U.S. Senate Committee Has Questions for Global Doping Watchdog


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Senator John Thune has criticized the World Anti-Doping Agency for being slow to pursue doping accusations made by Russian whistle-blowers.

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Zach Gibson/The New York Times

United States lawmakers are demanding answers from the World Anti-Doping Agency, the global regulator of doping in Olympic sports, in the wake of a New York Times investigation that found that the agency mishandled multiple warnings about Russia — including a 2012 appeal from a Russian Olympian who confessed to cheating, pleaded for help and offered to cooperate with the agency.

On Monday morning, Senator John Thune — Republican of South Dakota and chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, which has jurisdiction over sports — sent a seven-page letter to the agency, which is partly funded by United States taxpayers. The letter asked the agency’s president to explain why it had taken years to investigate claims of a government-run doping program in Russia and called for further inquiries into possible cheating.

Citing the more than $25 million the United States contributed in the last 14 years, Mr. Thune criticized the agency for letting at least four years pass before pursuing tips from Russian whistle-blowers, and for containing its ultimate investigation to Russian track and field in spite of claims that cheating transcended sports and implicated other countries.

“These recent allegations, and WADA’s subsequent response, have called the organization’s strength and credibility into question,” Mr. Thune wrote in the letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Times. A spokesman for the committee confirmed the letter had been sent Monday morning.

Mr. Thune’s letter came on the same day that the agency held an antidoping symposium in London. A WADA spokesman did not respond to an emailed request for comment.

The Times investigation found that the agency was hampered by politics and possible conflicts of interest such that it did not initiate inquiries and, in one case, forwarded a whistle-blower’s email to Russian sports officials — the very people the athlete said were running a doping program.

Some WADA officials have defended their handling of the allegations, asserting that until 2015, when a new code took effect, the agency had no responsibility to conduct investigations. Beyond that, some at WADA said, they feared jeopardizing whistle-blowers’ safety.

But Mr. Thune disputed those explanations, citing the agency’s “broad authority to investigate” since 2004, six years before it received the first known whistle-blower tip. He said officials’ concerns for the personal safety of whistle-blowers only raised questions about whether the regulator had proper policies in place to solicit information and protect people from retaliation.

“WADA’s excuse for its long delay in aggressively investigating these allegations,” he wrote, “overlooks the fact that the evidence WADA received from the whistle-blowers centered on allegations of corruption at the WADA-accredited antidoping laboratory in Moscow and at the Russian national antidoping agency, both of which are under WADA’s direct oversight.”

One of the watchdog’s principal duties is to monitor testing laboratories and national antidoping organizations like those in Russia.

On behalf of the Senate committee, Mr. Thune called for WADA to broaden its investigation into systemic doping, going beyond track and field, the Sochi Games and Russia. He called for WADA to look back further than the 2014 Winter Olympics, noting that the committee’s own research had suggested Russia’s doping program dated back as far as three decades.

Russia’s longtime antidoping lab director, Grigory Rodchenkov, who ran the Olympic laboratory at the 2014 Sochi Games, said he surreptitiously substituted the tainted urine of at least 15 top Russian athletes on steroids who won medals at those Games. Though his lab was under investigation by WADA, the agency cleared Dr. Rodchenkov to direct testing weeks before the Olympics.

Last month, WADA commissioned an investigation into Dr. Rodchenkov’s specific claims about Sochi, and it is due to conclude by July 15.

But, Mr. Thune said, WADA’s scrutiny should not end there, and the claims of Dr. Rodchenkov, who fled Russia and is living in Los Angeles, have certainly ranged far wider.

The Senate committee requested answers to 11 specific questions — five of them focused on potential conflicts of interest among WADA’s leadership — by July 5.

Video

Anti-Doping Agency on Olympic Ruling

Craig Reedie, the president of the World Anti-Doping Agency, on Monday said that he supports the decision to ban Russia’s track and field team from the Rio de Janeiro Olympics.


By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS on Publish Date June 20, 2016.


Photo by Adrian Dennis/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images.

Watch in Times Video »

WADA’s decision-making body is composed of government and Olympic representatives, an arrangement that presents possible conflicts because Olympic officials might not be inclined to reveal doping transgressions that could mar the integrity of the Games, while government officials might be more inclined to protect athletes from their own countries.

Mr. Thune questioned the allegiances of Craig Reedie, WADA’s president, who is also a vice president of the International Olympic Committee and the person to whom Mr. Thune’s letter was addressed.

“WADA’s mission to promote doping-free sport may be undermined since its leadership has ties to national Olympic committees or sports ministries whose goal is to increase a particular nation’s competitiveness and medal counts,” Mr. Thune wrote. “A truly independent WADA is essential to the I.O.C.’s mission to demonstrate credibility on the world stage.”

Global sports officials have hustled ahead of the Rio Olympics, which start on Aug. 5, to assure athletes of a level playing field.

“Investigations have become the flavor of the month,” Mr. Reedie said in an interview in Switzerland this month.

As for which athletes will be cleared to compete in the Games, WADA defers to the governing bodies for specific sports. “That’s their problem,” Mr. Reedie said. “I’m one of the few people who doesn’t wake up in the morning and think only about Rio.”

Last week, the International Association of Athletics Federations barred Russia’s track and field team from competing in the Rio Games. At that announcement, in Vienna, Rune Andersen, a former WADA director who is monitoring Russia’s reforms on behalf of global sports officials, defended the world’s watchdog.

“WADA is now dealing with this in a very strict fashion,” Mr. Andersen said. “WADA, national antidoping organizations and government need to step up their fight against doping.”

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