Russia Reinstated by WADA: Goodbye to Clean Sport?

Shirley Zhu

Last month, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) reinstated Russia’s Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA) after a 3-year suspension, a decision that many athletes and sports governing bodies have opposed. Following a WADA-commissioned report alleging RUSADA’s rampant corruption and role in covering up state-sponsored doping, the organization has been suspended since 2015. Further  evidence emerged the following year: a report by Canadian sports law professor Richard McLaren claimed there was   Russian doping across a majority of sports at the 2014 Sochi Olympics and detailed their system of sample tampering by passing tainted urine bottles through a hole in the wall: these  findings were additionally supported by independent investigations of the International Olympic Committee. Grigory Rodchenkov, former Moscow anti-doping laboratory director and whistleblower, also confirmed that numerous athletes had cheated, exposing the country’s elaborate doping system. Subsequently, many Russian athletes were banned from Rio, with only 271 out of 339 members of its Olympic team cleared, and Russia was banned from Pyeongchang, with only a few, proven-clean athletes participating under a neutral flag.

Following a WADA-commissioned report alleging RUSADA’s rampant corruption and role in covering up state-sponsored doping, the organization has been suspended since 2015. Further evidence emerged the following year: a report by Canadian sports law professor Richard McLaren claimed there was Russian doping across a majority of sports at the 2014 Sochi Olympics and detailed their system of sample tampering by passing tainted urine bottles through a hole in the wall: these  findings were additionally supported by independent investigations of the International Olympic Committee. Grigory Rodchenkov, former Moscow anti-doping laboratory director and whistleblower, also confirmed that numerous athletes had cheated, exposing the country’s elaborate doping system. Subsequently, many Russian athletes were banned from Rio, with only 271 out of 339 members of its Olympic team cleared, and Russia was banned from Pyeongchang, with only a few, proven-clean athletes participating under a neutral flag.

After recent assurances from the Russian sports ministry that the country had “sufficiently acknowledged” failures, the WADA review committee recommended Russia’s reinstatement. A majority of WADA’s 12-member executive committee voted in favour of the motion: however, a controversy surrounds this decision. As Russia continues to control its Moscow laboratory, refusing to fulfill WADA’s criteria to give access to lab data and samples, Rodchenkov protests that reinstating RUSADA “would be a catastrophe for Olympic sport ideals, the fight against doping and the protection of clean athletes.”

For years, the agency has undermined the idea of clean sport. Their use of performance-enhancing drugs, such as steroids, narcotics, stimulants, and β-blockers (to calm nerves) has created unjust advantages in the playing field by allowing competitors to surpass their natural human ability, violating clear fair-play ethics. The spirit of sport declares that athletics are as much, if not more, about celebrating humanity, emotions, teamwork, and love for the sport as they are about statistics, records, and medals. Therefore, performance-enhancing drugs ultimately send the wrong message that athletic performance and outcome are more important than fair play. With the reinstatement of RUSADA, an organization with a clear history of drug abuses, it seems as though WADA has taken a step backwards in this direction.

While the debate on enhancement technologies and RUSADA rages on, the future of clean sport is uncertain and seems almost unattainable. In a statement that encapsulates the situation, Travis Tygart, CEO of the United States Anti-Doping Agency says, “[The world’s athletes] want a WADA with teeth, authority, sanctioning power and the determination to get the job done of cleaning up sport and restoring the trust of the billions of sports fans and athletes worldwide. Today, that job must start – and it starts by reforming WADA and giving it the power to regulate as any good global watchdog must do.”