Even With Confession of Cheating, World’s Doping Watchdog Did Nothing

“You could say I was to blame, too,” he said. “But I’ve been there, and I know how hard it is to prove doping on that scale.”

In 2011, a scientific paper written by six drug-testing experts carried further clues. Titled “Prevalence of Blood Doping in Samples Collected From Elite Track and Field Athletes,” it examined thousands of samples collected from 2001 to 2009.


Ekaterina Iourieva of Russia, above, a biathlon world champion, retired after her second suspension for testing positive for the blood-boosting hormone EPO.

Agence Zoom, via Getty Images

One nation — identified in the papers as Country A and known to WADA — stood out. Country A had a notably higher number of suspicious samples. According to an author of the report, Country A was Russia.

“WADA always had an excuse as to why they wouldn’t move forward,” Dr. Ljungqvist said, citing limited money and investigative resources. “They expected Russia to clean up themselves. They hadn’t fully grasped that WADA had the responsibility to do this.”

Russian sports officials have acknowledged in recent months that the country has problems with doping, but they have emphatically denied charges of a state-run drug program and dismissed whistle-blowers’ specific allegations. They have said that they are addressing their doping problems and that their track program should be allowed to compete in the Rio Games.

Built-In Conflicts

When the World Anti-Doping Agency was created in 1999, its unstated purpose was to help win back the credibility of global sports in the wake of a massive drug bust at the 1998 Tour de France and a bribery scandal involving Salt Lake City’s bid to host the 2002 Olympics. Its official purpose was not to drug test or punish cheaters but rather to serve as an independent watchdog for Olympic sports worldwide.

“They were afraid sponsor money would dry up if the Olympics were perceived as dirty,” said Robert Weiner, a former spokesman for WADA and, previously, the United States Office of National Drug Control Policy.

Sports officials and national governments gathered in Switzerland, home to the I.O.C., to discuss funding the new agency.

The United States government was especially wary about signing on to support an agency that did not appear independent. The International Olympic Committee is in charge of the Olympic Games and derives tremendous revenue from them. I.O.C. officials — specifically the head of the marketing commission — were going to lead WADA, a doping watchdog.

Gen. Barry McCaffrey, the White House drug policy director at the time, objected loudly to what he saw as the I.O.C.’s outsize influence and its lack of political will to unearth drug violations that could tarnish the Olympic brand.

“The I.O.C. is hiding behind WADA,” General McCaffrey said in a recent phone interview, suggesting negative attention was deflected from one organization to another. “And WADA is hiding behind a flawed structure.”

In 1999, Richard W. Pound, WADA’s first president and an I.O.C. member, bristled when General McCaffrey accused WADA of not being independent. Of course it would be independent, Mr. Pound wrote in a letter the month before the agency was established in Switzerland.

The I.O.C. hosted the agency’s first board meeting and paid for WADA’s first two years of existence.

WADA started with simple pursuits. Its charge was to standardize doping rules worldwide and create and oversee individual countries’ antidoping programs. Investigative powers were not explicitly written into the agency’s code. As time went on, many expected the organization to evolve into a more active regulator and testing body, separate from the I.O.C. and the various world governing bodies overseeing Olympic sports. That never happened.


In 2000, from left, Gen. Barry McCaffrey, the White House drug policy director; Juan Antonio Samaranch, the I.O.C. president; Amanda Vanstone, Australia’s justice minister; and Dennis Coderre, Canada’s sport minister, prepared for the first meeting of the new World Anti-Doping Agency in Lausanne, Switzerland.

Donald Stampfli/Associated Press

Instead, drug testing was largely left to national laboratories. In Russia, that lab was run by Grigory Rodchenkov, who said he routinely covered up positive tests in his 10 years there.

With a budget of $28 million, WADA is funded equally by sports bodies and governments. After the I.O.C., the United States is the agency’s single largest contributor, committing about $2 million a year from the national drug control budget.

Andy Parkinson, the founding executive director of Britain’s antidoping agency, said WADA’s structure was good in theory but too often resulted in stalemates, with Olympic loyalists and national officials rarely agreeing.

“It’s really hard to strip away the perception of that conflict,” Mr. Parkinson said.

A Whistle Is Blown

For years, Vitaly Stepanov, who worked for Russia’s antidoping agency, wondered about the motives of WADA officials. He was giving them insight into an elaborate, state-run doping program, urging them to stop it, but seemingly nothing was done.

“Everyone was telling me WADA is not an organization that fights doping,” Mr. Stepanov said. “It’s politics.”

Mr. Stepanov, who was from Russia but studied at Pace University in Manhattan, began working in antidoping education at the Russian agency in 2008, the same year the agency was officially founded. The more he learned about how the agency operated, the more he realized that the Russian system was far from the accepted standard.

Sports officials told him he did not need to test some athletes because they were clean, Mr. Stepanov said. Athletes and coaches offered him bribes to dispose of positive tests. Workers at the national antidoping lab were covering up failed drug tests, and higher-ups in the Russian sports ministry were part of that scheme.

Mr. Stepanov learned even more about the ministry’s methods when, in 2009, he met and married Yuliya Rusanova, a Russian middle-distance runner who told him about her doping regimen.

“The ministry’s goal is not to make sports clean but to win medals for the country,” Mr. Stepanov said in a phone interview.

At the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, British Columbia, Mr. Stepanov met several WADA officials in a hotel and secretly began blowing the whistle on Russia, as reported in 2015 by The Sunday Times of London.

WADA’s first reaction, he said, was, “What do we do?”

In subsequent years, he sent some 200 emails to WADA, he said, telling antidoping officials everything he knew. “I work at a Russian antidoping agency that actually helps athletes dope,” he said in the phone interview. “I’m writing to WADA what’s going on, and nothing is happening.”

WADA’s response to many of his emails was, “Message received.”

Inside WADA’s offices, on the 17th floor of the former stock exchange building in Montreal, the agency’s officials were not sure how to handle Mr. Stepanov’s claims.

David Howman, the longtime director general, whose corner office overlooks the St. Lawrence River, wavered. A lawyer from New Zealand, Mr. Howman said he thought to himself: “We don’t want to be the police. We can’t be the police.”

But he was aware that doping was becoming a criminal enterprise, and investigations — perhaps more than drug testing — were a key to exposing cheaters. (For instance, in the sprawling steroids case involving the Bay Area Laboratory Co-operative, or Balco, none of the athletes found to have been doping had failed drug tests.)

When WADA was confronted with suggestions that the Russians had resurrected an East German-style system of doping, Mr. Howman said, his 70-person staff seemed inadequate. The agency did not even have an investigator, and it claimed that it did not have the authority to conduct investigations.


With the help of his wife, the former Yuliya Rusanova, above, a Russian middle-distance runner, Vitaly Stepanov, who worked for Russia’s antidoping agency, secretly began blowing the whistle on Russia at the 2010 Winter Games.

Aleksander Chernykh,/Associated Press

“It’s really up to us to monitor everyone; that’s our job,” Mr. Howman said in an interview in Montreal last month. “The idea was not to do the investigations ourselves but to gather the information and share it with those who could actually do something about it. That’s how this whole thing started.”

But Mr. Howman eventually hired a top drug investigator from the United States: Jack Robertson, who would be the liaison between WADA and global law enforcement and who could also help WADA untangle complicated cases.

In September 2011, Mr. Robertson was assigned to tackle doping investigations for WADA. His assignment was the entire world.

Inquiry Starts and Stops

Mr. Robertson, a former special agent for the Drug Enforcement Administration, had a résumé that would make any doper shudder.

He ran some of the United States’ biggest doping investigations in recent history, including the case that helped bring down Lance Armstrong, the seven-time Tour de France winner who was found to have doped for most of his career.

In the months before his official hiring date, he joined WADA’s legal director, Olivier Niggli, in meeting Mr. Stepanov at the Boston Marathon, to hear his account firsthand. Mr. Robertson and Mr. Stepanov met again, in Turkey, the next year.

(Mr. Stepanov was fired from Russia’s antidoping agency after raising his concerns internally. He and his wife eventually fled Russia and are now living in an undisclosed location in the United States with their young son.)

Mr. Robertson, who was gathering information, leads and potential witnesses, also encountered misfortune. His wife died of cancer, and he himself had throat cancer, losing weight so rapidly that he needed a feeding tube. But he pressed on with the case.

Officially, WADA’s explicit power to investigate would begin with a new code, approved in 2013 to take effect two years later — four years after Mr. Robertson was hired as staff investigator.


David Howman, right, the World Anti-Doping Agency’s director general, and Craig Reedie, left, its president, at an antidoping conference in Tokyo in 2015.

Toshifumi Kitamura/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Still, there did not appear to be an appetite to look deeper into Russia, especially after a new president came on board in 2014. His name was Craig Reedie, a longtime I.O.C. official who had been involved with WADA from the start. When Mr. Reedie took over as head of the agency, things changed, several staffers said.

At the same time, Russia began giving an extra donation to WADA, with no reason earmarked on WADA’s financial statements — an unusual move. In all, in the past three years, Russia has given an extra $1.14 million on top of its annual contribution, which was $746,000 in 2015. A spokesman for the agency confirmed Russia’s contributions and said countries that choose to make additional donations had never received special treatment.

Mr. Reedie, a Scot who once led the international badminton federation, was a smooth and popular leader in the political world of the Olympics.

In antidoping circles, he is not regarded as an aggressive crusader.

“We’re not going to turn to people and say, ‘These are the rules; obey them,’” Mr. Reedie said in the lounge of the five-star Lausanne Palace hotel in Switzerland this month. He explained that WADA was better suited to offer sports federations and countries advice when they asked for it rather than pursue accusations of cheating.

Mr. Reedie’s predecessor, John Fahey, a politician from Australia, had given his blessing for Mr. Robertson to explore allegations involving Russia’s laboratories.

“There was always in our mind a deep suspicion that the government was controlling Rusada,” Mr. Fahey said in a phone interview last month, using the acronym for the Russian Anti-Doping Agency, which employed Mr. Stepanov.

When Mr. Reedie took over, the inquiry into Russia stalled, according to several people at WADA.

Case Boils Over

Mr. Robertson needed help on the case. He needed more personnel and more money to conduct a thorough investigation. But again and again, he was met with a wait-and-see attitude.

Frustrated, he forced WADA’s hand, according to several people in the organization. He leaked information on the case to Hajo Seppelt, a journalist for the German broadcasting company ARD.

Mr. Seppelt’s bombshell report, “The Secrets of Doping: How Russia Makes Its Winners,” aired on Dec. 3, 2014.

At first, Mr. Reedie told his fellow WADA officials to stand back and see if the global media picked up the story, according to several people at WADA who were not authorized to speak to reporters. But during that delay, antidoping officials spoke out, urging WADA to investigate ARD’s claims.

On Dec. 8, 2014, Travis Tygart, chief executive of the United States Anti-Doping Agency, sent a letter to Mr. Reedie and Mr. Howman at WADA, insisting that the agency had investigative power and that it needed to apply it to Russia.

The agency could not possibly hand over the case to the I.A.A.F., the track and field governing body, he said, because multiple sports were implicated in the ARD report. In addition, Mr. Tygart wrote, a vice president of the track organization was reported to be a part of the cover-up.

“For WADA to sit on the sidelines in the face of such allegations flies in the face of WADA’s mandate from sport, governments and clean athletes,” Mr. Tygart wrote.


Craig Reedie, WADA’s president, is not regarded as an aggressive crusader in antidoping circles.

Mark Runnacles/Getty Images

Days later, WADA commissioned an independent inquiry. Mr. Pound, who had a reputation as an aggressive antidoping crusader, was installed as the chairman.

Needing investigative muscle, the agency hired 5 Stones intelligence, a private investigations firm based in Miami and staffed with former members of the D.E.A., the Secret Service, the Central Intelligence Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Four months into that investigation, Natalya Zhelanova, an adviser to the Russian sports minister, Vitaly Mutko, received an email from Mr. Reedie. It seemingly told her and Russia not to worry about the inquiry.

Mr. Reedie assured Ms. Zhelanova that, in his opinion, the accusations of Russian doping stemmed from a time before Russia had implemented new laws and antidoping efforts. He gave his assurance that Russia was going to be fine because “there is no action being taken by WADA that is critical of the efforts that I know have been made, or are being made, to improve antidoping efforts in Russia.”

“On a personal level I value the relationship I have with Minister Mutko, and I shall be grateful if you will inform him that there is no intention in WADA to do anything to affect that relationship,” he wrote.

When The Daily Mail in London published the email in August 2015, antidoping officials, including Mr. Pound, were stunned. The president of WADA was seemingly undermining the credibility of the independent investigation.

“Jeez, Craig, what are you doing?” Mr. Pound said he asked Mr. Reedie. “You know those people aren’t your friends, right? They’re the ones who released this to the media.”

Mr. Reedie offered a mea culpa in another London newspaper shortly after, saying that his note to Ms. Zhelanova had been misconstrued and that WADA was not interfering with the independent investigation.

Mr. Reedie said he saw no conflicts in his dual allegiances to the Olympics and the antidoping agency. “I think we manage to do reasonably well,” he said of the current structure of the agency. “It works, and there is constant challenge from both sport and governments to everything WADA does.”

The inquiry’s findings were published in November 2015. Russia was accused of widespread government-supported doping in an explosive 323-page report that centered on track and field.

But not everything investigators had unearthed — including Ms. Pishchalnikova’s 2012 email, and WADA’s handling of it — made it into the report.

Even so, the external pressure intensified for WADA to look beyond Russia’s track and field program and to scrutinize other countries that had come under suspicion. But Mr. Reedie was reluctant, according to several WADA officials. He said that WADA did not have the money and that there was not enough evidence to pursue another investigation.

“You couldn’t go forward because he was in charge,” Mr. Howman said of Mr. Reedie. “You have to rely on the people in charge, and Craig was in charge of the political stuff.”


Craig Reedie, left, president of the World Anti-Doping Agency, and the WADA director general, David Howman, after a meeting in November 2015 in which WADA leadership voted to declare Russia’s antidoping operation out of compliance.

Brennan Linsley/Associated Press

Two years earlier, however, Mr. Howman was among the top WADA officials who had received the email plea from Ms. Pishchalnikova. Mr. Reedie was on the agency’s Foundation Board at the time, but he was not yet president.

In her 2012 email, Ms. Pishchalnikova named Dr. Rodchenkov, the antidoping lab director whose facility had recently been flagged by WADA for suspicious test results. She said he was substituting out athletes’ steroid-laced urine with clean urine. “I have proof,” the 2012 email said.

The agency’s decision to forward the email to track and field officials — including Russian ones who were implicated in the allegations — was a function of protocol. In spite of having hired a staff investigator, WADA did not at that time see itself as capable of conducting investigations, the agency has said.

Four months after Ms. Pishchalnikova wrote to WADA, the Russian track and field federation barred her for 10 years. She is retired from competition and living in Russia. Attempts to reach her were unsuccessful.

Mr. Reedie — who said he had never heard of Ms. Pishchalnikova’s email — said he required proof before initiating investigations. “We need people to come to us with evidence, and then we will investigate,” he said in an interview.

He said the decision to allow Russian track and field athletes to compete in the Summer Games was entirely up to the sport’s governing body. “That’s their problem,” he said. “I’m one of the few people who doesn’t wake up in the morning and think only about Rio.”

In recent months, athletes have agitated for further inquiries.

“Clean athletes are at the point where we can’t have faith in the system,” said Lauryn Williams, a United States sprinter and bobsledder. She added that she was disappointed that the November report had not immediately spurred a broader inquiry.

“Who’s defending us?” she said. “Who’s on our side?”

After Ms. Williams and other athletes from around the world sent a letter to WADA and the I.O.C. last month detailing their concerns, the agency announced a new independent investigation into the allegations about cheating at the Sochi Olympics made by Dr. Rodchenkov, the lab director.

Other specialized inquiries, such as one into accusations of doping by Chinese swimmers, have been opened. “Investigations have become the flavor of the month,” Mr. Reedie said.

Mr. Howman, who is leaving WADA this month, said that only after the Sochi investigation was complete — roughly two weeks before the Rio Games are scheduled to begin, it is expected — should WADA be judged on how it had handled the cases.

“It’s a really tense time because no one wants to mess it up,” Mr. Howman said.

As for Mr. Reedie, his term as WADA president runs through the end of the year. Many antidoping experts and athletes see his dual role as a vice president of the I.O.C. as emblematic of the conflict they say is derailing WADA.

After the recent interview in Lausanne, Mr. Reedie handed a reporter his business card. He apologized that, with its five-colored Olympics rings logo, it was an official I.O.C. card, not a WADA one.

“It’s the only one I can give you,” he said.

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