Doping [UKAD] and its athlete commission in calling for the WADA executive committee to maintain WADA’s current position on the reinstatement of Russia until the conditions directed by the Russia roadmap are fully and transparently met.
“What doping steals from athletes is irreplaceable and the integrity of sport and competition has to be protected to maintain public trust and support. This responsibility rests with leaders at every level.”
Her message appears to be directed at WADA president Sir Craig Reedie, the former British Olympic Association chairman, and International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach, who is widely believed to be driving the push for Russia’s rehabilitation.
Russian doping whistle-blower Grigory Rodchenkov had earlier said any decision to lift the suspension would be “catastrophic” for the ongoing fight against drugs in sport.
In a statement, Rodchenkov, the former head of the Moscow anti-doping laboratory, said: “It is clear that... any decision by WADA to reinstate RUSADA – which would then be followed by the reinstatement of the Moscow Laboratory – would be a catastrophe for Olympic sport ideals, the fight against doping and the protection of clean athletes. WADA must not fall prey to manipulation and false assertions from the Russia’s Ministry of Sport, the same arm of the Kremlin that facilitated the doping program and asserted false compliance.”
UKAD and its American equivalent USADA were among 13 national anti-doping agencies who wrote an open letter to WADA accusing it of “moving the goalposts” on RUSADA and calling on the executive committee to postpone the vote until the Russians had met the mutually-agreed roadmap criteria.
The letter followed similar messages from iNADO, the organisation that represents 67 national and regional anti-doping agencies, UKAD’s athletes commission, nearly half of WADA’s athletes commission and athletes groups in Canada, Germany, the US and elsewhere. The United States Olympic Committee became the first national Olympic committee to come out against the RUSADA compromise, heaping further pressure on WADA’s increasingly isolated leadership.
WADA vice-president Linda Helleland, a Norwegian politician, has confirmed that she will vote against the compromise deal, and it is understood that at least two of the five other government representatives on the executive committee will follow suit.
But with the IOC’s five representatives and Reedie expected to back the plan, RUSADA’s reinstatement looks likely, unless the global backlash can force a postponement of the vote until WADA’s next meeting in November.